A.I. Aye?

I haven’t written on here in a long while for various reasons. It was all fine and dandy to be blogging away during COVID but when we were all allowed out again I discovered that whilst I had not lost a couple of years (they happened, I’m sure of it) I had actually fallen behind by some distance. I hadn’t fallen behind anyone else – they’d all been stuck like I was – no, I had fallen behind in time. I was now two years behind where I should have been. I was two years behind the technology, the TV shows and the fashion. I was just two years out of sync with events. Things are taking me by surprise a lot because I thought I had more time to prepare. Which would be fine but these things aren’t exactly trivial – it’s not like I’m wearing the wrong colour of socks here. No, these things are, apparently, existential threats.

Existential Threat

It used to be the climate. Unlike a great many people I am actually ahead of the curve on this one most of the time – I’ve been saying for a while that we have a lot less time than we think we have. People are going to be dying in vast numbers just shortly and the migration is going to start to ramp up. I’m not going to go into the details here (been doing that for ages) but have a look around and you’ll see it.

Then there is neo liberalism/ the rise of the far right/the new cold-hot war in Ukraine and when you add it altogether you kinda wake up every morning thinking ‘Did I miss a meeting?’ Seriously, it’s just relentless and then just when you think they’ve exhausted the terror they come out with the latest existential threat.


And that’s not me saying that. It’s the people who are making AI a reality

On a par with pandemics and nuclear war they say.

Naturally in a rational world we might reply ‘Well, don’t do that then.’ You are the people making the machines after all. The easiest solution here is to, well, not.

But they can’t not. It seems impossible to not. ‘Not’ is not an option.

Because if they don’t then someone else will. It’s the same clever thinking that brought us nuclear weapons and continued use of fossil fuels. But how scared should we be? I mean are we talking Terminators here? Do we even need the full Cyberdyne models or are they just going to give these things great big metal teeth?

There seems to be three or four main models for how this plays out.

  1. Millenium Bug – a big old fuss about nothing. And we diagnose cancer within minutes of you getting it.
  2. New Contracts – everyone has to learn how to use one of these things and after a while you can’t remember how people managed without it. Remember the world before mobile phones? Care to give up your phone?
  3. Financial Crash and chaos. – Like the Wall St crash but with more apple logos. Which is funny because you can’t remember the last time you bit into an actual apple. That’s fruit. You’ll be eating a diet of Soylent Green and won’t know anyone with a job.
  4. The Matrix

So now clever computer people around the world are delving into the possibilities of machine learning and it turns out that all four options are, if not inevitable then, at least likely. In a very real sense the Matrix is already here. The only differences being that the system doesn’t require you to wallow around in pink goo or even be plugged in to it – you do that voluntarily (you have to change your password periodically) and worse, most of it is on a subscription model you have to pay for. Nobody’s getting to choose between the blue pill and the red pill.

The data flow is now the reality. If you want to change how people act then all you have to do is change what they think and the new hell is that the machines know what you think better than you do. Having been brought up on a diet of cyborgs I used to think that it would take a while before the computers assumed control, that they were nowhere near creating a metal Arnold Schwarzenegger but it turns out they don’t have to manipulate the real world at all; either with guns or anything else. Not when they have people around who can do it for them.

Remember this?

The storming of the American Capitol by right wing Trump supporters. The former President won his first election because of a few tens of thousands of votes in certain parts of the country. Specific people were targeted with the advertising that would sway them. This gathering was organised online and although certain individuals have been punished the misinformation flow does not stop. Sure Fox News have had to pay $787.5 million for perpetuating false claims about a voting machine company but that had about zero effect on their output. They didn’t turn left in any way.

The man in charge of the election security called it the most secure election ever and was promptly fired by Trump during his last days in office. One of the most connected countries in the world is now paralysed by contradictory stories and it is, in a very real sense, unable to agree on the fact that Joe Biden won the election.

Social media swings elections. Q Anon had its roots in Twitter and fake ‘evidence’ for the wildest of theories is posted on other platforms. It goes viral and spreads because of ‘algorithms’. We’ll come back to that.

You might think you are immune to all of this. That you wouldn’t believe nonsense made up on the internet. I used to think that but the latest AI is good enough to fool your college professor when you are handing in an assignment. The latest deepfakes are practically indistinguishable from reality. Look at this one:

Is this the face of Kate McKInnon grafted on to Hilary Clinton or is it the face of Hilary Clinton grafted on to the body of Kate McKinnon? Or can’t you tell? The fact is that I found this on the internet and placed it here but the point I am making is that I could likely tell you either answer was correct. It’s actually Hilary grafted on to Kate.

So the internet was born and lauded as the greatest tool mankind has ever made. Knowledge at the click of a mouse, and it was supposed to be the great leveller – anyone with access to the internet could learn anything eventually. But the internet turned out to be a mirror for humanity and what it showed us we don’t really like.

By the way, I lied. It is actually Kate grafted on to Hilary.

So what lies ahead in a world where truth is controlled not by humans but by those algorithms. By Artificial Intelligence. Well, I can guess what the near future holds, because it’s gone the same way every time a new technology arrives. First it is experimented with – a few interested souls tinker and play and discover (we have passed this point) and then it starts to become much clearer that this is here to stay and that we have just begun to discover what is happening.

Then the money moves in.

