Flags and Heart Attacks

I have a European family and all of my friends know this and know how much I love them. So I would be against Brexit no matter what happens because no one on this earth gets to tell me that my family is worth less than someone else’s family. That they are somehow inferior to someone or have fewer rights because their mother is French.
But even if that were not true, even if I had married someone from Scotland and I had two ginger-haired Scottish girls instead then I would still be against Brexit.

Why? I am glad you asked. It is a tale of medium length and although it starts far, far away it takes place not long from now.
In August of 2023 the research vessel Sir David Attenborough carrying the autonomous vehicle Boaty McBoatface is somewhere near Antarctica when a puzzled look comes across the Captain’s face.
“Number one?”
“What day is it?
“Friday Ma’am”
“Really? It feels like Tuesday already. Tell me, that promontory there, have we not seen it before?”
“Yes Ma’am. We were here last Wednesday Ma’am”
“So we have, in fact, circumnavigated Antarctica?”
“Yes Ma’am”
“And have we seen any ice in that time”
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
“I saw some in the fridge in the galley Ma’am”
Because the Captain knew that that was it. All over. Sure, it had been a mild winter but mild enough to produce no ice? There was now nothing to prevent the seas warming around the southern pole? Nothing to defend at all?
Near the Govan shipyards in 2023
A world away in Scotland it is 39 degrees and I am struggling up the hill from the main street to my home. Bad luck for me really that I chose to live at the top and not the bottom because this means that once I have queued for the standpipe and got my regulation 20 litres of water for the family I have to drag the bloody stuff all the way up to the house and that’s a mile away.
It would be fine if I was this skinny but I ain’t.
Only today I don’t make it. The air is thick with pollen and my anti-histamines ran out yesterday. I’m sweating and I put that down to it being just a degree or two hotter today. But it isn’t that at all. Stopping halfway up the brae I am out of breath and try to take a shot from my inhaler – it’s nearly empty and there won’t be any more inhalers in the chemist for a week or so. They do still make them but they make them in Germany and there is currently a six-week backlog for German imports I am told. This is due to the usual customs and trade problems – exacerbated by the migrant riots in Berlin and Paris – plus the sanctions from China and the French lorry drivers blockading the ports are also partly to blame. But just knowing all of that isn’t helping me today. I could walk down the hill and try the chemist but I decide against it since I know they won’t have any and in any case I would just have to drag my sorry carcass up the hill again with this water.
Lanarkshire 2023
Then I feel a kick in my chest and my vision narrows to only what is immediately in front of me. Damn it’s hot… and these water canisters are heavy. I resolve to put them down but when I look I see that they are already on the ground. It isn’t the water that’s heavy, it’s my hands that feel like they are made of stone – I’m having a heart attack.
As I hit the ground I can’t help thinking that my wife will be disappointed when I don’t come back with water. The pain is more than I can bear and it goes on forever. Which is, coincidentally, about how long it takes for the ambulance to get there.
I don’t know what happened to the water but once they got me in the back of the ambulance I started to feel a little better (ambulances have legal A/C) and as they wheel me into the hospital at speed I notice a flag fluttering outside in the sunlight. It’s a Boris flag; A union jack made mandatory on all public buildings when the blonde buffoon became prime minister. So, there might not be any medicine in this hospital but at least it has a flag – which must make someone somewhere feel better I am sure.
Eva, as I imagine her.
A lovely nurse called Eva is soon ministering to me and telling me it is all going to be all right. She’s asking me questions and looking into my swivelling blue eyes with her lovely brown ones. She injects me with something ( I hope to hell the medical insurance covers it) and I even start to breathe a little better with the oxygen despite the fact that the hospital is awful hot… seems I won’t be dying today.
And that one good thing means I have two bad things to look forward to. One, my wife giving me a row for not coming back with the water and…
Two, if I ever get out of this place I’m going to have to go past that damn flag again.
All of which is very interesting but, I hear you cry, why the feck is this anything to do with Brexit and me being against it.
Eva the nurse? She’s Polish. I bloody love Europeans
Yep. immigrant.
PS – I don’t die that day. But a week later I have a bit of a reaction to some chlorinated chicken and that’s the end of that.
Killed by chicken

