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On the Horns of a dilemma

I’m coming toward a moment of decision.

I got my postal vote today and I’m going to have to decide what to do with it.

Now, normally I’d have no difficulty. Not only are the LibDems the largest English party that is firmly saying they are against Brexit (the issue of the hour, I think you’ll agree) but they also favour electoral reform, the only thing I can think that might prevent the sort of political paralysis we’ve seen in the past two years and the right wing entryism that led up to it.

I don’t favour their whole program: the current LibDems are too right wing for me but if you insist on absolute ideological identification with your chosen party you’ll either never vote at all or lose your own identity in the fleeting and ever changing one of the organisation.

But, but, but….

My friend Chris whispered in my ear when she was driving me back from her and Roger’s place last week that Labour could, maybe, just possibly have a chance of winning this one and deposing that odious git, Steve Baker, our current Tory MP and the chair of the ERG. Oh, the seductress and her silken words!

Certainly on the evidence of the last two elections Labour is a lot more popular in the constituency than the LibDems.

Trouble is if I vote for Labour then I’m encouraging them to think that I approve of all their policies and stances whereas I only want Steve Baker gone and there not to be another Conservative government.

Their leader is precisely the sort of tedious left-winger I felt depressed by in the 1980s and their stance on Brexit is Schrodinger’s stance: we can’t know what it is until we open the box… I won’t comment on the anti-semitism though I’m sure it’s there. The left is as subject to conspiracy theory thinking as the right and conspiracy theories always smell of anti-semitism.

My ideal situation has Labour needing the co-operation of other parties to form a government.

But I don’t get to make that decision because of our accursed electoral system. Which Labour is also bad on.

No, I’m not going to tell you what I decide: I just want you to sympathise with my agony.


I find myself involuntarily undergoing withdrawal. Cold turkey. Well, cold-ish.

My desktop, source of so much of my daily entertainment, information and political activity has gone tits up, thankfully just before the two year limit on its warranty.

The C drive, which is a fast solid state drive has gone to meet its maker, which in this case is Dell Computers. It will be missed but replaced: Roger, my partner in podcasts, to whom I turned for advice and help in a panic last night, suggested that the fact that I never gave the computer a name made it more likely to turn its face to the wall but I am resistant to anthropomorphising my machines. I’m quite sentimental enough when it comes to pets…

Roger, bless him, gave me sage advice and did an emergency back up of my Data drive at no little inconvenience to himself. His best bit of sage advice turned out to be: ‘ask Dell if they will mind if you take out the D drive so it doesn’t get reformatted when they fix the C drive’ and to my surprise and delight they said yes. I must make a note to consider his advice about how I should do backups in future. He isn’t happy with the idea of me relying on my ‘HomeCloud’ external backups. I think he distrusts everything Windows based and would be happier if I would learn Unix or at the very least consider going Apple.

Bless his wife Chris too, for shuttling me to their place and back. My tendency to panic and go all ‘fluttery old gentleman’’ was in full flow last night and the two of them handled it wonderfully.

Still, there’s so much I can’t currently get to. I’m not used to using the iPads for everything… (Which is one reason this posting has no picture to it.)

Grit your teeth man! You lived for decades without the comforting embrace of the World Wide Web and Microsoft gazing over your shoulders….

But, but…. (my less worthy self replies) there are people out there commenting on my posts! There’s stuff that’s updating… And how much will my passwords and security settings be lost…. And will the couriers lose the poor crippled thing? They didn’t ring beforehand when they were going to pick it up the way they promised….

Calm down, for goodness sake! Be British! Stiff Upper Lip!

Real Fake News

I got back late-ish from Manchester last night and after I started the process of bringing my laundry up to date, I got onto the BBC’s iPlayer to watch the Remembrance Sunday service from that morning.

I was tired as I say and after a while I paused it and went to bed.

I woke up this morning to discover that I had missed a scandal.

My favourite geek site, RPG.Net, had a lot of buzz in the ongoing British politics thread about the fact (is it? I dunno) that the BBC were doing Boris a favour by omitting the video actually taken of him at the ceremony and using one taken some years back, presumably when he was Foreign Secretary. 

Why? Because he got his wreath the wrong way up. There were some other comments that he looked particularly confused but when I went back to iPlayer and watched the moment he looked as he normally does. I mean, how could they tell?

But he undoubtedly got his wreath the wrong way up and when Jeremy Corbyn went forward he had a look on his face that said: ‘Why did he just do that?’

There are two things here. Firstly, can one ever in future rely on BBC News to report ‘without fear or favour’ if they are willing to grovel in such a way? Did they even need to be leaned on?

And second, if Boris can’t absorb a simple instruction like ‘Turn it round Prime Minister and put it down like this…’ then what sodding hope have we he can learn a brief on anything substantial? Negotiations with the EU? Pressure from the US? Global warming? Russia assassinating people in English cathedral towns again? Best to make an elevator pitch, I think.