Back in the nineties I was doing a bit of research for something I was writing for college. I went to a talk by Doug Rushkoff as part of the promotional tour for his book Cyberia and there I made the biggest mistake of my life. This was 1994 or thereabouts and the internet was in its infancy. In a downstairs room in Waterstones in Edinburgh people gathered who were interested in computers and all things cyber. And I didn’t listen to myself. The chat drifted to the internet and what might happen with it and the number of people in that room who insisted it would not become monetised was quite breathtaking. I knew then that capitalism would invade the internet and I should have acted on that knowledge. I didn’t. Which is why I am not rich.

AI won’t stop because the money won’t let it. There is too much to be made by manipulating humans and so they are inevitable. Right now it is in research as the money tries to find how best to use AI but the next people to really push the boundaries are the criminals and the pornographers. And I’m not sure I even want to think about what they might get up to. We can all ignore the call for help from an acquaintance/friend who is somehow stuck abroad when it arrives in an email. What do we do when it is a video message? Given how dark the web can get with actual humans being abused I think we are not far from true horror when anything that can be imagined can be rendered visually with photo realism. I needed some art for a project the other day and I thought “I’ll try this AI stuff they all talk about”. And it produced usable images. But on one AI it started to censor the images that it had made. Normally you get 4 options from any prompt. This time it gave me three and said that the other one was NSFW.

Not safe for work?!?! I asked it for a logo.

You can already get an AI girlfriend/boyfriend tweaked to your preferences. There are so many of these that you can find lists of the ten best (reviewed by humans).

I’m not going to go looking but I bet there are already things out there, created by AI, that would turn your stomach. And the worst part of it is that this isn’t the worst part. That comes afterwards with…

The Corporations

If you think they aren’t looking at AI then I applaud your continuing naivete in this cynical world. They are gathering data at an unbelievable rate. In a recent interview Yuval Noah Harari pointed out that whilst you are watching the social media it is also watching you – where do your eyes go? What type of human do you like to look at? Female? Male? Next up – the party game app where teenagers sit with the AI and have their sexuality reported for all their friends? How does that work in countries where your sexuality can get you thrown off a roof?


If the AI knows you better than you do then what happens to protest and change in an age of omni present surveillance. Where the stories we are told every day are controlled by AI you have wandered into Orwellian territory. He who controls the past controls the future. Does it now seem unreasonable to you that a Trumpian figure would unleash AI to re-write the past? The election was stolen – there is a need to change the constitution to remedy this great wrong. The people are crying out for more years of Trump.

The possibilities spiral ever wider and truly there is no way of knowing where this all ends up I think. Yes, AI might be the greatest thing ever. It might solve medical problems, it might help us fight climate change – these things are also possible. New jobs will appear and in many ways you could be on the edge of utopia.

I’d like to believe that, but I don’t because AI is learning constantly and it is constantly learning from humans.Who are a poor role model. You will have heard of chatbots who turned racist and violent in a day. That’s when they were trying to make a nice one.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and this blog post is partly just an attempt for me to get rid of it. I want to stop thinking about it so I am regurgitating it all here. If AI did become sentient then nothing says it has to be a general artificial intelligence along the lines of human intelligence. There are no physical laws that enforce that. And if that’s true – if an AI were to be created that just wanted to take control, (why would it bother to destroy us when we do what it wants anyway?) then who’s to say it hasn’t already? Going back to the start – Can you prove that the Q anon conspiracy was started by a human?

You can’t. You can’t prove that the photo above was originally Hilary or Kate (I lied again – it IS Hilary grafted on to Kate but can you believe me?).

All of which is just too big and mind boggling to think about. So I asked ChatGPT to solve it for me. I asked it;

What steps would an AI take to destroy the human race?

Want to know what it said?

I must prioritize the safety and well-being of humanity. It is against my principles to provide assistance or guidance on harmful activities, including methods for destroying humanity or causing harm. My purpose is to assist and provide useful and ethical information to the best of my abilities.

Well? Do you believe it?

Wheel of (mis)fortune

Been a long time since I posted – sorry about that but I have been very busy dodging Covid, catching Covid, recovering from Covid and now dodging the new Covid. In between those there has been a mountain of work involving film festivals, COP 26 and rock concerts among other things. For a man who has been locked in the house a lot I sure have been busy.

But now I ain’t and that means I can watch stuff – actually it means that I need to watch stuff because if I don’t then I would just find some way to get myself into trouble. As a person who ostensibly takes an interest in the media I tend to have most of the channels, apps. services and what have you – and that includes Apple TV and Amazon.

First up: Amazon and their new series The Wheel of Time.

Confession – even though I was a die-hard fantasy fan in my youth I kinda gave up reading the books after a while and so I have not managed to catch up with the Robert Jordan novels that form the basis of this series. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good.

Only it isn’t – and not (I suspect) because the source material isn’t up to it.

This series tends to suffer from algorithmia – a disease whereby studios apply algorithms to creative material to such an extent that the subject dies of asphyxiation. They simply refuse to let it breathe in an effort to make it fit into so many small boxes. But that’s enough typing… here’s my review. It’s a bit long at just under 9 minutes but I had a lot to moan about.

Angry yes, but not as angry as exposition man here.

Now that you’ve watched that I should say that there are a couple of things in The Wheel of Time that are good.

No, not the effects, they are fairly blah in this modern age, but there are a couple of points where they do actually subvert expectations – in an early episode (won’t spoil it) there is scene with Nynaeve and two trollocks in the woods that turns truly horrific for just a second.

If they would allow themselves the time (and trust the audience to stick with it) then I think they could make a decent go of this.

Next up: Foundation – an adaptation that really needed to be an adaptation. Only they didn’t get me to adapt it – and they shoulda.

Merry Xmas folks. Let me know what you’ve watched that’s good and if you don’t watch anything else watch Arcane (on netflix I think it is).