First things first

Where do you even start? The world has gone insane and there are no limits to the number of problems and no end to the number of maniacs determined to make it worse – or at least make it no better.
Yes there is Brexit. And populism generally, not to mention the austerity, the impending global financial crash and the need for new anti-biotics but for sheer jaw-dropping, brain-freezing, pants-shitting terror then nothing beats the climate crisis. The only people who shouldn’t be worried about the climate crisis are people in hospices. Although, perversely, they are likely the most concerned because nothing focuses the mind and brings clarity to life quite like the imminent end of it. Yep. It doesn’t really matter what your beliefs are. You can take the view of reality held by Republican politicians – ‘We make our own reality’ but sooner or later the climate crisis will just crush you.
Likely sooner. As I write Europe is bracing itself for an early summer heatwave that is some 2C above anything ever recorded at any time of the year. The picture above is from the Guardian and even though the problem is in Europe it is big enough for them to mention it. What is harder to find is news about the trouble where brown people live.
Chennai is big. 4.6 million people. That’s nearly the population of Scotland – in one city – and they are running out of water. Can I ask you what you think will happen when they do? What anyone would do when they run out of water?
Why, they’ll probably just sit there and say ‘That’s that then. Nothing to be done about it.’
Or they’ll go looking for water.
Yeah, just like that.
I’ve written humorous pieces on here in the past about immigrants. I’ve written serious pieces about immigration and how these people are treated. In 2017, 26,547 asylum claims were filed in the U.K. and according to wikipedia the number of people trying to cross the channel in boats was a staggering 539.
Maybe I haven’t written the numbers out so you can see properly. That’s 539. Three digits. Remember, the population of Chennai is 4,600,000. The numbers of people trying to reach somewhere better were touted by Farage and the like as utterly unbearable already. Can you imagine what it is going to be like when hundreds of millions of people start to move?
Detestable man
You can sit there and say things like ‘Well, it’s not up to us to make sure they’ve got water’ and whilst that might be technically correct you’re going to discover very quickly that it isn’t going to make a bit of difference. What would you do to save your family? If they were dying of hunger, disease and thirst? Would the English channel stop you? Of course it wouldn’t. So let’s just accept that the climate crisis is for everyone to solve and the quicker the better. And it’s at that point you discover that your biggest problem isn’t the one you have to solve first. Because whenever there is a job to do you must first gather together the tools, fixings and other equipment that will let you get the job done. It’s only then that you realise you haven’t been investing in your toolbox. You’ve been buying cheap rubbish. Tools like…
This spanner.
No wonder all the screws are loose when this is what you are working with.
The truth is that your first job is going to be to change the toolkit. And it has to be a complete overhaul. Why? Because you’ve been buying the same brand for years.
The article this picture comes from details quite simply how 7% of the population (those educated in independent schools) manage to make up 65% of the senior judges and a majority of civil servants. Whilst there have been slight improvements over the last five years the Old Boys Network is alive and well.
That means that even if you have the requisite intelligence and the wherewithal to do the courses and attend the universities then, unless you are a member of that 7%, you only have 35% of the jobs to aim at. If you are a woman or a member of a minority then your outlook is even worse.
The system defends its own and is self-perpetuating. But why is there no outcry? I don’t understand it. I really, really don’t understand why the current wave of populism is this racist bollocks; this anti-immigrant, anti-EU nonsense when it should just be ‘Let’s eat the fucking rich. Seriously, let’s get the guillotines out’.
Sure, the media plays it’s part – 44% of newspaper columnists are part of the 7% and no numbers are given for editors but it is likely even higher. When your boss is a member of the system you are unlikely to buck that system or you find yourself out of it. The media is controlled by the elite, sure, but as the report shows -it’s not that hard to find out. It’s not that hard to see that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, et al are just wankers out for themselves.
But that’s not the worst bit.
No, the worst bit is that it doesn’t even work. You could understand it if the system actually functioned and people could say ‘Aye, well, it might not be pretty or fair but it works’.
It doesn’t bloody work! These tools have brought us to the brink of disaster. It’s going to get hot soon and for some of us up here in Scotland that might take a little longer to have an effect. We’ve been mitigating the worst of these idiots for a while and unlike England we have an easier out. We can declare independence. For those south of the border I can only suggest a radical and complete overhaul of the toolbox. First things first – get rid of the problem – then get your actually talented people to set about fixing it.
You might not like it when the droughts start to kick in and then you look to Scotland for water only to hear
‘Well, it’s not up to us to make sure they’ve got water’
So, say it after me. ‘Eat The Rich! Eat The Rich!’

