Today really started last night when I was met by my top chums from the old school, Lindsey and Michelle, in Euston Station. We only had twenty minutes before my train left for Liverpool, but they bought me a carrot cake and a coffee and laid out the welcome mat for me. I was home. Back in the UK, back in the UK.
My train pulled into Liverpool’s Lime Street Station at 10.20pm and the welcoming committee was amazing. About thirty of my mates, plus my mum, dad and brother Alex, all cheering and waving flags (thank you Steve!) for my arrival. It was just awesome. I was shaking – like a teenager waiting for a phone call from someone they fancy the pants off.
LIVERPOOL !!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
We headed inevitably pubwards and before we knew it we were back in the Heebie Jeebies, back where I belong. Everything went so fast it was all a bit of blur – I treated myself to a (much needed) shave in the middle of the courtyard and changed into fresh new clothes. Hugh took my dad to the Blue Angel (hilariously) and I got to sit down with the people I like best and enjoy the delights of the famous Heebs’ £1 bottles of Stella.
#Sometimes you’ve gotta go where everybody knows your name
#And they’re always glad you came
#You wanna be where you can see, troubles are all the same
#You wanna be where everybody knows your name
After everyone who had work in the morning slowly drifted away to bo-bo’s, the more feisty of us headed up to the Magnet for a bit more booze and a (bizarre but very welcome) dose of KILLING IN THE NAME OF. Duh duh DUH! Around 4am, we staggered over to Scott’s flat as everyone tried to get at least an hour’s kip before we had to be at James Street Station for 6am. I don’t know about anybody else but I didn’t actually get to sleep, too goddamn excited!!
The plan was this: To hit all Five Nations of Britain and Ireland in less than 24 hours without flying. Liverpool to Holyhead to Dublin to Belfast to Stranraer to Manchester to Liverpool.
So in the wee small hours Laura, Hugh, Scott, Stuart and Matt the Mick accompanied me to James Street Station where we met up with Leo and jumped on the train to Chester.
At Chester train station, I met with top mate Lucy who was on her way to work (small world eh?) and then the magnificent seven of us all bungled our way onto the train for Holyhead in Wales. Our hangovers started kicking in at this point, but we weren’t going to let them get away with it. A swig of whiskey was all I needed to get back on track, although I did crash out on the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire.
A quick introduction to my friends at this point is in order.
Hugh! Hugh is an old school chum, although being in different classes (I was in R, I think he was in P – (which, when I was 12, obviously stood for Perverts, Poofs and Paedophiles) we didn’t really hang out much until sixth form. But Hugh’s prowess in the Krazy House moshpit was one of which I’m still in awe of, and, like me, he’s one of those people who say yes to everything, no matter how bananas. If I wake up somewhere in Liverpool and have no clue where I am or how I got there, chances are I’ve been out drinking with Hugh the night before.
Matt the Mick! Matt the Mick is an old mate from uni – originally hailing from Belfast. We shared digs in third year, one of the craziest years of my life, when I tried my hand running for General Secretary of the Student Union (a sordid tale of racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism run amok which resulted in me turning my back on politics until the day I have no heart left to corrupt).
We once teamed up for the weekly uni debate to argue for giving Northern Ireland back to the Irish. Matt argued on the grounds of history, geography, the potato famine, Oliver Cromwell etc; I argued on the grounds that the Northern Irish are a bunch of whinging layabouts whose sorry contributions to the world included The Titanic, The Cranberries and the DeLorean fiasco and we British were better off without them (although the DeLorean could go back in time, which was pretty cool).
We won the vote and, surprisingly, Matt still spoke to me afterwards.
Leo! Leo swaggered into my life by marrying my cousin – they met backpacking in Australia. Originally from Dublin, he’s not only exceptionally witty, he’s a top webmaster, he plays every musical instrument under the sun and was the main character in two of my shorts, Day of the Jackanape and The Censor. I think if this were the 1800s, one would refer to him as a polymath.
Good ol’ Leo is head honcho here at theodysseyexpedition.com; his job at the moment pretty much revolves around removing all the swear words from my blogs so that they’re kiddy-friendly. The crafty butcher.
Stuart! Mand and I met Stuart way back in the heady days of 2003. Although terribly posh for someone who grew up just over the river Mersey, he’s got a heart of gold and a marvellously warped sense of humour.
He was looking for video work, so was I, and we decided to combine forces. This worked out quite well, with cameras, tripods, lights, mics etc going back and forth between us as necessary and we soon moved into an office together on Dale Street, which happened to be next door to…
Scott! Scott is the top graphic design genius behind the covers of some of the biggest selling albums of the last five years, including The Arctic Monkeys. You really wouldn’t guess that he’s from Wales. He heads up Bad Format!, a design company that looks set to take over the world. Together with Hugh, Scott is responsible for some of the more hilarious scrapes I’ve found myself in over the last few years. He designed the logo for The Odyssey.
Laura! Laura is a fellow video director who burst onto the scene back in 2007 whilst I was in the midst of The Beer Vortex (a three-month long beer and couchsurfing experiment). We met in the Jacaranda and she’s followed me around ever since. Obviously, being a happily married man (kinda) I have done all I can to shake her off, but she still follows me about, looking exceptionally foxy and usually clutching a video camera. Like me, she’s hopped on the Lonely Planet gravy train and they’re paying for her to film my UK shenanigans for the TV show.
Like Matt and Leo, she’s Irish, so we had the full complement of British and Irish nations covered, if you count my ginger beard as Scottish.
On our arrival in Dun Laoghaire, we had five minutes to get off the ferry and catch to the train for Dublin, or the whole plan would have gone out the window. So we ran like lunatics through the ferry terminal, slap bang into an Irish copper who wanted to know why we were filming ourselves running through the ferry terminal. We spluttered out an excuse about being students or something, flashed our passports (which must have proved we weren’t in Al-Qaeda) and continued running for the train.
At this point we lost Stuart, much in the style of The Adventure Game, and he was forced to walk home on his own. And then there was six.
So the Dirty Half Dozen continued on to Dublin railway station and then onto another train to Belfast. A couple more drinks and we were in fine fettle. It was about 4pm, we had 90 minutes before our ferry to Scotland, plenty of time for a swift-half. But, unbeknownst to us, six months ago Stena Lines had elected to move the ferry terminal from quite close to the railway station to THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON!
After walking for what seemed like days, we wound up at the Ferry Terminal with only ten minutes before the damn thing left. So no Guinness in The Crown for us! Bah! At this point, Leo teleported out like a self-aware redshirt and then there were five.
So the Famous Five jumped on the ferry over to Stranraer in Bonnie Old Scotland. The sky was blue, the sea was calm, nothin’ better. Once back on Terra Firma, we blagged our way onto the 7.40pm coach to Manchester, watched the sun setting over the glens, and Hugh saved the day by getting an exceptionally loud Romanian guy (who sounded so much like Borat it was almost unfunny) at the back of the bus to shut the hell up so other people can sleep.
Pulling into Manchester at 1.30am, we headed pell mell for The Curry Mile – for the curry I had been desperate for since the end of December. There we met fellow nighthawks Dino, Stan and Matt Eland, who deserve a little bit of an introduction.
Dino! Dino Deasha is probably my oldest mate from school. Though no fault of our own, we got the number 68 bus together every day for seven years. Dino (along with Ben and Yoz) is responsible for getting me into good music and we’re been to more gigs together than Mick an’ Keef. We lived together in uni and both worked in the union bar. Dino was with me in Egypt when I met Mand (he tapped off with her sister, the sly dog) and he’s probably got more dirt on me than everybody else who knows me put together. If this Odyssey thing results in a modicum of fame in the UK, it’s Dino who the tabloids will want to speak to.
Stan! Another uni mate – Stan Standryt and I worked in the union bar and with his irresistible lamb-chop sideburns, I had no choice but to take him under my wing and introduce him to the world of the music festival. Together we’ve been festing it every year for the past ten, all over the UK as well as foreign adventures in Denmark, Serbia and Thailand. I guess he’s quite respectable in his day job, but at night I’m a very bad influence.