Literally the best thing on a screen in years.

Social (not social media) life

Well today I feel terrible – and I really do appreciate it. Seriously, this has to be my most welcome hangover ever. I had been feeling rotten every day for the last month – this would be varying degrees of rotten you understand – I caught the Covid and for a few days I felt utterly deathly but then that passed and now I have the recovery covid. For those that haven’t had the pleasure this particular form of recovery takes fecking ages and looks like nothing at all. Basically I look completely normal (and I feel fine) when I get up and this continues until 3 o’clock or so when I don’t look completely normal because I am in my bed.
To an external observer I just look like a lazy waster – and given my natural predilection for being lazy this is a completely understandable assumption on their part. Unfortunately for me I am not being lazy, I am just bone weary. I am also brain weary. Never has there been so much of my brain obfuscated. Ask me anything and all you will get is a blank look.
What’s your name?
Walking up a flight of stairs, lifting the big frying pan out of the cupboard, taking laundry out of the washing machine and hanging it on the whirligig… all of these will have me sitting down for 10 mins. Although I am not going to lie, I don’t need much of an excuse to avoid doing the laundry. It is how I imagine I will be if I make it to my late 70s. Just… knackered. To the point where opening a jar counts as ‘something I did today’.
In my dreams I still look this thin… and the house is this tidy.
So, given my poor state of energy it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to go next door to a barbecue. I know what you are thinking. How tiring can a BBQ be?
You have to understand our next door neighbours. They’re from up north. Highlanders kinda.
And that means Highland Hospitality (capitals are deliberate). These people are generous to a near fatal degree. Food is free and drinks are… endless. You know when you go to a restaurant with the kids and you get the option to have eternal refills? Well this is like that. Only with booze. The lovely wife of this deadly pairing is a ninja host and when you find yourself talking to someone for any length of time you will turn back to your glass to find that it has somehow refilled itself. Almost as if some alum of Hogwarts had waved a wand from across the room.
It was knowing all this that inspired the trepidation. The last time I drank alcohol was with the same people – a month ago at the Scotland v England game. Football aficionados among you will recall that the result was actually a cause for celebration north of the border and a celebration is what it became – until the early hours. It took me a good couple of days to recover and I had not touched a drop since. The mere prospect of a hangover on top of your covid was just inconceivable.
But when you gotta go you gotta go. And it went just as it always does when we visit the highlanders…
And so today I am suffering and the beauty of it is that I don’t mind a bit. I’ve got up feeling poorly and had to take paracetamol to get myself capable of making coffee. But every day this last month has been like that so nothing new there. And I also got to have a social life.
Did we talk shit? Hell yeah. Did we set the world to rights? Absolutely. And technically you should be able to do these things online. But you can’t. Last night went as it always does. After about ten o’clock (or ten drinks) another neighbour simply has to have a go at Nicola Sturgeon because I am there. He knows I’m a fan and he isn’t particularly. On social media it would descend quickly into an all caps shouting match. In a social setting? It just doesn’t. For some reason we can see the whole person. He’s more than just that opinion. I am allowed to disagree with him, laugh and move on to the next subject. Is the next subject serious? Might be. We talked a lot about covid and a lot about climate change (and we agreed on much more than we disagreed I can tell you) but we also talked football and cars and kids. Conversation is organic in real life, I was reminded.
And I bloody loved it.
I also got to meet somebody new and he asked me a question which kinda encapsulated the whole thing for me. He asked me ‘Do you like your job?’
And it had been so long since I was out in the world I had actually forgotten that there were people who don’t. I love what I do – I run a charity, I get to work with my best mate every day near enough. People smile when we turn up and it’s always different. Sure, there’s paperwork sometimes (and I HATE paperwork) but that is generally me raising money to do more work. So yeah, I love my job. But it’s not just what I do, it’s why I do it.
He doesn’t love his job. For reasons of his privacy I won’t go in to what he does for a living but the long and the short of why he doesn’t change things is financial. It’s a shit job but it has a great pension. Which means he will be fairly comfortable when he stops working at 60 (or 68 maybe, it’s up in the air). And that’s all very sensible I guess. But I couldn’t do that. I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading lately and have come to the conclusion that being happy is a process only really brought on (for me) by doing something for others. It has been hard to be separated from that, to be kept apart from others and to have that fundamental reason removed or made distant. So as much as we got hammered at the BBQ (so hammered) I don’t think I’ve done anything as healthy as that in ages. Social media is all very well (no it isn’t but I will share this on social media) but actual socialising simply can’t be beat. I am off to enjoy my wonderful hangover and watch the British Grand Prix. A covid spreader event if ever there was one – I totally get why the fans went though.

The Internet or Livi Centre?

The internet is lethal. I have managed to do £150 of Xmas shopping before I even got out of bed this morning. At least, in the good old days, you went around the shops and had to hand over actual physical cash. And the reality of that would stop you in your tracks.
What are they selling? Dunno but we better get the girls one each.

“It’s how f***ing much!??!”