The same old nonsense…

I see that the government has included in the Queen’s Speech mention of requiring photo ID for people who want to vote. There was a test of the requirement at the European Elections and in the areas where it was tried numerous people were turned away. For some reason the government took this as evidence that it was a good idea.

I used to be able to point to our liberal and common sense attitude to registration as one of the triumphs of British common sense and decency in contrast to American paranoia on the topic of Those People being allowed to vote. But apparently the Tories are so impressed by the effects it has for their cousins over the seas that they want to introduce it without bothering with the propaganda effort to make it appear necessary, the lazy buggers. And a lot of their voters fall into the ‘elderly’ category and that’s a primary group that is likely not to have a driving licence or a passport.

If they try to introduce this via secondary legislation before the next election I would hope people would march!

(Not me of course: I plead my bad foot. And my duff left knee. Do I love democracy enough to hire a powered wheelchair for the day?)

I also see that Jacob Rees-Mogg has taken to calling those of us who disagree with his favourite policy ‘Remainiacs’.

By Jove, I am most frightfully obliged to the fellow! I’m fed up of being called a Remoaner and being a ‘Remainiac’ is just the thing to kickstart my flagging energy at this stage of the game! I thank you, sir! Most gentlemanly of you!

I don’t think he could have spent much time watching children’s cartoons back in the 1990s or he’d know that he’s just handed us a marching song. All it requires is someone (not me: John M. Ford for preference except for the fact he’s dead) to rewrite the lyrics a little.

All together now: “We’re all Remainacs/And we’re zany to the max…”)


Infinite Storms in Infinite Tea-Cups

I stayed at home today.

The weather was glum when I got up in response to the post plopping through my letterbox (1) and having had a look in the  fridge to check on supplies I decided I could ignore the nagging note I’d left myself just before going to bed last night about going out today and getting my hair cut and beard trimmed. I do look rather bohemian in the mirror at the moment but am not yet at the full Biblical prophet stage. (2)

So I pulled on my sweatpants, not my jeans, stayed at home and read, which  is a nice way  to spend a day if a little lonely. I only ever had one  occasion on which I had a beautiful woman burst unexpectedly into  my flat (3) and I do sometimes find myself hoping for a repeat performance so I can see if I handle it any better.

Be that as it may: I was reading a book I picked up at the Worldcon in Dublin WARHOON 28, a one off hardback edition of an American SF fanzine. This particular volume was dedicated to the work of an Irish fan, Walt Willis for whom the editor had a great regard.

And I came across the story of a fan feud of the fifties, a minor clash  of personalities in the pages of american APAs in which an American lady fan accused Walt Willis of all sorts of things. All over nothing at all really and you could probably ascribed it to misunderstanding if the lady hadn’t decided to push the whole thing to another level by using it as an excuse to express her feelings about the worthlessness of European culture compared with American.

“I can understand that this problem of establishing a caste system in fandom impinges on a very real and basic difference in social attitudes between Europe and America. The unsportsmanlike way you have behaved in expressing your disappointment that your favourite candidate did no win has been a disgrace not only to yourself but to all the United Kingdom. Don’t you think it is time you apologized for your unfounded accusations and your lack of confidence in the Americans?”

And when I read that I thought bigod! There’s the whole Internet in miniature! There’s the process that drove Brexit in essence!

There’s taking someone you’ve never met and making them the focus of all your outrage, all your tribal support of your group and your nation, there’s digging out all the fears and hatred you don’t express and pouring it out onto someone.

Oh, dear me: the parallels between this and poison pen letters.

(I will pause for a moment and feel guilty about the things I have sometimes said before coming back to my  normal level of self regard and pomposity.)

The fans of the 1950s didn’t have Twitter but they had mimeograph  machines and a world wide postal service and they had powerful imaginations and strong feelings which were looking for a focus. Feuding between fans is a fine spectator sport and has broken not a few hearts (and some minds): only the fact that it isn’t about anything much keeps it under control.

And in the twenty-first century we take that and supercharge it with instant messaging and the ability to  send your ill considered opinions around the world in a moment. I’ve known people (4) who find themselves out of a job because they didn’t take a moment to  review the angry reply they feel like sending.

I’ve a friend in the Far Isles (5) who likes to argue that we humans aren’t really  designed to handle more than a strictly limited number of human interactions, about the size of a large hunter gatherer group or a medieval village. Anything more than that causes us distress.

He may have a point but somehow we have got to get across to people the idea that there are people out there who aren’t like them… and who aren’t necessarily  monsters.

I  really don’t know how to start. (Cue Lindy to tell me how.)


(1) Nothing interesting. A misdirected letter for my next door neighbour and a catalogue from a gentleman’s outfitters I once bought some socks from. They were very nice and durable socks, if expensive and the next time I need some I  will be going back to Joseph Turner of Yorkshire. Unsolicited commercial there.

(2) Meanwhile my friend Roger is moving into Z Z Top territory.