Matt Eland! I know too many people called Matt. Actually, I know a disproportionate number of people whose name beings with ‘M’, but that’s another story. Matt Eland was in the team that should have won the Liverpool 48-hour film challenge back in 2006, but lost to my effort, Day of the Jackanape. Woo..ha..ha..ha. Not being a bad loser, Matt teamed up with me in 2007 to make The Censor and a bunch of other vids. Madcap adventures and nights of craziness ensued.
And so, after a bloody tasty curry at the Al-Nawaz, the scouse contingent bundled into a shared taxi and returned to Liverpool, arriving at about 5am. I said my goodbyes to the guys and got a bit of a lump in my throat that I won’t see them again for another year. But, you know, today just went to show that when you finally make it home, it’s still there waiting for you like a pair of comfortable slippers – and in many ways it’s like you never left.
I stayed at my parent’s house and had just enough time to charge up my laptop and have a conference call with Lonely Planet before sheer fatigue rendered me incapable of doing anything but dribble and stare at the hundreds of tiny luminous stars I stuck to my old bedroom ceiling fourteen years ago in a fit of teenage abandon.
Occasionally I get messages from malcontents who find themselves offended by negative comments I’ve made about their country on this blog. It goes without saying that you can’t please all the people all of the time, but I wouldn’t want you thinking that I’m blinded by some misplaced sense of patriotism into believing that the UK is the be-all-and-end-all. It’s not. My League of Nations list is (as I admit in the pre-amble) tremendously subjective, and the fact that England comes out on top has more to do with my family and friends than it does any sense of rabid nationalism.
With that in mind, and with last week’s riots leaving a bad taste in our mouths, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give the UK a damn good dressing down.
Before I start, let me just say that the UK has many, many things going for it. The world would culturally, scientifically and politically be a poorer place without dear old Blighty. I stand by my opinion that the British just don’t seem to get how good they have it when compared with the vast majority of other countries on the planet.
Sure, Newsweek can select Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland as the “best” countries in the world… but when it comes to literature, art and good old fashioned rock n’ roll, us little Englanders, Scotchers, Welshers and Northern Irelanders kick their arses from here to Timbuktu.
Having said that, if we could just iron out a few little niggles, the UK could be a much, much better place…
1. Public Transport
Considering we are dealing with the country that invented the steam engine, you’d think we’d have half a clue how to run an halfway decent public transportation service. But we don’t.
I would say that as far as the worst public transport service in the world is concerned, I’d have to tie the UK with the US. In short, it’s a frikkin’ embarrassment. Hell, at least in Guinea public transport is cheap. I’m not talking here about local transport, the London Underground is great, the trams in Manchester are top and what’s left of the Liverpool rail network gets a big thumbs-up from me. I’m talking intercity travel here, something that should be cheap and easy, considering most big British cities are located within walking distance (if you’re walking a marathon) from each other.
British intercity trains are horrifically overpriced – 260 quid for a return to London from Liverpool (a three-hour journey) – they rarely run on time, are often overcrowded, the toilets have a nasty tendency to fly open mid wee (and the “door-close” button is conveniently located out of reach of the toilet itself), the staff are notoriously rude and unhelpful, the companies running the trains are cowboys with a monopoly (laughing all the way to the bank no doubt) and the unprofitable part of the railway network – the maintenance of the track – is paid for by us gibbering idiots, yup: the taxpayer. Madness, utter madness.
That’s not to say the coach network provides much of an alternative. With the exception of the no-frills Megabus (which does a decent job of WYSIWYG), most of the country’s intercity coaches are operated by a monopoly called National Express. No competition (there are no other national coach companies and the trains are too expensive for 83% of the British population to afford) means that they can deliver a piss-poor service, charge over the odds and get away with it – something they’ve been getting away with for years. When I say that only Greyhound USA is worse, that’s hardly a compliment. It once took Mand and I ELEVEN HOURS to get back from London to Liverpoolon a National Express bus. I think we could have done it faster on horseback.
The fact that it’s cheaper for five people to buy a car, tax it, fill it with petrol and drive to London and back than to take the train is testament to how bloody awful the situation is. Your car could be stolen and burnt out upon completion of the journey and you’d still be better off than the five who spent over 1000 quid between them on the train.
But driving would mean driving down Britain’s god-awful motorways. Not that the motorways are poorly maintained, I’d argue that they’re not, it’s just that motorways in the UK are more like lorryways with an occasional car problem. Thanks to the short-sighted, piss-poor and quite frankly corrupt policy decisions of the Conservative government in the early 60s, our motorways, also paid for by the taxpayer, are long flat concrete bitches of the massive haulage companies that are no doubt using their mountains of gold coins as an indoor ski slope.
Ever heard of a chap called Ernest Marples? You should have. He ruined your life. Most people blame Dr Beeching for the utterly incomprehensible cannibalisation of the British railway system in the 1960s, but it was dickwit-in-chief Ernest Marples who was the puppetmaster. Take it away, Wikipedia:
Beeching had been appointed to his post as head of British Railways by Marples. Marples was not just a government minister; he also owned a construction company, Marples-Ridgway, whose main concern was constructing roads. They contributed to several motorway projects during the 1950s and 1960s and also constructed the Hammersmith flyover in London. When it was pointed out that being transport minister as well as a road builder might be construed as a conflict of interest, he agreed and divested himself of his shares in Marples-Ridgway. However, this was to his wife, with a clause to buy back the shares at the sale price when he ceased to be a minister: something not disclosed at the time.
Oh really? So let me get this straight: guy owns ROAD BUILDING company, gets job as government TRANSPORT minister, avoids accusations of conflict of interest by giving his shares to his wife, takes back his shares once he’s personally destroyed TWO-THIRDS of the British Rail Network (the only viable competition to HIS F—KING ROADS) and ensured his road-building company’s position on the gravy train for life. Now give me another wheelbarrow full of taxpayer’s money, my wife needs a new fur coat.
What a irredeemable bastard. Then again, you vote right-wing, you deserve everything you get: which will (invariably) mean the interests of wealthy individuals, companies and corporations trump your petty little needs every time. I can’t be the only one who notices that… Anyway, so here we are, fifty years on, our trains cost more than what most of us earn in a week, our coaches are several shades of god-awful and our motorways are gridlocked (since the freight that used to happily travel along the railways can’t travel on non-existent lines, apparently).
Oh, did I mention that even though there are very few surviving branch lines, the tax-payer STILL has to pay for the maintenance of the THOUSANDS of now unused bridges, tunnels and viaducts that criss-cross the nation? If a single loose brick falls onto the windscreen of a car passing underneath, it’s the great British public who will pay the damages. So we have a situation were we are paying to maintain infrastructure that we have pretty much NO WAY of getting ANY money back from whatsoever! Brilliant!!
Plus, thanks to Marples, North-East Liverpool has no railway anymore – in fact, there are nearly *50* closed railway stations in Liverpool: the highest number of any first-world city in the world. This means that in some of the most deprived area of Liverpool it’s next to impossible to get to work… unless you walk (in the rain), cycle (in the rain) or get the bus filled with screaming, gobbing, swearing, fighting schoolchildren as… oh yeah, we have no school buses(!). I don’t have to paint a picture of how unpleasant these 8.30am buses are, I’m sure you’ve got a good idea and it probably doesn’t involve Moonlight Sonata and caviar on the Orient Express.
Ninety years ago, Liverpool had a better, faster, more integrated and (bizarrely) GREENER public transport system than it has today. The same can probably be said for most cities in the UK. Progress anyone?!
A little suggestion: how about a new rule that companies are responsible for paying for bus and train passes so their employees to get to work? It would see a constant, reliable income for Public Transportation systems (even if the employees choose to drive instead) and discourage companies from employing people who would need to make a three-hour commute every day – you know, local jobs for local people? Smart.