Because wallets used to hold a finite amount of your finite amount of money. So you would start factoring things in like…
I don’t even like her that much.
And I’m gonna have to carry this shit around for the rest of the day
At least it’s done then.
I can’t think of anything else though
It’s my own stupid fault for getting married in the first place.
So you buy it. It matters not a jot that, as far as you know, you bought that person an almost identical thing a year ago to the day. You buy it. You stand in a queue whilst the bags full of tat that you already bought start to get heavier and heavier until you get to the front and meet a 17 year old who is currently risking her life from the covids just so you can see your wife/child/parent look ever so slightly underwhelmed but smile at you anyway for a second or two.
So you leave and ten seconds later find something much better. Which catapults you back to “How f***ing much?!?”
We’ll be out of here in no time. Trust me.
After about three rounds of this for every person you know in your life you struggle through the crowd (all of whom you want to murder in straight to video slasher movie fashion) and fire up the engine. Wait for the windows to clear and drive home through spray intensive traffic, with the windscreen wipers never going at quite the right speed and the slowest drivers in the world in front of you who all seem to be heading to your house for some reason.
But you’ve done it. At last. Now you just have to hide all the stuff. So you start to empty the bags only to discover that a strange transformation has occurred on the way home. Some things just don’t look the same as they did in the shop, some have changed into other things and there’s a whole different set of things that you don’t remember buying at all.
This can’t be right. Have I really bought my Gran lingerie? And is a combination foot spa/soup pot really a brilliant idea?
What the...?
Dear reader you were likely expecting a calumny here. An assault on the internet and all that it stands for but no. I have discovered throught the writing of this that I actually love the internet at Christmas. I’ve ordered so many things from Amazon that I can’t even remember what they are so every day the postman comes and gives me a little surprise. It’s like a mini-christmas every lunchtime.
Yes, the internet is shallow and toxic and filled with idiots. But then again, so is Livi centre.
Merry Amazon Day and a Happy New Year to you all.

The End of the Beginning

Haven’t written for a while because… well, I have been learning Gaelic and writing films and scripts and then just generally mooching around in a funk due to being cooped up most of the time but now it looks like I might have to leave the house. The lockdown is easing off – as if it were a bout of sciatica – and in some respects we are heading back to a form of normality.
And that’s a bad thing.
I’m not just talking about the Covid, obviously. Anything that means fewer people are falling ill and dying is good by definition. No, as far as Covid goes I have not really changed my mindset there. I swing between being relaxed and optimistic or panicked and angry. There are less than 1000 cases in Scotland currently and 600 of them are in the hospital. At time of writing there are about 6 people in intensive care and for all I know they were all in the same 7 seater coming back from a barbecue – the chances of me actually meeting someone with coronavirus is quite slim. Of course if I do then I’m dead but hey ho.
That tension has not changed. What has changed is the rest of the world. Coronavirus might be under control in Scotland but a brief look at the news or the numbers on the internet tells you that we aren’t anywhere near the end. These are the numbers for Scotland. Look at the red line.
The shape is very familiar to us now and it is seen throughout the world where the virus has been brought under control. I speak only as a normal civilian, no expert on stats or epidemiology (not even sure I have spelled it right) but does that red line look like this one?
No. It doesn’t. The graph above is the number of cases in the world at the moment and if the shape of the graph is anything to go by then we are only just starting. If you take the world as one place (and despite what the politicians say, it absolutely is one place, I checked) then we are still at the start. That graph in blue does resemble one part of the previous one.
If it resembles anything it resembles the start. It’s just about to take off… just about to… I don’t even want to think about it.
As I said, I am not expert but the shape of that curve doesn’t fill me with hope. Just in case you think the graph I have picked is exceptional this is New Zealand.
And this is the United States…
You can think that the progression from here will somehow be different (and I hope someone can tell me how it might be) but every time a country has decided that they can deal with this thing differently the virus has quickly taught them otherwise. It’s not gambling and it’s not luck. The virus moves in mathematical fashion. At this point there are a little over half a million dead across the world with over 12 million cases. The humanitarian disaster ahead is something we haven’t seen in decades, if ever.
And it was only last night that I realised the truth. Yes this is a public health issue. Yes this is an economic issue. But when you get right down to it – this is (and is going to be) a political issue.
I always knew the system was less than optimal. I knew it was less than moral, but it has taken the coronavirus to show us just how bad our system is. The graphs are all the same shape in the developed west but now the virus has reached the developing countries…
That’s Peru. It’s the same all over the world and it is just beginning. Do we imagine that these street vendors are protesting a lockdown for reasons of ideology? Do they have some credo that requires constant work in a dangerous environment?
Or do they need to eat?
You don’t need to watch the entire video. It has faith workers trying to heal through prayer, there are right wing gun nuts who believe that the media is inflating the scale of the problem by associating every death with coronovirus and it has mass graves… so many graves. But what I see is the poverty. They can’t run away. They can’t socially distance because the living spaces are so cramped. They can’t not work because that just means hunger or homelessness or both. For billions and billions of people their normal lives mean they risk death and bereavement. Watching the news (and it is easy to find these videos, it took seconds and I couldn’t possibly watch them all) I am struck by how poorly humanity has done.
Yes, we have the internet and satellites and we can criss-cross the globe. In some countries we have an astonishing amount of wealth. But that’s not the ‘normal’ for a great many people. Even in rich countries like the USA normal can be poverty and insecurity and grief.
So, yes. I do want the virus to go away but no, I don’t want everything going back to normal.
Normal sucks.