(3) It was the festive season and she was either rather drunk or the victim of a malign enchantment.

(4) All right, one person. Hi  Chris if you ever read this.

(5) And hi to you Hafoc!

Countdowns again.

Three weeks to go to the start of the Golden Age.

I wonder if I should start stockpiling again. I got as far as a few tins of corned beef last time but those got used up quite quickly.

It would be a good idea if I were to eat less in general, what with my left knee as well as my right heel giving me pain and discouraging me from going to the gym. But I should in that case probably eat more fresh fruit and veg which is precisely what will be lacking if things go tits up.

It’s interesting to watch the various sorts of cynicism that pop up. (The picture you’re seeing is Diogenes the Cynic.) There are the people who view the idea of leaving the EU as impossible, not because it would be bad for us necessarily but because ‘they’ would never allow it. You can learn a lot about people by digging into who their ‘they’ is.

There are the people like my friend Drak, who has Boris Johnson as his MP (and I thought I was oppressed having Steve Baker!) who goes with the ‘disaster capitalist’ hypothesis: that there are people who have a lot of money riding on them being right about when Brexit will happen and how. How I feel about the savings I have invested for my future and the trust I have to put in the people managing them gets… complicated when I think about things like that.

The idea does tend to drive the feeling that we are going to leave no matter how hard we try not to.

At least Drak gets the pleasure of contemplating turfing Boris out of his constituency: they don’t deeply love him there.

And just this evening the Taoiseach is making noises about how he could see a path to an agreement… So maybe I’m wrong about the incompatibility of letting Stormont decide how long any  post leaving arrangement goes on with the requirements the Irish have put forward. I still don’t see how they could get that anywhere near done and dusted by the end of the month.

And if we leave I will be so disappointed with my country.

Did I do that?

I put the loaf I was making away to rise, grabbed my bag and my walking stick and tottered off towards the High Street, to get myself something for lunch and supper from Iceland.

(My knee is getting better, mostly, thanks for asking. Hope to back to the regular gym visits soon.)

And between me and Iceland was a chap standing outside the Santander bank (formerly the Abbey National whereby hangs several tales). He was handing out what looked like hand-inked flyers with the title ‘A FREE COUNTRY?’ and below it a diatribe which began by berating the rich and went on to berate every other bit of the Establishment. Yes, of course I gave it a cursory scan: he might  have been saying something interesting. He didn’t appear to be and I went on my way.

Coming back past him, with my bag full of tinned tuna and other such luxuries, I took a second look and noticed the design on the top right of his leaflet.

Which was the Eye-In-The_Pyramid.

I found myself protesting. “Seriously?” He told me to go and see what the Masons had to say. I staggered away shaking my head. I thought that particular sort of craziness was restricted to the other side of the Atlantic.

I got home and I wondered: Did I contribute to that? Me and thousands like me.

I first ran into the conspiratorial mindset when I picked up Wilson and Shea’s ILLUMINATUS! trilogy at Manchester in the 70s. It’s one of the regrets of my dwindling professional career that I didn’t even write to ask if I could audition for Ken Campbell’s massive stage version. (There was no money involved and a lot of commitment.)

I featured the various weird conspiracy theories and several more that are only believed in by SF fans in my games, most recently by running THE DRACULA DOSSIER and writing it up for A&E.

Us geeks love the secret conspiracy idea but by and large only  for play.

I spread those ideas. Am I responsible in part for that guy’s craziness?

And then my exaggerated sense of guilt fluttered out. No, if it hadn’t been the Illuminati and all their chums it would have been another set of ideas to give shape to the poor fellow’s hypertrophied need to find meaning and significance in the world. Perhaps the workings of Satan and his minions.

A second level of guilt flickers briefly: all conspiratorial stories share the nature of anti-semitism. They aren’t always dog-whistles for blaming International Jewish Bankers but they serve the same emotional needs and perhaps give cover to those who find it ‘Odd of God to Choose the Jews’.

And I remember a story where I can’t recall the actual names involved: about a poet who was being told by a psychiatrist that his wife’s distracted mode of speech was clear proof of mental illness. “But I use those same forms of language myself in my  poetry every day.” “Ah, my friend,” replies the shrink, “you are swimming. She  is drowning.”

There’s a lady I know who greets me cheerfully when we meet on the streets, though I can’t recall when we first met. Perhaps when I was doing physio after my heart attack? When she’s in the manic phase of her  cycle she will tell me all about how the psychiatrists are always watching her, always watching everyone, all the time. For some reason she has decided I’m all right and on her side. At least I  don’t feel any indirect guilt about her peculiar construction of how the world works.

I am turning into an old man (1) who is feeling guilt about the dubious pleasures of his youth while simultaneously wishing for the ability to commit them a few more times. I am one step away from being a conservative telling young people how he was  radical when he was young and how much he regrets the things he said and did back then. Keep an eye on me, friends. I’m feeling fragile.


(1) A cry of “what do you mean ‘turning’?” comes from the cheap seats.