Oh, and while you’re at it, re-nationalise the bloody railways. Even America — land of gullible poltroons who believe that corporations are their friends and that the government they elect is their enemy — has a nationalised rail service. Get with the program, you dithering Limey knuckleheads.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to that rotten bastard Marples:
“In the early 70s … he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear … So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company … there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions … He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years’ overdue tax … The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein.” (Richard Stott, ‘Dogs and Lampposts’, Metro Publishing, 2002, pages 166 – 171)
No doubt he was twirling his evil little moustache all the way.
2. The Architecture (since 1958)
I’ve written at length about the bum-scroff that passes for architecture around the world these days, but it really does boggle my mind and break my heart that Great Britain, the same country that spent a good 1000 years cooking up some of the most delicious buildings in the world should see fit to throw all that glorious heritage away and follow the nightmarish visions of that bastard crackpot Swiss pied piper of all things bleak, totalitarian and downright ugly – Le Corbusier, a man I have about as much respect for as Hitler. Which is to say, none.
So damn the renaissance, the neo-gothic and the art-nouveau, there’s a new kid in town – a cool kid that’s made of Asbestos and Legionnaire’s Disease, smells of piss and looks like a nuclear fallout shelter – a nuclear fallout shelter built in a hurry after they have already dropped the bomb. It came in over budget, the roof is leaking, the windows don’t open, the people inside are being slowly cooked alive, the lift is broken, the solidified mashed potato that constitutes the interior walls is crumbling away and to top it all the damn thing is just so goddamn ugly it makes Susan Boyle look like the Venus de Milo.
I wish I was describing one single god-awful edifice, maybe tucked away in the Outer Hebrideswhere nobody will ever see it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m talking about every building designed and built everywhere since 1958. Hell, you might think they’re beautiful, but then you’re presumably from Mars, were born without eyes and have wet dreams about Susan Boyle.
Hand in hand with the horror of our modern arseifaces, we have to give equal condemnation to the town planners … they should be flogged, covered in jam and fed to the wasps. Not content with scarring the very fabric of our historic towns and cities with the totalitarian horrors of the Mancunian Way, the Bullring and Leeds city centre Hotwheels circuit (not to mention the shameful demolition of the Euston Arch), they are also responsible for the god-awful shopping centres, the screwball thinking that towerblocks are a good idea, the car-centric concrete jungles of the 1960s and the disgraceful cloning of our towns… wouldn’t it be nice if every high street looked exactly the same eh? NO. NO IT WOULDN’T YOU CROWD OF MASSIVE RETARDS.
These vandals – this dark conspiracy of big business, lazy architects, megalomaniacal town planners and corrupt politicians – have irreparably scarred the once-beautiful cityscapes that previously graced our green and pleasant land. You can get a whiff of what once was if you stroll around Belgravia, Rodney Street or The Royal Crescent – and get a sense of what could be if you visit the magnificently restored St. Pancras Station, but at the end of the day, it seems that The Powers The Be have better things to spend your money on – wars, probably.
Before 1958, we would build warehouses that are so good-looking they are now UNESCO world heritage sites, we would build power stations so iconic that they would go on to grace the cover of a Pink Floyd album, we built extractor towers so fabulous that they barely look out of place on a street of prestige buildings. Now, however… urgh… I don’t want to go on with this, you get the picture. It makes me too miserable.
3. The Depression
Talking of being miserable, crikey we Englishers are a miserable bunch, aren’t we? Sometimes it seems like we’re only happy when we’re having a jolly good moan.
But there’s a major downside to this affliction (other than being teased by the rest of the world)… real depression is often overlooked and sadness is often misdiagnosed as something you can only cure with drugs. Hence the somewhat depressing (that’s probably not the right word) number of Brits on anti-depressants.
The general malaise that hangs over the good ship UK is something that has bothered me for a while, and there are two things that I think would help: a ban on building stuff out of bloody concrete (I’m serious) and a concerted effort by our politicians to end their idiotic bluster about competing economically against China(!) and instead push for laws, reforms and acts of parliament specially tailored to the explicit aim of ‘improving the happiness of the nation.’
You know what has been proven to improve the general happiness of any given nation? A small and shrinking gap between rich and poor. Since 1997, the rich/poor divide in the UK has grown exponentially… as has our general misery. This is no coincidence.
It looks like if we want to improve the general contentment of our electorate, it would be wise to whack up the tax rate on the super-rich and yes, fine, let them leave the country if they must… but add a twist:
1) Whoa whoa whoa!! You’re not taking that UK passport with you! Put. It. Down. Step away from the passport, you traitorous dog.
2) If you’ve left us for another continent and then decide you want to work in the EU in the future, you must apply for a working visa, like every other alien.
3) The support from British Embassies (paid for by John Q. Taxpayer) will be withdrawn. Good luck getting out of that Congolese jail, ya tyrant billionaire!
Ahhhh, I feel happier already.
4. The Schools
There’s a mad system in this weird little country I visited while trotting around the world and I’d like to share it with you.
In order to get your kid into a good school – thereby setting him or her with the best possible chance in life – you have to pick a football team. Yeah, that’s right, a football team. Even if you can’t stand football! You then have to attend every single match that team plays for a year. If you’ve pretended to be a really big fan and not looked too bored or criticise the owner of the club (who may or may not be a known facilitator of paedophilic activity), little Johnny will be allowed to go to this school.
Fail in this charade, and little Johnny goes to the shitty comprehensive five miles away and proceeds to get his head flushed down the toilet every day for the following five years, since little Johnny is either fat, gay, ginger or clever… all capital crimes, according to the law of the playground.
The schools in question, one should point out, are not paid for by the football teams and they’re not private either. These are publicly-funded schools, paid for by the tax-payer. What’s even more ridiculous is that these schools are under no obligation to employ any teachers that don’t support the correct football team, something that’s quite a whacked-out arbitrary requirement… and one that would be deeply illegal in any civilised country.
But then the UK is obviously not that civilised, since, yes, that is the ‘weird little country’ to which I referred. Just replace “football team” with “religion” and “match” for “service” and “owner” for, well… “owner”. How it is a good idea to separate our children into tribes based on what Bronze Age creation myth their parents (through an accident of birth) find themselves subscribed??
I’d love to be a gay teenager going to a Catholic school: it would make my day to hear how un-natural I was, that I’d be burning in hell once I died and that the bullies are right to bully me (I need fixin’!). I’d love to have no teacher I could confide in because I’m 14 years old and pregnant and thinking of having an abortion. I’d totally love it if I was told, in SCHOOL, that Aids was bad… but not as bad as condoms.
Although these real-world dilemmas are rendered moot by the horrors that play themselves out on the streets of Northern Ireland every night. Enforced segregation in ANY OTHER WALK OF LIFE is ILLEGAL – WITH GOOD REASON, with the exception of our schools. Take a deep breath and analyse those words… with the exception of our schools. Yes, a school in the UK has the right to deny me a jobeven as a caretaker if I don’t partake the ‘right’ religion.
Change “religion” for “skin colour” and you MIGHT JUST SEE why this system is so utterly abhorrent. Make no mistake about it: it is Apartheid. Apartheid blessed by the system, paid for by John Q. Taxpayer and legally free to discriminate in a way that not even the BNP is allowed to discriminate. Against children.
This post is entitled “Ten Things I Hate About U(K)”, but the cruel, inhumane, idiotic, openly discriminatory nature of the British School System alone could be “Things” 1 to 10.
5. Chav Culture (Innit)
From a country that exported its language and culture all over the world (not always forcibly!), chavs are nothing short of an abhorrent stain on the fabric of British society. I mean, what’s the use of a chav? At least troublemakers like the punks, mods and rockers had good music. These chavs dress like morons, talk like morons, act like morons… and embarrass the hell out of the 99% of the British population that are decidedly chav-nots.