We’re sorry, but…

An SNN segment that can’t wait.

This was going to be an SNN segment but the more I wrote the more I realised that it would be too difficult to get it on air (internet, we’re not that fancy) before the European Elections next week. So I am making it into a blog piece and hope that it encourages people to follow us on facebook as we ramp up our new project. Anyway, here goes.

We’re Sorry, but…

…it’s back to school for some of you. Remember school? Remember all those classes you hated? Remember the sunshine outside driving you crazy and the clock always at the wrong time even if it was actually working because there was no way that could be the right time?
Only the TV was a cathode ray antique wheeled in from another room.
But at least there was always that one bampot, right? You know, the guy who didn’t know a single one of the answers but always had an idea to relieve the boredom? Sure you do.
He’d be rolling marbles down the classroom to the blackboard/whiteboard when the teacher had her back turned, just to drive her nuts. or he’d be ramming a test tube with four times the amount of potassium permanganate and pointing it at the nerd next to him in Chemistry because… fun, innit? What a dick. Great laugh though.
Until you got your report card. You spent so long being entertained by this clown – or afraid not to go along with him – that you never heard what the teachers were saying half the time. Then, somehow, he’s in more and more of your classes and one day you look around and start thinking..
Am I in the huts?!?
Am I… in remedial !!?!
If this did not happen to you then well done – it’s because you listened more to the teacher than you did to the class clown. But it seems like a lot of people, mostly south of the border but not always, are paying attention to him. And that’s more dangerous than you think.
Farage and Johnson are liars and cheats who are out for themselves and themselves alone. We know it’s hard to think about all of this. The Brexit, the populism, the climate change, the AI, automation and anti-biotic apocalypse. But we felt the same way about cloud formations in Geography, about surds in maths and why the hell does german need three genders just for words?! Yeah, those all sucked and the class bampot made the day pass a little easier but you want to know where it ends up?
Remember that time I…
In the pub, years later, with that same halfwit from school who is reliving his glory days in third year. Or worse, you are in the pub talking to someone you knew in the past and you’re blaming your problems on the wife, the government or your boss (they never seem to let you get on) and you aren’t interested in politics, it’s boring. If that’s the case then…
We’re sorry, but… you’re the class bampot.
*I was in the huts in 1st year doing basic maths – they’d put me in the wrong class and me and my mates were freaking out about it until we got moved. I was also in the huts in 6th year doing 6th year English as one of only two pupils. It’s an exaggeration for comic effect. Don’t get paranoid.