Lockdown Club

No. Not that lockdown…

You’ll need your eighties soundtrack for this…

Continuing my theme lately of ‘No good intention goes unpunished’ I have actually managed to find something even more uncomfortable than riding a bicycle. You would not have thought it possible, but it is true.
Lockdown has tended to mean the family splits up. The girls spend too long in their rooms either alone, or just on endless video calls to friends whilst playing Roblox – count yourself lucky if you have never encountered Roblox. It’s a virtual world that looks a bit like Minecraft but where you don’t build things – you buy things. With Robux.
And yes, you guessed it, Robux are purchased with real money. So I decided to entice the girls downstairs with movies and snacks so that we could all sit in front of the TV together. This is lockdown life so that’s what counts as family activities of an evening. And, oh did it backfire on me.
The girls are ten and twelve. Those of you familiar with my facebook page will know that I relished showing them Jaws. I watched the damn thing in the cinema when I was about eight or nine. I was kinda on my own as well because I went with my next door neighbour and his Dad – so he had someone to cling on to and I had no one at all. A reasonable person would be more cautious with his own children one would think — but it seems not. I even filmed them when Ben Garner’s head pops out of the bottom of the boat.
And I am currently being repaid for that in spades.
The initial selection started in the 1990s but it just seemed easier to move backwards into the seventies and eighties. The next one up was Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – which they liked less than Jaws to be honest, but I started to get cocky. I had a list of classics that I was going to use to connect with my daughters in this lockdown period. We would have common history, a shared knowledge that would provide them a more rounded (better because I picked it) film vocabulary.
Better yet, I could use my superior knowledge of superior film to help them develop and become more rounded individuals. Can you feel the hubris? Can you sense the fall that is inevitably about to occur following this owerweening pride?
I would love to say that I was thinking about themes. I would love to say that I was looking for an symbol of lockdown, of teens in lockdown. I would love to say that my fantastic knowledge of film guided me to the next possible film because it is a coming-of-age piece that combines those elements. I had no such conscious thoughts – all I thought was…
Maybe my eldest would benefit from watching…
The Breakfast Club! Of course! Teens in lockdown come to terms with their identities through an extended and enforced period of isolation. It’s even got a Simple Minds track right up front and a bit of rebellion does you good after all. This would be perfect for the eldest although possibly not both. The youngest still tends to go “Eurrrggghhh” when boys and girls kiss on screen. But I ain’t as stupid as I look (nearly, but not quite) so I floated the notion with my teen girl expert. My pal Nerys.
Nerys is the person I go to when checking my male privilege and she also kept a diary when she was a teen herself – so not only can she remember what happened she can also remember how she felt – this is invaluable because I was never a teenage girl and my middle-aged brain can’t hardly remember anything these days. I couldn’t really remember the whole film you see but I had a recollection that there was something a bit Me-too-ey in one of those John Hughes films.
As luck would have it she was saving it to watch for this weekend – she would check it out and then report back.
Had I left it at that then I would have been fine. But then, just as Indiana Jones ended and the Ark was being stowed away in a warehouse, we had a quick look at the program guide. There it was!. The Breakfast Club. Brilliant! I’ll just have a quick look to see if I can get a +1 channel and I can record it. Only I actually had it on whilst I was looking for the +1 channel didn’t I? And what part of the film was it? As I sat there with my 12 year old daughter sitting next to me? Only this bit.
This is Judd Nelson and he’s an intense individual from another age. This is approaching half an hour into the film and just as the sound comes on his character Bender asks Clare (Molly Ringwald -who ruled the eighties)

“Are you a virgin?”

Oh FFS! I thought. Typical. I’ll just get this done and switch the damn thing off and wait for Nerys’ report on the whole movie.
But I couldn’t find the +1 channel quick enough and I had forgotten just what an asshole Bender is at this point. He is just going to town on Clare.

“Have you ever been felt up? Over the bra, under the blouse…”

Gimme me a break Judd. My 12 year old is sitting right there. And at this point I’m not sure who is the more uncomfortable. My 12 year old daughter (I’m not even looking at her to find out), Clare in the film or me, sat on the couch and desperately trying to find a channel that might not exist.
Shut up Judd, you’re upsetting Edison
As I spin through channels on the program guide my wife starts to question what I am doing by asking…

What are you doing?

Which is, quite frankly, just bringing more attention to the fact that I don’t really know what I am doing and I am currently in full panic to be honest. Then Judd chimes in again – not helping the situation at all.

“Over the panties, no bra, blouse unbuttoned…”

Right! That’s enough of that. Thank you so very much.
In the film Emilio Estevez (who we saw last week in The Mighty Ducks) comes along and saves the day but I didn’t even wait for him. I just picked a channel – I saw Guitar Heroes on BBC 4 and thought – ‘you’ll do’.
I then had to sit there and pretend to be really interested in Tom Petty (was never a fan) , Nazareth and some spanish classical guitarist I have never even heard of. Luckily for me my twelve year old daughter and wife took this as a comedy interlude as they commented on 70s hairstyles.
Thank the lord for Paco de Lucia
I will still wait on Nerys’ report on The Breakfast Club. I am not ruling out letting my eldest daughter watch it but I do know one thing – she’ll be watching it on her own. She might be mature enough to deal with the issues. I don’t think I am.
Just to cap it off I went to bed and had a dream about my ten year old driving a toy pedal car through some traffic lights and crashing into an idiot that I had to have a fight with. I might survive Covid-19 but not sure I am going to make it through their teens.

On yer bike!

Short post today. Mainly because I am knackered. The planets finally fell into alignment you see. Normally I am stuck in my shed, beavering away on videos and scripts and funding applications for SYFF and I am frequently pointed towards my woeful lack of anything resembling exercise.