To the uninitiated, a chav is a young British citizen who dresses in hooded tracksuits, wears a Burberry cap and sports tacky gold jewellery from catalogue shops that wouldn’t look out of place on a pantomime dame. Dressing like a clown is a rite of passage for all young people, but I can’t help but feel like all the good ideas (bike leathers, zoot suits, mohawks) have been done. So here we are: an entire generation that’s run out of ideas and is (understandably) bored with their lot. It’s amazing what utter bobbins can pass for being ‘cool’ in any given generation.
This boredom manifests itself in myriad ways – causing a nuisance outside the corner shop, hocking up and gobbing on the pavement, listening to repetitive generic crap on their iPhones (and forcing everyone else in a 3 mile radius listen to it too) and just being generally anti-social spoddy little toe-rags.
But I’m not just knocking the young here – chavic behaviour have been around since I was a kid. My real problem is with chav culture. That bolshie, anti-education thinking which brags its stupidity and attempts to make a virtue of ignorance. I can’t stand it. Being a dickhead is one thing, but being proud of being a dickhead is just… pathetic. And what has chav culture contributed to society? I really can’t think of a single positive, except perhaps to give us chav-nots something to make fun of.
But I would much rather it be the case that what we do make fun of is not so chinge-worthy for the rest of us. When I was younger I remember watching Jerry Springer and thinking “Ha! That’s hilarious! Stupid Yanks”. I will discuss how patently NOT stupid the Americans are later (when I talk about the British Film “Industry”), but at the time it did seem like that kind of trailer trash television was a peculiar cultural facet of our cousins on the other side of the pond. Of course, since the advent of Jeremy Kyle, we know that not to be the case.
And when chavs go abroad on holiday, their ‘culture’ ends up representing Britain to the world… and it’s not a pretty sight. When you’re talking to a foreigner or you’re a stranger in a strange land, you wind up representing your country by default.
The last thing any country needs are a bunch of boozed-up England shirt-wearing troublemakers running rampage through the streets. Chav culture ends up tarring all us Brits as dribbling guttersnipes who dress like Floridian retirees, are barely comprehensible, are usually drunk on Bacardi Breezers, have a tendency to fight in the streets, indulge in casual racism and are full of snarls and nastiness.
What a terrible advert for my otherwise green and pleasant land. It’s like every personality trait I find repulsive and irritating rolled into one massive ugly fungal infection – a fungal infection that’s running around telling everyone it’s British.
I would rather be stereotyped as a blustering buffoon in a bowler hat, a sexually repressed misanthrope always moaning about the weather or a uptight Fawlty hitting my car with a branch. When your only boast in life is that you could have been good at something, anything… but chose not to be, you’re not going to get any sympathy from me. Society might fail you… but don’t fail yourself.
Talking of Scroobius:
DING DONG! Reasons 6-10 are delayed due to leaves on the line. Gimme a couple of days…
Here’s the rest of my jolly list of ten things that make me pull my hair and scream about silly old Blighty…
6. The Daily Mail
For the non-Brits reading this, I’ll let Uncyclopedia explain what The Daily Mail means to us lot in the UK:
Often referred to as “Fascism with Oven Gloves on” The Daily Wail, also known variously as The Daily Hate, The Daily Heil, The Daily Bile, The Daily Hate Mail and The Daily Fail is a hugely popular British comic for those who believe themselves (usually mistakenly) to be members of the middle classes.
While I have nothing but quiet distain for comic-book newspapers like The Sun and The Star, at least everybody knows they’re comics. The Mail is different, it tries to fob itself off as a serious newspaper while obsessing over celebrities, immigration and Princess Diana like some demented old lady whose sole understanding of the massive cultural shifts of the last 100 years mean that “you can’t even call it a blackboard no more.”
And like that same batty old lady, The Daily Mail supported the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. After over half a million British and Commonwealth citizens lost their lives in the ensuing fight against the forces of fascism, you would think the Mail would show some contrition, some kind of humility, some kind of…
…I don’t know… tact? But I suppose that doesn’t sell too many papers.
But what really gets my goat about the Daily Mail is its — quite frankly — piss-poor science reporting. As may of you know, I’m very much an armchair cheerleader of the sciences, and while it is not my personal forte (I’m much better at roaming the world in search of beer), I do have an ongoing interest in all things science-y. But while my ignorance of the mechanics of the universe is something I actively try to combat, The Mail doesn’t even try. For The Mail, there are no incremental peer-reviewed advances in medicine, only MIRACLE CURES!! There are no interesting asteroids passing within 0.1 AU of the Earth, only DEADLY ASTEROIDS ON COLLISION COURSE!! There are no harmless chemicals in The Mail’s periodic table, only EVIL CHEMICALS THAT WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF AND SLEEP WITH YOUR WIFE!!
I will concede that the Mail did something noble once…
But the emphasis must be placed squarely on the word “once.” The fact that The Daily Mail is the second best-selling newspaper in the UK is just one more reason for me to add it to the list of 10 things I hate about the UK. For a daily update of the incredible lies, half-truths, distortions of reality and painfully uncritical press-release journalism, check out http://www.mailwatch.co.uk/
7. Prince Charles
I’m by no means a republican. I don’t envy the political systems of France or Italy (interestingly listed as ‘flawed democracies’ by the Democracy Index) and I believe that the American system of government is fundamentally flawed and unfixable.
My support for the institution of the British monarchy stems from three things:
1) there’s nothing socially, morally or politically wrong with having a constitutional monarchy (as evidenced by it being the preferred system of 7 of the 10 most democratic nations on the planet).
2) The Queen routinely receives a whopping 80% approval rating. Take THAT, Sarkozy!
3) Cultural identity is important (not important enough to kill for, but I’ll come to that later) and we’ve had these posh twits sitting on the throne for so long that it has become part of what makes Britain, well, Britain. Like Peperami and Doctor Who.
As our head of state (and head of the Commonwealth) the Queen’s job is to smile and nod and keep her gob shut. I like that. I don’t want my country represented around the world by some career politician – one that would no doubt blab his mouth off, own 70% of the nation’s media and slap ladies on the bottom like some kind of 1930s cartoon wolf.
In short, so long as they keep their sticky beaks out of politics, I’m more than happy to have a monarch.
Having said that, I just can’t bring myself to support the concept of a King Charles III. The guy is an idiot, he cheated on his wife (and got caught), he is an active supporter of woo medicine and (most importantly) he can’t just keep his bloody gob shut. So I’m sorry Charlie-boy, you suck. If you cannot muster the same high level of approval as your mum, then that thing wot makes you King has to skip a generation – just bear in mind what happened to Charles I…
Oo-eck, Graham, one minute you’re slagging off the Daily Mail, and then the next you’re jumping on one of their pernicious bandwagons. Before you accuse me of being some kind of double-agent, let me explain. The Daily Mail is anti-immigration. I am not. All that multiculturalism does is confirm all the prejudices that Daily Mail readers have about immigration. “If we hadn’t let them in in the first place this never would have happened” etc. This is because multiculturalism has never, will never and can never work.
When I talk about preserving the monarchy for cultural reasons, it is only because it is harmless. Any culture that causes physical harm or mental anguish is not one that the human race needs to preserve. The Solomon Islanders are much better off now than when they were running about eating each other. The Chinese practice of foot binding has (thankfully) been swept away with the passage of time, as has the fine old game of throw-the-widow-on-the-funeral-pyre that proved popular in medieval India.
It follows that we should not be falling over ourselves to protect the rights of people to do horrible, stupid, misguided and morally bankrupt things to each other in the name of ‘culture’.
Sharia Law is the most blatant example of this, but what about the Northern Irish and their idiotic marches? What about the Jewish woman forced to sell her home in to pay for the ‘Get’ that will allow her to divorce her husband in the eyes of Goddy? What about the gay kid disowned by his or her parents for making baby Jesus cry (presumably)? What about the unfortunate child of Jehovah’s Witnesses who would rather let them die than give them a blood transfusion? What about the young girl of North East African descent who is taken home by her parents in the summer holidays to have her genitalia mutilated with a septic blade?