Small Audience

Procrastination sometimes has its own benefits. Given a free morning (daughter to ballet, wife to shopping) I decided quite decisively that I too would be productive this fine sunny morn.
And then I opened up YouTube. Which had exactly the effect you think it would. The clocks are about to strike noon as I write. And why shouldn’t I, after all? It is Saturday and I am entitled, am I not, to some form of leisure? Besides, it’s not like there are millions of subscribers waiting to read/watch my latest output. Most of the things I write are applications for funding read by four people at most and when I do get to be creative then it is for the dozen(s) readers of this blog or perhaps ten people who will read the first draft of a screenplay. It’s hardly a pressing concern now is it? So I should be allowed to relax I think. But I didn’t.
The morning was productive I tell you – and I can see my wife’s face even though she isn’t here. Eyes widening as she nods in mock agreement. What have I been doing? I have been learning I tell you, I have been inspiring myself so that I in turn might inspire others, I have been… watching Stewart Lee on youtube. Not the funny bits, not excerpts of shows but a talk at the University of Oxford… about writing and not writing. And yes, since I watched it to avoid writing in the first place I am fully aware of the ironic potential thank you.
The video is a tad under an hour long and so, in this modern age of multi-media, it took me a good ninety minutes to watch it (facebook alerts, emails, daughters searching for water bottles). I do not recommend you watch it unless you are interested in writing in general and comedy writing in particular. It is for a very small and niche audience.
What it did for me (at least at first) was make me feel decidedly inferior. Not just at the ability and erudition of Stewart Lee and others but also at the commitment shown.
As I started to watch I reminded myself that he had the chance to go to Oxford only to then remind myself that he was clever enough to go to Oxford.
I reminded myself that a younger me was a good deal cleverer than the current version and had he applied himself then I could also have gone to Oxford.
Then I reminded myself that I didn’t.
All of which sounds very depressing. It wasn’t. I found it to be perversely inspirational. It was once possible to try for a few years using government funds. It was once possible to go to the Fringe and put on a show without engaging a boutique venture capital bank in your endeavour. He names people you have never ever heard of (and some that you have) and how they pursue a life in regional theatre or playing to audiences of ten or twenty. He talks about artists and writers and performers who just work at it because they want to and how even people like himself and Alan Moore end up lost at sea when it comes to the new marketplace of ideas. But the point is that he talks with such enjoyment about art and culture and reading and performance that in telling a story of how he was asked to develop characters who might become internet avatars he mentions the Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens…
Likely still won’t read it though
” Charles Dickens never had to think about letting the audience decide what happened in Little Dorrit”
And I felt ashamed at not having read the damn thing but also energised by the possibility that I could and soothed by the fact that the media types are even asking Stewart Lee to do ridiculous amounts of work on nonsense: In the same way that my stuff seems to get rejected or dismissed for not being “quite what the marketplace is looking for”.
You could say that misery loves company but it is good to see that there are others out there – working away and getting similar results to you – just because the work of writing and creation can be very insular. It becomes easy to think that you are just wasting your time. Looking at the lives of the successful and thinking it is always easy for them is like looking at your friends on facebook and feeling bad because they are all having a wonderful time and you aren’t. They aren’t always having a wonderful time, it’s just the magic of editing.
Lots of people didn’t go to Oxford.
Lots of people don’t have big audiences.
This is not how I should be judging things. There are better ways of looking. I shall give you an example.
Yesterday I spent a whole day learning to do something. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken that long but I ain’t the young Edison – it takes me a while to get my head around new things.
I was trying to teach myself something so that I can offer students better options when we do a horror project later this summer. Specifically I was trying to learn how to change eye colour without making them wear contact lenses so we could get a horror effect. The image above is an example of a simple project of that type. It took me ages to do it.
It might look like I did it with a facebook or instagram filter ( I have no idea how those work either) but beneath that 5 second clip is hours and hours of work and frustration at my inability to take on board new ideas. I did it in the end though and was overly proud of the results as you can tell. Hours and hours of work – for an audience of a few dozen at most. I am never going to be an effects specialist. That requires dedication and talent I do not possess. Moreover I do not enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing.
But I wasn’t wasting my time. I am in my fifties (same age as Stewart Lee, roughly) and he only started making a living about ten years ago. The knowledge and the effort is an end in itself. As he describes in the video you can put a play on above a pub, or you can do Macbeth with little ninja toys (It’s in the video near the end) – these things have value.
If a dozen or more people read this blog then I truly do appreciate it. They don’t have to and I am sure there are other ways they could be spending their time. More important things. But popularity does not equate to value. Your struggle through life has value even if it doesn’t get loads of likes on facebook.
An audience of one (yourself) is enough.
As it happens my audience was larger than that. The daughter in the video liked it and so I sent it to my other daughter via email and got the response.

That’s so freakin cool. Teach me!

And if that is all the audience I ever get then it’ll do for me.

The best of the best

Number one is… The Philadelphia Story.

Which I really shouldn’t like at all. It seems somewhat whimsical and lightweight doesn’t it? And more to the point it’s about some upper class bods and their love lives. Not my favourite subject – and no, I have never seen a single second of Downton Abbey.

Why then do I love this film so much? A more shallow chap might just like it because of Katherine Hepburn – she’s luminous in this and it rightly resurrected what was a failing career at that point.

It might be that James Stewart plays a poor writer and I empathize with poor writers more than any other demographic.
But it isn’t any of those – It’s the script, it’s the speed of the wit. It’s dialogue.

And now that we have established all these positive things I can get back to moaning and establishing without a shadow of a doubt how I am right and everyone else is wrong about nearly everything there is to be right and wrong about.

Six of the best – Part III

The 1982 Show

What the hell was in the water in 1982? Or in 1980 when these things were green lit?
I mean, that is a stellar line up (no pun intended) for any year and then you have another think and realise that none of these were your favourite movie from that year. Close, don’t get me wrong. Every single one of these is a classic. But they aren’t number 2 on the list. That goes to.. Blade Runner.
Ridley Scott’s dystopian rendering of a Phillip. K. Dick novel and such a leap that it is reported William Gibson left the cinema in shock.
About ten minutes into Blade Runner, I reeled out of the theater in complete despair over its visual brilliance and its similarity to the “look” of Neuromancer, my [then] largely unwritten first novel. Not only had I been beaten to the semiotic punch, but this damned movie looked better than the images in my head!