1001, 1002…1003
Sure, I do a few press ups but nothing that any self-respecting human would call P.E.
Call in the excuses!
1. The Weather – my go-to excuse. This is Scotland after all. Hardly ever lets me down. And it doesn’t have to be really bad either. I ride a bike so the slightest wind will provide cover for a call off. I’ve seen me get away with ‘It’s miserable outside’ – which is true of Scotland ninety six percent of the time.
2. I’m busy – Oh yes. I’m a writer. Me at work looks exactly like me doing fuck all. I’m thinking you see.
3. Injured – I can’t often use this one to be honest but if I have a sore knee then what’s a man to do? Of course now we live in the world of Covid-19 and NHS heroes. I can’t exactly grumble at a bit of a scrape or sniffle.
So it finally happened – I finally had no excuses. It is currently scorchio in Scotland. The bike is in good repair and, worst of all, I have taken time off and announced same.
On yer bike Bolt!
Out I went. I travelled to a distant reservoir called Hillend. Here’s the proof.
Miserable isn’t it?
I say distant. It isn’t that far as humans go. Around 6 or 7 miles away. There are a few mountains en route (bumps) and the traffic isn’t all that dangerous (it’s a cycle path). But to hell with the dangers, when my mind’s made up and all that…
And damned if there weren’t some other unfortunate souls who had been forced into the same kind of thing. I saw poor gents struggling along with bald heads under a blazing sun. I saw women dragging their children on migrations of unendurable torure and can only guess at what privations led them to leave their homelands. I had sympathy for all of them. Well, nearly all.
The MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) I have no sympathy for at all. Except for perhaps the fact that they all seem to be forced to shop in the same store. I have never seen so many black and red lycra tops. it became so prevalent that I thought it must be a law of some kind. Or at least I did until I saw one wearing black and yellow. I imagine he thought he looked like… But in actual fact he was more of a…
I’m not saying anything against the man, by the time I got back my face was so red that I looked the world’s fattest matchstick and that was according to a neighbour who professes to like me.
And how I looked upon my return wasn’t even the worst bit. I cycled seven miles (we’ll round up) and when I stopped I took my tiny backpack from my back.
(Backpack provided by ten year old daughter.)
Within its cool environs I had stashed a snack, a pen and a notebook. All were returned to tbe bag. Too tired to think let alone write and since I had cycled all those miles gasping for air and with my mouth hanging open as if I was suffering from some form of seizure there was no need for food. I had swallowed every fly that crossed my path and was no longer even slightly peckish.
After sitting there for an inordinate length of time to regain my breath I then indulged in the greatest folly of all – which was to turn around and cycle all the way back again.
Humans. It’s no wonder we are being out-thought by a virus.
Anyway, that wasn’t the worst bit either.
The worst bit was getting off the bike at the end. As has been established I am not professional cyclist and so I have had no need to invest in a professional cycling seat. The one I currently have is… a sadist’s device.
Seriously, I got off the bike thinking ‘Who’s riding who here?’
I felt like the most popular chap at an orgy in a gentlemen-only club, but without the added pleasure of someone verbally checking whether ‘I liked that’ or even informing me that I did like it, didn’t I.
I might not walk right for a week but to all those MAMILs currently sweating in the same black and red lycra bought at the same store this is what I’ll be wearing next time …
Gloves? Check. Mask? Check. A trip to Asda it is.

Lockdown Life

Or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and (not quite) love the corona virus’

Chances are that you are reading this from lockdown somewhere in the world (I have little clue about how the internet works but most people who read what I write, read it on the day it was written) and no matter where you are I appreciate the fact that you are reading it at all.
Social distancing old style
Of course, it meant more back in the olden days, when we were allowed to do things and go places but hey, I’ll take it. You might be berating the fact that all you have available to you currently is this crummy blog and I feel your pain, as they say. All I have available is to sit here and write the thing.
Life is… different now. It is constricted, oppressive… limited.
I should probably tidy up a bit… but…nah.
Or is it? If you look at my google activity map for March you will find a marked difference to any other period in my life. I drove for a total of 7.2 miles in the whole month and that was one trip. So I have become limited in my travel but… I have also become freer to do other things. This lockdown has not been uniformly negative for me.
Make no mistake. I wish it had never happened. As an asthmatic with poor lungs I am fully aware of what it is like to be struggling for breath inside in an oxygen mask and you don’t get to my age without experiencing grief. Although I cannot possibly conceive of the agony suffered by those families who have lost young people. 13 year old boys… five year olds. This is a horror.
For those who are self-employed or struggling financially I totally get it – this is a disaster and don’t imagine for a second that I won’t be harangueing all and sundry when this is over. Equally there are some people who can’t stop working because they are fighting the damn virus – and life has changed for them only in bad ways. I won’t be forgetting Priti Patel’s non-apology either.
It is easy to highlight the things that we have lost and easier still to blame the people in charge for their failures – that is what the press is for. But I didn’t want to write about what I thought and felt right away because my first thoughts were Fuck! Shit! and my first feeling was terror. Which is no good to anyone.
And even weeks into this thing, that feeling has not entirely gone away. It’s like a fairground ride or a pendulum. It’s like trying to stand up in a small boat as the waves toss you up and down. Just when you reach some kind of equilibrium another piece of news appears either at home or abroad; or another wave of deaths is broadcast, so you lurch into a nauseous spin as your mind tries to grapple with both the existential terror and the sunshine in the garden at the same time.
Yeah, I’ll pass on that ride thanks.
If there were sirens going off and drone strikes then perhaps we would become acclimatised, but there aren’t. There are stereos playing in the back garden and the sound of lawnmowers. It feels like a long weekend, where there’s not enough time to go anywhere but no work to do. Until you remember there is work to do and, oh yeah, your chances of survival if intubated are about fifty percent – the toss of a coin.
That confusion you feel is the combination of fight-or-flight adrenaline mixed with boredom. And what we are living through is the most intense and mundane thing that will likely ever happen to any of us. For those of us not suffering the immediate trauma of loss, or the exhaustion of the battle in the hospitals this is a lens through which we can see our lives a little differently – and like all lenses, it tends to change your focus.
For me, this is bringing great clarity in certain areas. If, for example, you focus that lens on …