Honour killings, forced marriage, animal cruelty, sexism, racism, homophobia, sadism, slavery: they have all been justified by saying ‘it’s my culture’. This is when culture stops being about delicious food, amazing architecture and fancy dance moves, and becomes something a lot more sinister.
So it follows that attempting to set up a system in which people are told that everybody’s ‘culture’ (however you choose to define that word) is equally valid is obviously never going to work. We’ve got to stop using ‘culture’ as a trump-card that renders all argument moot and brands any dissenters as insensitive, or even more fallaciously, racists.
Just as the British flag has been hijacked by extremists to mean something it shouldn’t, so the word ‘culture’ has been hijacked by every yahoo who wants to defend something that is otherwise pretty damn indefensible. The upshot of which is that now (say) ‘spicy food’ is seen as part of a given culture, but so is some bafflingly cruel custom that nobody in the UK wants or needs. The word ‘culture’ is being used to trump human rights and human dignity.
The basic concept of multiculturalism is that you lump the rough with the smooth and it’ll all work its way out in the wash. The reality is very different. In making my argument, it would be helpful for me to split the word ‘culture’ in two. So let’s say ‘noble culture’, which we can group under headings such as ‘art’ and ‘science’ and let’s have ‘rotten culture’ which we can group under the headings ‘cruelty’ and ‘stupidity’.
There is a fine balance to be struck here, but it’s not that hard to achieve: Welcome to Britain, leave your unwanted baggage at the door, thanks. Of course you can bring your beautiful calligraphy, your ancient texts and your fabulous music, but the bigotry, misogyny and homophobia… well, I’m afraid they’re not welcome here, despite what Richard Littlejohn thinks.
So while I am a massive supporter of ‘noble culture’, I see no intrinsic good coming from ‘rotten culture’. All I see is misery, despair and isolation. And it is these facets that make multiculturalism so divisive and so problematic. By positively encouraging people to make absolutely no effort whatsoever to integrate into the wider community we are doing nothing but contributing to the increasing ghettoisation of the UK.
This cuts both ways: British ex-pats who live their lives in foreign climes for years on end and never bother to learn the local lingo are just as irksome to me as Pakistanis in Bradford who don’t learn English. If anything, it shows a basic lack of respect for the indigenous community in the place you have chosen to live. It doesn’t matter whether the natives are I-Kiribati, Aboriginal or Glaswegian, there can be no cross-community cohesion while we have this Balkanisation of communities… something that is achieved through the exploitation of cultural fault-lines: ie. the rotten stuff.
Kipling was wrong when he said that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. We can all agree that Lamb Rogan Josh is a good thing, that the Taj Mahal is beautiful and that Bollywood films are a bloody good larf. In these cases, East meets West and everyone has a bloody good time.
But when it comes to the Indian caste system, we are faced with a situation in which one community is wrongfully stratified from birth and people are openly discriminated against by other members of their community for obscure and nefarious reasons. We can’t somehow incorporate that into our moral framework, our laws or our society. And the same goes for Sharia: we can’t have a community in the UK which runs itself on laws which ignore the last 200 years of social progress. A two-tier system system of justice and morality is most definitely not what the doctor ordered.
When David Cameron said a few months ago that ‘multiculturalism has failed’, there was hardly a mumble of dissent. As much as I hate to agree with a Tory who looks like the robot from Star Trek, multiculturalism in the UK has been a massive failure: it has led to misery, bitterness, hate crimes, the regrowth of the British Nazi movement.
In short, having a ‘one size fits all’ policy when it comes to cultural matters, we’ve really shot ourselves in the foot. Branding something ‘cultural’ does not automatically make it worthwhile, necessary or good.
Overcoming our inherent tribalism while still retaining the ‘noble culture’ of our tribe (and learning from the ‘noble culture’ of others) is something that all of us should strive to achieve: whether we’re a native or an immigrant. After all, it’s a lot more difficult to say you hate any given minority when your best friends come from that very minority.
I’m very much a believer in the ‘melting pot’ society: schools that are separated by individual strengths, not by race, religion or creed. Communities that are encouraged to work together, not tear each other apart. Politicians that represent the aspirations of the country, not just their own narrow agenda. A UK where being intolerant, impolite and thuggish is seen as an affront to all our ‘noble culture’: a place where if I see a bunch of angry skinheads marching along the street shouting racist obscenities and I can gather my friends from all over the world and say “oh dear, how desperately un-British.”
9. The Film “Industry”
This deserves a post all of its own, but I’ll try and keep this brief: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein… if we were to put the money that these BRITISH creations have made for HOLLYWOOD together, we would enough wonga to buy the moon.
Of the top 20 box office hits of all time, 10 were British inventions (I’m including the Titanic in that!), and 13 feature a British main character – sometimes even a Yank pretending to be British.
All eight Harry Potter films were filmed in the UK, with a British cast, British crew, British producer, and based on the books by a British writer. The last five films were all directed by Brits.
Deathly Hallows Parts I and II have (so far) taken a whopping $2,300,000,000 worldwide – just at the box-office. That’s not taking into account DVDs, downloads, spin-offs, merchandise, the World of Harry Potter or the fact Dumbledore is now the gay icon of the age. Put the entire series together and we are talking MEGAbucks, more than the annual GDP of some countries.
And where does all this money go?
Why? Because British people are stupid. Oh yeah, look at us producing a decent sit-com at a rate of about one per decade – aren’t we great? Occasionally we get enough money together to make a feature film, but instead of setting the box-office alight with our tried-and-tested intellectual property, we decide what the world REALLY NEEDS is another dreary period drama set in a swamp. Or a gangster film.
We’re useless, aren’t we? Too busy watching soap-operas instead of spinning our best ideas into box-office gold. Would it really have made ANY difference AT ALL if a British studio had paid to make the Harry Potter films? No. We had the tools, we had the talent. All we are missing is ANY LIVING BRITISH ENTREPRENEUR with a brain and a pair of balls. Somebody willing to invest 100 million quid, not on some god-awful building that they’ll demolish in 30 years, but on a safe bet that they will make over a BILLION POUNDS OF PURE PROFIT at the box-office.
EIGHT TIMES OVER!!
Do me a favour, the next time you’re at a party and some pretentious Brit says that “all Americas are thick”, punch them in the cock and scream “Tell that to Harry Potter!!”
10. The Weather
Ah yes. The weather. This is what the British do when the sun comes out:
They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I don’t necessarily believe that. I think home is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Today this ginger scoundrel is coming home. Coming home to my family and friends, to my girlfriend Mandy, my city of Liverpool and to the nation that I know and love.
You’d think spending three and a half years travelling would make me more cynical about my home. I meet ex-pats who spit vitriol on my sceptred isle, they’ll go off on one about the lack of discipline, the joke that is public transport, the fact that the country is far too left-wing/right-wing, moan about immigrants, moan about taxes, moan about windfarms/mobile phone masts/X-Factor/dogshit/speed cameras you name it. Hey, but some people like to moan, that’s their prerogative. But I don’t see it that way. Where they just see a dead end, I see light at the end of the tunnel: I see solutions, simple effective solutions to many of the problems facing the UK at the moment. I picked some of them up from travel, some from obsessing over the news, some from books on political science and some just came to me in the night while I was trying to suss out how I was going to get out of Africa and not die.
But that’s a whole new blog, one for after The Odyssey Expedition is over. Let’s just say that while I’m happy to acknowledge my homeland’s shortcomings (as I did in THIS BLOG ENTRY), I am also more than happy to give credit where credit is due.