William Gibson

And for me it was much the same. I stayed until the end mind you. Blade Runner came only a few years after Star Wars in cinema terms and it is vastly, vastly different in all ways except one – it changed my perception of what was possible. Not just in a cinema, not even just in a story, but in life. I was 14 or 15 years old when I saw it and as a naive young Scots lad had not entertained the notion that the future would not be bright and white and shiny and clean. Blade Runner blew all that away.
Blade Runner invented sci-fi noir as far as I’m concerned and finally gets it right with The Final Cut of the film that took away the unnecessary voice-over and the fake happy ending. Replacing it with the unicorn truth that answers the question whether or not Deckard is a replicant.

Six of the best – Part II

Number Four – The Suspect Suspects

There are very few films that can actually surprise you once you know how a story is put together. But number four in our countdown was one of those rare events where I was actually ignorant of the twist right up until they told me. It is of course, The Usual Suspects.
It is also a film that bears repeat viewing because of the nature of the twist. Yes, a lot of what takes place is utter fabrication on the part of Verbal Kint but you can’t take it all as an untruth. Verbal is our narrator and he is an unreliable one as these things go but not everything he says is a lie. There are verifiable events that he can’t avoid. I do actually enjoy watching this film just to see where the lines are between truth and reality.
It is a modern shame that this movie cannot just be enjoyed for its own merits. At least not as much as it used to be because of two contributors now mired in scandal and disgrace. I find it easy not to listen to Michael Jackson and easier still to ignore the work of Bill Cosby but when it comes to film I find it harder. Film is collaborative – what crimes have the others committed? So I will still watch The Usual Suspects and even to this day it still manages to surprise me now and then.

Number Three – Great films never die (hard)

I never even thought of Die Hard as something laudable at all until a friend of mine (D. Brown) actually quoted it as his favourite movie. Like, of all time. This must have been not long after it was released because I had only seen it once at the time. It now sits in second place on my all time watched list just behind Star Trek II; Wrath of Khan – but you have to remember that these were back in the days when all we had were VHS tapes that you rented, or bought or used to record things on the telly. We ended up watching loads of stuff over and over again. Christ, I’ve watched Koyaanisqatsi two or three times. I’ll let you look that up yourself – spoiler alert it isn’t in the top 2.
And that’s the thing about Die Hard – it’s just one of those movies that you can watch over and over again without even having to think about it. If you are browsing through the channels just before going to bed for example and you come across Die Hard, well… bed will still be there later, no? The utter watchable-ness of this film added to the fact that it has a great deal of humour interspersed with its comic book violence puts it in the top three. No bother at all.

Six of the best – Part I

A little while back I did a list of the seven worst films I had ever seen. And that was all very funny (I hope) but also negative. And what with the state of the world currently we could likely do with a little more positivity. So, following some recent questioning by folks I have decided to put up my top six films. It was gonna be five but… I just couldn’t get it into five. The clips are about three to four minutes long. In the manner of classic countdowns we’ll start at the bottom and work towards number one. So, leading us off is a classic noir and one of only two black and white films that made the list (to the surprise of many I am sure). It’s Bogey and Bacall in…

Number Six

Is Bogart good? He’s outstanding. of course he is. But it is the other characters who light up this film. The whip smart dialogue and not a weak link to be found. And Bacall…
There have only been about five true goddesses in cinema and Lauren Bacall was one of them. The others being the Hepburns, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. If you haven’t seen this film then Bogart plays detective Phillip Marlowe who is hired by General Sternwood to deal with a small blackmail problem. Which issue Marlowe handles with aplomb but then he makes the mistake of looking into another mystery – the death of one Shaun Regan. It does not go well, as you can imagine. From the novel by Raymond Chandler this is classic golden age hollywood. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this film then fix that at once. You aren’t allowed to call yourself a grown up until you have and everyone should have seen this and Casablanca by the time they hit 30. Either one of them makes an excellent date movie if you are trying to impress a person. Moving on to…