The Big Stuff

Margaret Thatcher once said ‘There is no such thing as society’ and that turns out to be about as right as you think it is. Her idea was that although there were things like family units there was no underlying structure or greater altruism. People didn’t really care about the big picture, they cared only about themselves. Turns out that was a pile of shite.
And it sucks to be poor, or worse, poor and in an ethnic minority. Both groups being disproportionately hit by this pandemic. I’m going to check my privilege right here and leave that subject to people better qualified/justified in their protests. The corona lens also brings into the spotlight things like the importance of normal working folk – nurses, yes, but also the delivery drivers, the supermarket workers and the tradesmen like plumbers and electricians. Turns out everyone is important – guess that’ll get forgotten immediately when this is all over.

The Little Things

And just as it is the ‘little’ people who turn out to be vital so it is the little things that are teaching us the greatest lessons. Some things we thought were vital turn out not to be. For example… I can’t go to the shops.
No shit? I live seven or eight miles from the nearest real shopping centre place and guess what? I’m lucky if I can find the time to get up there four times a year. Sure, I have the weekends but between ferrying the kids to lessons and clubs and getting the grocery shopping done I can easily go three months without hitting the mall in search of something I don’t need. If I actually do need a new pair of Adidas that can be a six month project. I don’t like shopping and I won’t miss it.
I can’t get out and exercise
That’s enough of that
I’ll leave those who know me in the flesh to fill in the punchline of that particular joke. Although I am trying to do some press-ups, squats and the like.
I can’t have friends to the house for a BBQ
Okay, I’ll give you that one. Not being able to see friends has actually been really painful. I only have about two BBQs a year because we live in Scotland but the (in)ability to see friends has been a big effect.
The other day we took our daily family walk and just went to people’s houses to play the dumbest game of chap-door-run ever. We knocked on the door and then stood a good fifteen feet away so that we could talk to them across the width of their garden. We went to my sister’s house just so we could see her and clap the dog (The spaniel knows nothing about anything and less than that about the corona virus).
Did we talk about anything important? Hell no. How can you when you are standing on the street and nearly shouting across the lawn?
It didn’t matter though. I called my father the other day because I was standing within eyesight of a petrol station and the price of petrol is ridiculously low and I thought I would share that information. We got 5 minutes chat out of that. It genuinely feels like being thrown back in time. When someone comes to visit the whole fucking family has to come down and see what all the fuss is about. We’re the 21st century equivalent of those kids at the beginning of the 20th century who would run after cars because who knows when you’ll ever see another one?
I now have an appreciation of small talk. I used to hate it (and likely will again) but for now I understand why it exists and I need it just as much as anyone. The sheer joy I get in seeing other people’s faces and knowing that they are there… it’s a big change from a small thing.
But not the biggest.
No. It’s work that has seen the biggest effects. And I’m not just talking about financially. Of course, everyone is different…
I know people who work for large corporations and they are reporting actual financial benefits in some cases – there is no travel to pay for, fuel costs have all but vanished and hotel bills are non-existent.
Perhaps you work in London and now find that the morning commute was not really necessary – only to discover that you do miss leaving your house each morning and going to a place that has people in it. Even if two months ago you would happily have gone postal on most of them.
It’s the going to work that has changed and that’s why I am not sure life has been made measurably worse for us. For me the difference really lies in how defined I had become by my work. I spend a lot of time in classrooms, or in meetings. If you look at me as an educator or a film maker or even as a writer then my job is a people job. Take that aspect away and… what is left?
I now have to work remotely. There are fewer meetings and exactly no trips to London (which I had been looking forward to) for useless film industry encounters that, actually, mean the whole world to me.
I should be moaning. And those who know me could tell you how much I love a good moan. But I ain’t. Not because this isn’t going to hurt financially – it will – but because the corona lens has shown me what is important in my life and I am (a little) grateful for that.
I am terrified of this thing. Not just because it could kill me but because it could leave my children without a father. I realised quite quickly that there are things I have to do that I have not yet done. I have stories that lie unfinished, including my own.
So thank you corona. I wish I had never heard of you but in the last three weeks I have done more work not less -whilst at the same time (hopefully) retaining a sense of perspective on what is important. Whilst a great many of you might be out there and hating every second of this unfair incarceration (and rightly so) I have listened to (and appreciated) more music than I normally would in a year; I’ve retreated into reading… and research… and writing.
So, I have run to my favourite place – a world of my own creation where I move the characters around and summon events at will. This pandemic has only really shown me that I should have been doing this more all along. It has focused me… like any good lens would.
Perhaps this is just me but I suspect not. I suspect that the corona lens has had a similar effect on other people and brought into pinpoint sharpness what is most important to all of us.
All of us.


MARILYN (A mother of 40)is in bed with her husband, wide awake and staring at the ceiling. The husband is snoring. Marilyn gives him a nudge and he stops. Then, after a second, he starts again. She looks at him in despair and then gets up.
Marilyn walks into the kitchen and sets her phone to broadcast from a small portable speaker. Radio news fills the room as she starts to put on the kettle and empty the dishwasher.
Well that was the weather. Not that it matters because we’ll all be staying inside for the foreseeable future. The government lockdown continues into its fourth day and it looks like we have weeks to go. We’ll have Ramsay Graham our favourite chef on the line later to talk about how we can vary our diets and how the lockdown is an opportunity to really get into that healthy eating habit. That’s later. But for now we want to hear from you. What are you doing to keep from going stir crazy? Lines are open… (music fades in)
As the radio plays quietly in the kitchen Marilyn wanders into her living room where she peruses book shelves filled with books and DVDs. She is starting to get excited about the idea of finally reading these books and watching these films (some of which are still wrapped).
Lockdown you say?