With the Olympics successfully lifting the spirits of the nation, I feel it is entirely appropriate to dedicate this blog entry to what makes Britain pretty frikkin’ awesome. So without further ado, (and just to piss Morrissey off) here’s my list of the Ten Things I Love About U(K):
1. Our Rock n’ Roll
Quite rightly highlighted at the opening and closing of the Olympics, Britain ROCKS. Face facts, rest of the world: if it wasn’t for the UK, the US and Jamaica, the music of planet Earth would be SHOCKINGLY BAD. It’s not like the Italians are incapable of putting together a decent rock band (although they are), it’s not like every nasally putt-putt beat from India sounds the same (although it does) and it’s not like the Canadians really needed to inflict Dion, Adams, Morrissette, Laveen, Furtado and f—ing Bieber on the planet (although they did) – but this is the situation we’re in.
The French government, terrified by the lack of rock n’ roll in modern France, made it so a high percentage of songs on the radio had to be in the French language. Did this help? Did we experience a renaissance of French sign-of-the-devil rock-out awesomeness? Nah. We got to hear a bit more of Plastic Bertrand’s back catalogue AND THAT WAS IT. The only effect it had was to make less people listen to the radio.
So then TeamGB, let’s do this JUST OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD… The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces, The Animals, David Bowie, T-Rex, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Queen, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Clash, The Jam, Iron Maiden, The Smiths, Madness, The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, Suede, Blur, Radiohead, Pulp, Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, Tindersticks, The Prodigy, Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand, The Guillemots, Bloc Party, Kasabian, Interpol, Florence and the Machine, Elbow*… is that enough for now?
If I had my iPod with me I could name a hundred more. But to be honest with you I could have stopped at ‘The Beatles’ – four lads from my neck of the woods who wrote more great songs in 8 years than the combined output of THE ENTIRE CONTINENT of Australia has in 225. We give them The Sex Pistols and what do we get in return? Jet! Dear God…
Now name me five great French bands from ANYTIME IN THE PAST SIXTY YEARS. Or Italian. Or Spanish. Or German. Or African. Or South American. Or Central American. Or Middle-Eastern. Indian? Chinese? Japanese??
You can’t?** What a surprise. NOW PLUG IN YOUR AIR GUITAR, CRANK IT UP TO 11, SCREW UP YOUR EYES AND SCREAM DOWN THE MIC…
*Man, if you don’t have at least one track by one of these bands and artists on your iPod, you don’t deserve ears.
**I said ‘great’. Please don’t just rattle off five bands that nobody’s heard of!!
2. Our Contribution to Science
Robert Hooke, James Clarke Maxwell, Joseph Bazelgette… these people, if they had been born anywhere else in the world, would have been lauded as national heroes. You’d see them on the banknotes, they’d be statues of them outside every train station. In Britain however, they’re kinda the also-rans, which is nuts when you consider that even the lesser-known inventors, scientists and engineers of Great Britain out-accomplish anything you, me or Steve Jobs have ever done. We’ve had way, way, way more than our fair share of utter geniuses — Halley’s Comet, The Hubble Space Telescope, the Higgs Boson: all named after Brits — and a system in place since the 1600s where their ideas and concepts are allowed to flourish (unless you happen to be gay).
Again, off the top of my head, here’s some things that the boundless boffins of British gave the world: vaccination, the laws of gravity, efficient steam power, trains, the theory of evolution, electricity, the telephone, vulcanised rubber, tanks, television, radar, the big bang theory (the theory, not that bloody awful TV show), the computer, the concept of geo-stationary satellites and – oh yes – the goddamn world wide web.
Our gang did all that. And now everybody in the world sets their watch according to how far they are from London, everyone communicates using a protocol designed and given away for free(!) by a Brit and pretty much everyone in the world uses a British invention at least once a day. You’re using several now just reading this.
I don’t know if it’s because we don’t like harping on about our achievements, or maybe it’s just that we never made any money out of them, but we hardly touched upon this stuff at school, which is a shame. This is the good stuff, you know – like standing up to the Nazis – that should serve to remind us that while we should never deny how beastly the British have behaved in the past, our moral ledger in terms of the good of humanity is, overall, in the black.
In case you were wondering, Robert Hooke was the first to suss out gravity (and it was he, not Wren, who designed the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral) and Maxwell’s pioneering work on the electromagnetic spectrum paved the way for everything from radio to wi-fi to x-rays to radar to night-vision goggles to the Keplar Space Telescope. Bazalgette? If you live in a first-world country, you probably owe him your life.
3. Our NHS
Much maligned in the press and everybody’s got their own horror story about someone they knew who died in a hospital (most people do!), but after travelling to over 200 countries and territories, I have to say, the NHS is something we got dead right. To be able to see a GP for free is a privilege that hardly any people in the world enjoy. In France, you have to pay. In Australia, you have to pay up front and then if you’re epically poor, a vast and pointless bureaucratic process grinds into life and you *might* get half your money back. Don’t even get me started on American health care or we’ll be here all night.
Yes the NHS is not perfect, there are limits to what it can achieve, but we need to get over that. Democracy isn’t perfect, Scarlett Johansson isn’t perfect (almost, though, almost), the world isn’t a perfect sphere (it’s an oblate spheroid) and we don’t go around the sun in a perfect circle (hence the Southern Hemisphere summer being hotter and more skin-cancery than summer up north). We don’t need to strive for perfection, we just need to make things as good as they can possibly, realistically, be.
Dedicated doctors and nurses have, over generations, vaccinated us, treated us, medicated us, eased the pain, put us back together again and did everything in their power to keep us alive – and they’ve done it not based on how rich you are or how good your insurance cover is – they’ve done it on a wage paid by central government.
We don’t get a receipt after a spell in hospital telling us exactly how much money we’ve just cost the taxpayer, but I think we should. Not to pay it, but just to make us more aware of just how much we take for granted. I’m sure it would make people think again before complaining they had to wait six months for a minor operation, or thinking that everyone claiming the dole is a no-good degenerate freeloader. And it would make us hate gazillionaire tax dodging creeps LIKE BONO even more.
4. Our Political Institutions
Strange one, I know, but pretty much every modern parliamentary democracy in the world has its roots in the parliamentary system of the UK. But let’s go back further in time, back to the days of King John: the man who signed the Magna Carta: the first document in recorded history in which a king acknowledged an institution greater than himself: the law. If he broke that law, we could chop off his head. Brilliant!
Now when you look at tyrants all over the world, you see them acting above the law, it’s almost like they have blanket permission to do vile and gruesome things to the people they claim to represent. The sad thing is that they do. The UN should be the institution greater than the leader of a country. But no, it not only fails to act in cases of tyranny, genocide, civil war: it gives the fuckpigs who run these countries immunity from prosecution… so long as they remain president!! I often get asked by moral relativists “what gives you the right to tell other countries what to do?”, I’ll tell you who we are: we’re the good guys.
The UK is not the UN (I’d pull the UK out of the UN and take Europe and The Commonwealth with me, but then I always have had a flair for the dramatic), and our system, as flawed and nonsensical as it may seem to outsiders, does actually work. It produces strong governments, it prevents leaders ‘going off on one’, it offers weekly abrasive (and often entertaining) criticism of the government at PMQs and it offers people a chance to get involved (they must be mad, but that’s another story). We don’t suffer from a weak political system like Belgium (have they got themselves a government yet?), we don’t suffer from the corruption and cronyism inherent in presidential systems and our biggest political financial scandals involves duckponds. Not gold-plated 747s.
Of course, like with the NHS, our system isn’t perfect. I’d personally like an elected upper house, a preferential voting system and professional councillors (as in local government reps, not shrinks). There’s much more still to do, but we can do it. If there’s a political will, there’s a way. We’re not stuck in a rut like our poor cousins across the pond, growing sicker by the day as the noose that is their anachronistic constitution grows tighter around their bloated decadent necks.
And there’s something else here: Britain is a highly politicised nation – everyone has an opinion on everything. We love politics, it’s almost like a sport to us. You won’t meet a British taxi driver or a hairdresser who doesn’t have solid view of what they would do if they were in charge. They might be miles wide of the mark, but I would rather someone had an opinion, even if I venomously disagree with it, than no opinion at all.