Number Five

Khan is a story in 5 acts and at the very end of the clip above we are at the turning point near the middle of the film where everything changes. The script is practically flawless and disliked only by those who will never like sci-fi no matter the quality. I place The Wrath of Khan higher up than other fantasy classics like ET because it is of the same standard but has more adult themes. If the action took place on two naval vessels and a couple of desert islands rendered in black and white it would be regarded as a masterpiece by all and sundry. The layers in the storytelling are worthy of their literary bases and it is sad only that Star Trek never quite reached these heights again. The new version of this very story Star Trek: Into Darkness tries its best but fails because it does not have the honesty of this original. Where here there is characterisation and motivation in the form of the personal hatred of Khan for Kirk the newer version has a more distant motivation for Khan – there is no connection to Kirk but just a general need to save his people. The newer film fails because it has not had the time to set up the relationships that Khan had – and also because studio films tend to place CGI and action at the top of the list instead of characters.

And with that, it’s back to the studio…

The news from 2028.

Next up a report on the increased number of dangerous crossings being attempted in the English Channel. Laura is on the South coast… what’s the situation Laura?
Of course I’m a qualified journalist.
Well Fiona, I’m here on Southsea beach with Chief Inspector Strange of Hampshire Constabulary because this is a major refugee crossing point isn’t that right inspector?
And you are?

CI Strange:

That’s right Laura. This is frequently the site for dinghy crossings.


And obviously crossing the channel in a dinghy is both illegal and dangerous.

CI Strange:

Absolutely. We’ve caught dozens of groups attempting that very thing however.


And just how do you catch them inspector? How do you know when they’ll be here or just where to find them?

CI Strange:

Oh that’s easy Laura, we follow them down from the car park.


The car park?!?!

CI Strange:

Yes you can spot them a mile away. One look can tell you if it’s a group trying to get to France.


I’m sorry. You’re catching people going TO France?!

CI Strange:

Sure. We can’t have people just leaving the country. That would break our treaty with the EU since we no longer have freedom of movement rights to go there. Here’s a bunch of these desperate criminals now.


And what makes them do this?

CI Strange:

Lots of reasons – some of them are trying to find work, some of them are trying to get somewhere with decent health care, some of them just can’t live in a country with only three types of cheese. We call them Leavers.


But they don’t have a boat?

CI Strange:

No, no, no. They buy a boat here. They wait for days sometimes until the boat salesmen turn up. Ah, here’s some now. As soon as they make the exchange we’ll scoop up the English ones and force them into being Remainers.
Pate, get your pate here!


And these people in the boats? Who are they?

CI Strange:

Iranians mostly. Lots of them started crossing the channel pre-brexit and so they had the experience. The Leavers buy the boat and head off if we don’t catch them.


And the Iranians?

CI Strange:


Oh they bring black market goods and sell those to local contacts and then they either buy stuff with the money or head back to France and buy another boat.
Got any chablis?


That’s utterly astonishing. And what would the Iranians be buying?

CI Strange:

Property mostly. A case of half decent Cotes du Rhone will get you a council house in Middlesbrough.


Well, that’s remarkable. Thank you Inspector. And with that… it’s back to the studio.

You and whose army?

I haven’t been posting a lot lately and when that happens it tends to be because I am too busy with work, or the family, or I’m just too tired… or not in the mood… or… well, given that this is an unpaid endeavour any reason is as good as another isn’t it? I mean, when people aren’t paying us to do something then we have to really want to do it if it’s going to get done at all. I don’t get paid for gardening (or even tidying my garden) and guess what? Yep, I don’t do a helluva lot of gardening because I hates it.
Writing this, on the other hand, I do enjoy so I get to it when I can. Would it be better if someone paid me? Probably. Possibly. I know I like being paid to do things. Would it be better if I got paid to do gardening? Same answer. I would be more likely to do it, but I would still dislike the entire process. Which leads me neatly to Brexit… Ha! You weren’t expecting that were you? Well, stick with me, the connections are a bit labyrinthine but they get there in the end. My opinions on Brexit are well known. I have a European wife and children so even if it were not the most massive incident of economic self harm ever known, even if we would all be better off financially, I would still hate it. And given that it will have an immediate impact on where I live out the rest of my life I do tend to read a lot about it. Which brought me (at 4am) to this.
A citizen’s assembly. Now the first time I heard about this I thought it would be a dozen people like a jury but it turns out that it isn’t. In the Irish referendum on abortion they had a citizens assembly of 100 people and according to Gordon it went off without a hitch. No yellow vests were spotted as far as I know and there seemed to be a remarkably calm transition – with no need for the rise of the far right. Now, this is Gordon Brown – a man I would not trust to bring the correct change back if I sent him to the shop for a pint of milk and 20 Lambert & Butler – but since the idea was originally Irish I managed to put aside my initial reticence and ended up with an even bigger proposal.
Still a crap idea.