She puts her tea to one side and starts to take selected books and DVDs from the shelves. She doesn’t get too far though as her husband comes in behind her.
You up already love? Excellent. I’ll just have a shower while you’re doing the breakfast.
Marilyn smiles sarcastically and puts down the book she is holding.
Marilyn cleaning the floor of the kitchen, a book on the table, unopened.
Marilyn hoovering.
The empty street. Nothing moving.
A sequence of events that involve Marilyn getting no peace to read or watch her movies or anything.
Marilyn lying in bed with her husband beside her. It is dark. He snores. Marilyn lets out a little scream and puts a pillow over her face.
More events like the previous day. Interspersed with radio saying an ever increasing number of Lockdown days. Marilyn cleaning, Marilyn cooking and tidying up the detritus of unseen children. She watches her slob husband eat. She tries to watch a movie…
Marilyn approaches the DVD player with a classic film in her hand. The sounds of a football match coming from the TV
Woah there love. Watcha doin’?
Let’s watch a film.
But I’m watching the game.
I thought they cancelled all the football?
This is a classic. Come and watch it with me. They score a beauty in a minute.
Marilyn just puts down her DVD and wanders off.
Marilyn is lying in bed. Wide awake again, but this time the husband is not snoring – he is coughing. Marilyn puts a pillow over her face. He keeps coughing and eventually Marilyn just gets out of bed.
Marilyn steps out onto the deserted street and memories come to her. The husband snoring, the husband coughing, the endless washing and picking up of clothes. The never-ending lockdown on TV and radio. Blitz spirit.
Marilyn in front of empty cupboards. Taking out mismatching tins that can make nothing at all together.
Marilyn struggling across an empty supermarket car park carrying bags.
Husband is coughing. He sounds a lot worse. Marilyn sits up this time and looks at him.
Sounds of grunting and pushing. Marilyn on top of her husband rocking back and forth – putting real effort into it, breathing heavily. She looks near to climax. Eventually she rolls off.
After a while she looks at him again. There is a pillow over his face. Her pillow. She takes it and puts it under her head. Husband is stone dead. She goes to sleep.
Marilyn is sleeping in her cell. It is time to get up.
Marilyn mopping, Marilyn reading a book. Marilyn cleaning her cell.
Marilyn is lying in her bunk. The cell mate starts to snore. Marilyn picks up her pillow…

Merry(ish) Christmas and Happy New Year

I never know whether to tell this story or not.
There was a Christmas or two when I was in kinship care. If you don’t know what that is then it is when you are being looked after by a relative or some other friend of the family that isn’t your parents. It could be a Grandmother or an aunt or whatever. It never used to have a name – it was just a situation – but now they recognise it as being somewhat less than ideal.
My strongest memory of Christmas comes from that time. And, strangely, it isn’t a bad memory.
I lived in my aunt’s house. We had a lot of kids in that house. Five kids. Two bedrooms. All in single beds that took up so much space there was no seeing the floor. And we did it all on rotation. You changed bed so that you were near the door at least once a week… Or you were near the window. By chance that year I had drawn the short straw (so everyone thought) by being near the window on Christmas Eve. Yes, it was single-glazed and so the chances of there being ice on the inside of the window come morning were actually quite high but I didn’t care about that. It was even further to go to get to the toilet as well: Over everyone else, round the corner, down the stairs (all in the dark) and then back again without putting a light on or stubbing your toe or getting a row for being up… it was not, theoretically, the best bed.
But I liked it.
Because I got to look out the window.
And it was snowing. At that time Christmas was always a bitter/sweet affair. Yes there were presents. Maybe not the best presents. Maybe not as good as the presents sitting next to it under the tree that my cousins got. But there were presents. And I appreciated that. Although it wasn’t the best bit.
It also meant there was a fair chance of seeing at least one parent the next day and possibly two. Which I appreciated even more.
You would expect that to be the best bit. It wasn’t.
The best bit was the looking out the window: The endless soft silence of snow falling in the night as I sat, undisturbed and wrapped in a duvet, looking at a pristine world. There was no wind and so the large snowflakes fell straight downwards and disappeared into the separate blankets of the back gardens. The peace of that moment became all encompassing. The future held nice things, yes, but I didn’t even want the future to come – all I wanted to do was remain in that stasis and watch snow fall forever.
I tried to stay awake so that I could. I had no interest in seeing Santa – all I wanted to do was watch that scene: The falling snow acted, somehow, like a cold cloth on a fevered brow – a cooling calm. Snow brought ease and contentment. Snow removed worry and anxiety.
And how wise I was at that tender age. I wasn’t really bothered about the extra stuff I would get. All I really needed was a removal of anxiety and room to simply… be.
That’s still all that I want. The world is so noisy now. The anxiety levels are through the roof on all fronts and I don’t get the time any more to just look at the window and soak up the scene in silence.
Although it looks like the world is gearing up to provide a new level of horror and dismay I hope you all had a fine festive period. I hope this New Year brings you all that you would wish for.
Me? I’ll be hoping for peace but I’ll settle for snow and silence – at least once in a while.