5. Our (Completely Nutso) Sense of Adventure
I don’t doubt that thousands of other people could do what I’ve done, given enough motivation, sheer bloody-mindedness and delusions of grandeur. However, I do suspect that my Britishness has something to do with my compulsion to do this in the first place. Why would French writer Jules Verne make Phileas Fogg an Englishman? Why was it Stanley, a Brit, who first chartered the interior of Africa? What drove so many of our great adventurers – Raleigh, Drake, Cook, Scott, Shackleton, Sir Ranulph Fiennes – into the wild blue yonder? There is a restlessness of the British, a restlessness that often gets us into trouble, but when we do it well, we inspire the world.
When I was travelling around Africa I met people who were incredulous at what I was doing. If you had the money, why wouldn’t you spend it on a TV? Or a nice comfy sofa? As opposed to travelling through some of the least fun places on Earth, on your own, covered in dust and sleeping on concrete floors.
I have to say, they had a good point, but you can’t help what makes you happy. And couches and TVs and routine do not make me happy. I like something new every day, to learn something I didn’t know before, to met a stranger who becomes a friend, to stumble around this crazy world spreading happiness and learning wisdom while having the time of my life. This is why I do what I do, this is why I will continue to do it until the day I die and I thank my lucky stars that I have family and friends back in the UK who just get it and who support me every step of the way.
6. Our Lit and Lang
Again, where do I start? The three most successful Hollywood franchises of all time: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, James Bond. All British books.
Let’s rush head-first through some of the most beloved (or loathed) heroes and villains in the world: Sherlock, Moriarty, Heathcliff, Ben Gunn, Gulliver, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Malaprop, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Ebenezer Scrooge, Dr Jeykell (and Mr Hyde), Oliver Twist, Colonel Kurtz, Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit, Mary Poppins, Leopold Bloom, Biggles, Sam Spade, Harry Lime, The Jackal, Harry Palmer, George Smiley, Alex De Large, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Lyra Belacqua, Voldemort and Christian friggin’ Grey.
Don’t even get me started on Shakespeare.
Which makes it even more potty that we often overlook the English language when considering the UK’s contribution to the world. While I completely agree that living languages should be protected and a world in which everybody only spoke English would be a thoroughly undesirable one, the fact remains that English is the Lingua Franca of Planet Earth. It achieved this not only through British dominance of the 19th century and American dominance of the 20th, but also by being a language that is malleable, fluid and completely undaunted by the addition of foreign words into our vocabulary. And what a vocabulary! In English there are (according to The Google) over 1,000,000 words. To put that into perspective, In Danish there are between 40,000 and 120,000. We have stackfuls of synonyms for everything, so many that it’s considered bad writing etiquette to just the same noun, verb or adjective twice in the same paragraph.
We enjoy a dizzying array of options of how to express a concept in words, something shown by our love of alliteration, puns and verse. We also have the most phenomenal swearwords. Compare the sounds-like-a-make-of-car ‘Cabron!’ with the wonderfully unequivocal ‘Motherf—–!’, ‘Merde!’ to the terrible satisfaction of screaming ‘SHIT!!’ or take the mild-sounding ‘figa’ to the splendidly face-slapping vulgarity of ‘c–t’. The English language offers such perfect darts of verbal venom, it’s no surprise that (according to rumour) the only English words that Richard The Lionheart knew were swear words. Use them well, my fellow Earthicans.
7. Our General Lack of Faith
I make no bones about it: I hate religion. Everything about it disgusts me. I’m not just talking about the usual common-or-garden child rape, suicide bombing, disease-enabling or subjugation of women that are part and parcel of modern faith cults: I’m taking about the very concept, the arrogance that of the billions and billion and billions of planets in the universe, we’re so special that we can talk to the guy what made it all. The supreme egotism of minds all over the world who honestly believe they will survive their own deaths and the greed implicit in the mindset that this incredible universe, this beautiful, majestic, endlessly fascinating world is not enough. What are you? James Bond? Get over yourself! You aren’t that special and listen up fact fans! the world is quite enough, thank you very much.
You’ll get 80 years here if you’re lucky then you will go back to not existing, just like you didn’t exist for 13.7 billion years before you were born. I can understand that for a toothless goat-herder in Helmand the wish for a better (after)life is a powerful one, but does it really help? Surely with no concept of heaven he would be more inclined to make his situation better now, instead of giving up and just waiting to die… because, let’s face it, waiting to die is a damn sight easier than fighting to build a better world in the here-and-now.
Imagine. Billions of people all over the world, all striving to make their situations – and the situations of those around them – better. All of us, working together to alleviate poverty, want and hunger. This will only happen once – to paraphrase Emile Zola – ‘the last stone falls from the last church onto the last priest’.
This world is AMAZING, and – even better – we humans are IN CHARGE of it, custodians of a tiny spinning oasis of life in a bleak barren deadly vacuum of death. Make no mistake: space is instant dead for millions and millions of miles in all directions. Why do you think I find it so annoying that people don’t take climate change seriously? In short: we really need to start taking better care of our planet, because if we don’t… it’ll kill us.
One of the first things that must be done in order to save the world is to end the special privilege we give to religions: tax-free status, political power, the right to spread bigotry, homophobia and misogyny, the right to sodomise our children etc. Happily, according to the latest YouGov poll, and for the first time in history, people in the UK who claim no religion are in the majority. HELL. YES.
Oooh I can see Satan dance with delight as we legalise gay marriage, we send hate-priests off to jail and we force church groups to allow same-sex parents to adopt. With church attendance dropping on a weekly basis, we the people will be able to buy back the beautiful churches that dot the land and turn them into health-care centres, offices, nightclubs, abortion clinics or gay saunas (preferably whichever option annoys the religious the most :-D).
Thanks to the strenuous efforts of bullshit-blasting folks like Prof Richard Dawkins and the late great Christopher Hitchens, us atheists are finally out of the closet and are making one hell of a racket. We’re as mad as hell, and we ain’t going to take it anymore. It’s time to put religion back in its place – the Bronze Age. Give it another ten years and we might finally, FINALLY free our country from the irrational and barbaric whims, prejudices and foibles formulated by some desert tribe 3000 years ago. I can’t wait.
8. Our BBC
The more I see of what poor foreigners in third-world countries (such as France) have to put up with on TV, the more my heart soars at the notion of going home and watching TV without adverts, TV news that is as impartial as its possible to be, TV that actually teaches you something about the world: QI, Horizon, Panorama or anything even mildly Sir David Attenborough. Quite frankly, The Beeb (or Auntie) is the best broadcaster in the world – it’s who we have to thank for Monty Python, The Young Ones, Blackadder, The Office and Monkey Dust. Yes HBO and AMC have been cranking out some incredibly good shows over the last few years, but they don’t have the same long history as the Beeb or the same place in people’s hearts.
I was given a ton of documentaries by the captain of the Southern Pearl: enough to fill a hard disk, and nearly all of them were BBC. The few that were American “WHEN BUILDINGS COLLAPSE!” were, quite frankly, unwatchable. And as I video-director myself, I can’t help but admire the technical quality of BBC programmes, it not just about the incredible shots you see on the natural history shows, it’s the polish that makes the BBC a cut above the rest – just check out the snazzy idents. ITV, its (commercial) competitor, chooses yellow and blue for their livery. Of course they would, they have the taste of the people who designed Ukraine’s flag. Or the Olympic logo, typeface and mascots (no they have NOT grown on me). The Beeb, on the other hand, go for stately maroon and a splendid sans serif font reminiscent of Johnson Sans (my favourite font, everyone should have a favourite font).
ITV haven’t made a decent TV show since Cracker back in 1994, almost 20 years ago. And while some aspects of the BBC piss me off (EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing, BBC3), overall I can’t wait to get back, put my feet up and enjoy an evening with Auntie.
Plus, come on, they gave us the Amy Pond Show!!