The Irish Citizen’s Assembly didn’t just meet once and have a chat – they met over 5 weekends and didn’t just talk about abortion. Which got me to thinking… did they get paid for that? And yes, I am Scottish, why do you ask?
picture of money that isn’t a pound or euro
I mean, that’s five weekends you’re talking about there. As a man with a young family I get enough abuse if I work even one day on a weekend and whilst I am not moaning about that it did raise the thought in my mind… well, why shouldn’t they be paid for it? There they are thinking about what to do with the ageing population in Ireland, or climate change or whatever… seems to me only fair. Then I thought… paying people to solve problems… that’s a neat idea. I wonder why no one ever thought of it before? And of course they have, but they f***ed it up and invented politicians by accident – a group of adults who act like teenagers and believe that a good excuse is the same as a job well done. So they decided to leave it to business instead and discovered that the money became the problem instead of the solution. Clearly we are in need of better people to address these issues. People who either don’t care about money, or don’t need it. People who have time on their hands and no clue what to do with it…. I think I might know some. Imagine a society that had at its disposal a group of activists. An army of social activists that is. Not political activists you understand, not people dedicated to a single party or cause, but to society as a whole. Look at the problems we currently face. Brexit, climate change, immigration (or the lack of it)… take any issue from a huge global problem such as automation and employment down to the personal difficulties of loneliness and mental health. Then add an army…
Hmmm…not quite
It will come as a surprise to many of you (as it did to me) that the idea we really need was in the Daily Mail all along. What we really need here is conscription. I have an acquaintance in Israel – he is a young and talented film maker who could have avoided his national service in the infantry simply by joining the communications corp or whatever. In the end he chose not to – he joined the infantry and spent two years scared shitless. I am old enough to have known people in France who had to do their national service – and they generally did choose the communications corp, or did their public service in some other institution like a museum or some such. That is to say, they spent time working in their community – and we could do with a bit more community could we not? Imagine if, instead of being conscripted into the army, you were told to do your public service in the community. What issues might we be able to tackle? What great problems might be lessened with that dedicated workforce? You won’t need it everywhere – the Queen and her family don’t really need checking up on despite their advanced years. And you wouldn’t have to pay the Queen’s rate for a bit of community work either. I’m not talking about people marching up and down here. This isn’t a ‘STAND BY YOUR BEDS!’ proposition. No, I’m talking about a vast swathe of the country’s young people (all of them really) delaying the start of their post-school life for a while. I’m talking about Etonians working with the homeless in Manchester or Glasgow. The privileged working alongside the less fortunate for a few months and learning something of life beyond their entitled bubble. Equally it is a chance for those less fortunate to get mobile. Maybe you want to live in your home town your whole life? That’s fine… just as soon as you’ve done your bit for the landscape or whatever. I know people in my home town who have no idea about foreigners, folk of a different colour or even other local authority areas… and they are happy to hate all of them. Can you imagine people hating Polish folks so much if they have had a chance to work with them and meet them and talk to them since they were in their late teens? Can you imagine Brexit happening after 20 years of this when every Polish person who has grown up here has had a chance to work on an equal basis with everyone else?
The disconnect between the politicians and the voters, in my opinion, has never been wider – and it needs narrowing. If we did this then we might have some chance that the professional political class to come would have a notion of what ‘real’ life is like. It becomes more difficult to hate people you have lived and worked beside and that’s all I am proposing here. Everyone does the same thing… no one is disadvantaged by delaying a year because the intake for university or whatever is the same for everyone equally – except you get people with a little more life experience when they do arrive. Wanna take a gap year? That’s fine. You can do that just as soon as you finish this.
Just to confirm – you can still join the army if you want to – nobody is stopping you – or you can try a bit of social work, or get your driving license so you can work the mobile library/foodbank/ blood drive van. And just before you say. How will we pay for it? We already do pay for it. The knock on costs of cleaning up the environment/ dealing with the elderly/ drug crime and addiction… ach, this could help all manner of things. A society that spends money on the defence of… itself. And you don’t even have to wear a uniform.