9. Our Contribution to World Sport
Football, rugby, cricket, golf, boxing, tennis, badminton, squash, snooker, croquet, lawn green bowls, bungee jumping, curling, the hammer, sailing, ping-pong, darts, tiddly-winks, the Modern Olympics: you name it, there’s a good chance it was invented or codified in the UK. And when we see people from all cultures, all backgrounds, all countries coming together for the World Cup or the Olympics you just have to marvel at the rather incredible contribution us Britishers gave the world. We gave it away for free (only for the French to form the corrupt and vile criminal cartel we call Fifa) because that’s just what we do. Okay, so we usually don’t do so well in the sports we invented*, but what the hell would the world be playing without us? I’ll tell ya: kibaddi, boules and buzkashi. You could imagine the love, respect and mutual understanding that would be generated by a group of young man on horseback battling over a dead goat.
There are loads more things I love about the UK I can write about: our food, our nightlife, our countryside, our social mobility, our Union Jack, our pubs, our festivals, our hedonism, our dark sense of humour, our self-deprecation, our David Attenborough, our biscuits, our breakfasts… not to mention our splendid obsession with tea. But I did say this piece was written to piss off Morrissey, so I thought I’d add our Queen to the list. Gawd Bless Ya, Ma’am. Now can you pass me the mint sauce, this tasty sizzling lamb chop ain’t gonna eat itself.
Right, that’s it. We can get back to grumbling about the weather now.
So the last two weeks have not been particularly merry ones. But, on the bright side, I’ve been able to spend time with my dad (and… er… let him beat me at Trivial Pursuit) and I’ve been able see my friends and have a good mooch around my city. I was invited by my mate Steve to the annual Hollyoaks barbecue, Brian and I came third in the infamously difficult Fact Cinema Film Quiz (sample question: “Who Directed Caddyshack 2?”) and, let’s face it, the Paralympics were BRILLIANT.
Last Sunday morning, nice and early, I made my way down to the Big Smoke, London, or ‘Kings Landing’ as I’ve decided to call it from now on (a place awash with incest, vice and vile plots). I arrived in time to catch the end of the marathon and met up with Matt Eland and his mate Val for a few cheeky tinnies in the park. The weather was spectacular and the afternoon was as thoroughly pleasant as the one I spent doing pretty much exactly the same thing four weeks ago when I first arrived home.
I left Matt and Val in the capable hands of Hyde Park and met up with Lindsey, one of my top mates from back in the day. We joined up with fellow Liverpoolian Michelle for a night-time picnic on Hampstead Heath before heading back to watch the closing ceremony of the Paralympics on the telly.
Now I was in London for two reasons. One was to get myself a visa for India (no that’s not cheating, I could have got it just as easily in Sri Lanka if I was there) and the other was to try and find a nice new home for the broadcast of the post-Jan 2010 Odyssey Expedition tapes.
…but that could all wait until tomorrow. For the moment, I had some athletes to oggle at. Today was the day of the London 2012 Olympic Victory Parade. I headed over to meet with Sam Morton, an old school chum of mine who works in the City of London. Being the spawny git you’ve all come to love and loathe, this meant I was at the very start of the parade. While others had to make do with shakycam iPhones held aloft as their favourite Olympians from Our Greatest Team whizzed past, I had the pleasure of getting some cracking footage of Jessica Ennis et al on my trusty old Sony A1 before the buses had even started moving.
That on its own would have been cool enough to freeze the Red Sea, but the best was yet to come. After the buses had rolled past and the cheering and hollering was done, Sam had to get back to work, so I met up with Matt Eland and Val and we jumped the Underground over to Trafalgar Square – the idea being that we could head ‘em off at the pass, so to speak. But as the train trundled through Embankment, we thought there’d be too many people there, so why don’t we try and gatecrash the ‘ticket only’ event on The Mall (the big road what runs up to Buckminsterfullerene Palace)? As things transpired, we didn’t need to bother: a bit of Scooby-Dooing later and we got a much better deal: Birdcage Walk.
You see, after all was said and all was done (Boris Johnson’s line about ‘The Final Tear-Stained Juddering Climax’ reminded me of… oh you don’t want to know), our Olympians and Paralympians would be (st)rolling down Birdcage Walk towards the coaches that were scheduled to take them to the after-show party.
In other words, if the Olympics were the Greatest Show On Earth, we found ourselves waiting at the stage door. And we pretty much had the place to ourselves!
Heeding my own advice there, Stan and I headed over to the pub and met up with Matt and Lindsey, who had become estranged from me in the melee. We toasted to the end of the Great British Summer of Sport, we toasted to The Queen and we toasted to evil! It was a good good day.
Tuesday began with a long walk from Lindsey’s flat in Kilburn Maida Vale to Victoria to put in my Indian visa application. While sitting in a nearby café, nursing my £1.50 mug of tea, I got a Facebook message from Russell out of The Zutons (who I used to go to primary school with) asking if I wanted to come see him play at The Roundhouse the next day. I said yeah and he put me down on the guestlist with a +1. It wouldn’t be until much later that day that I realised that Russell was now the bassist in Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Hey, I’ve been away, okay?!
Which means that in the few short weeks I’ve been home I’ve seen not only Blur but half of Oasis as well. For free! Did I mention how good Britain is to me? Lovely, lovely Britain. I love you. I know I was a bit harsh about Australia in my last post (and no doubt lost a good few subscribers) but still… Britain!
My friend Scott rang and told me he had arranged a meeting with a TV producer who is looking to do some work with Google (they what own YouTube). After my experience at the hands of mmm, mmm and mmm I’m not keen to go anywhere near another TV show, but I’d be very happy to let my adventure from January 2010 onwards be uploaded for all you watch online, anywhere in the world. So the meeting was set for the next day and there was a spring in my step as I skipped over to Islington (another good walk) to meet with Scott and his wife Louise for some after-work drinkies. We were joined by Matt The Mick and those few after-work drinkies turned into a few after-work drinkies too many.
I ended up kipping at Scott’s and in the morning we went to his workplace, The Creative Corporation in Islington. It’s a top design company with its offices in Britannia Row Studios – a building owned by Pink Floyd. So much awesome stuff has gone down in that building it’s insane – Animals and The Wall were recorded here, not to mention Blue Monday and Cool For Cats. After I calmed down from my awe-struckism with the musical heritage of the place, I met Scott’s boss Dave (who I’m now meeting up with in Madagascar, with any luck) and prepped for this meeting.
The meeting went well (it’s not what you know…) and I spent the rest of the day poring over the emerging details about The Hillsborough Disaster (and subsequent cover-up) and trying my best not to distract the flame-haired office apprentice, KC, from her work. I wasn’t so good at that. In the evening, KC and I headed to Kings Cross to meet with another flame-haired marvel, Dan “NME” Martin as well as Matt Eland. After a couple of drinks, Dan headed off to the gig he was supposed to be attending, Matt and I headed off to see Noel and Russell at The Roundhouse and KC headed off home (as I kicked myself for not having a +2).
The gig was brilliant, not as many Oasis songs as I would have liked, but still, how good is it to see a guy who you’ve known since you were 5, someone you used to chase around the toilets with Betty The Bog Brush, standing on stage, supplying the bass and harmonies for Noel freakin’ Gallagher? Russ, you rock my world!! Afterwards, as I raced back to Lindsey’s on the last train I looked back on what had been a great day for me personally, but also for my city of Liverpool.
If you’re not from the UK, you might not know much about the Hillsborough disaster, but in a nutshell, back in 1989 there was a football match and 95 Liverpool FC fans were crushed to death after the police shepherded people into the back of an already full standing terrace. Another fan, brain-dead and on life support, died a few years later.
Instead of taking responsibly for their mistakes, the police blamed the fans. And everybody – the media included – towed that party line.
It came out today that the police, the politicians, the media and the Football Association had been LYING THROUGH THEIR TEETH for over 23 years…