Scottish Man Wakes from Coma to a Dystopian Placard Nightmare

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A Scottish man awoke unattended from a five year coma yesterday and found himself wandering the streets of Edinburgh in only his patient gown, caught in the middle of a nightmare landscape of diametrically opposed placard waving humans.

With his hearing still yet to return, the 42 year old man, Alistair Craig, a delivery driver from Broxburn, became increasingly agitated and hysterical as on every street corner he found yet more mobs urging him to join them in their mysterious campaign. Scared and confused, Craig attempted to find shelter in a nearby building, only to find that the windows of each were also marked with the distinctive affirmative and negative logo’s of the bizarre gatherings.

Eventually, Craig found an unoccupied house, as yet unmarked. Presuming the house had once belonged to a poor soul that had now gone over to the sign-holders, he bathed, clothed and nourished himself from the little he could find in the abandoned dwelling.

Exhausted from his escape, Alistair fell asleep in a comfortable armchair, only to be woke by an ominous knocking coming from the front door. The joy of finding his hearing had returned was soon matched by the terror of what lay in wait.

He looked out sheepishly through the blinds to see a group of suited men and women gathered outside. As he could see, none of them were holding placards. His heart beat fast as he realised they may be other survivors, and hastily he opened the front door to the apparent leader of the group, a thin faced man with parted brown hair and a tired look of diminished ambition hidden behind the smile he just about managed to crack.

At first the guttural mumbles of the man seemed incoherent. Alistair feared his ears had not yet fully recovered. He shouted out in fear.

“What’s happening? Help me! I don’t know what’s going on! I don’t know what to do! Please, please help me!”

The man at the door gave a wry smile over his shoulder to his entourage. He spoke again, and this time Alistair could decipher some of the words.

“Then you’re exactly the kind of person we want to talk to! We can help you.” he said, his eyes flaring up like pilot lights in a rusty boiler.

“Thank God!” exclaimed Alistair, “I thought the whole world had gone mad. Nothing makes any sense anymore. I don’t, I don’t know what is real. Who are you?”

The brown haired man smiled and cleared his throat, “uh well, I’m Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats…”

For the first time in his life, Alistair was glad to see a politician. He must be leading the remnants of the population who hadn’t turned to the placards, he thought. All the other, proper, party leaders must have been converted by now.

“… and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom” he continued, “can I ask, will you join with me and Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservatives, and leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, in sending a clear message?”

What is this madness? Thought Alistair. The Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives? The world had been flipped turned upside down.

“Wh… what message?” Alistair asked nervously.

“Why… ‘NO’ of course!” said the one who called himself Clegg. Suddenly, all the people in suits pulled out banners and placards and leaflets, and held them aloft, waving and smiling and grinning, and gritting their teeth.

Alistair tried to close the door but a black shiny shoe jutted out and blocked it. Alistair backed off as the mob approached. He tried to run but stumbled over the footing of the stairwell.  He hit the ground with a dull thud and turned to see the leering face of the deputy leaning over him with a badge in hand, the pin catch open and advancing upon his chest. Reflected in the watery eyes of the brown haired man, Alistair could see the word ‘no’ printed on the badge.

“God no!” Alistair shouted, just before he fainted and all was black.

“That’s right!” said Clegg.

 

Today in Edinburgh, a broken man stands on a street corner shoulder to shoulder with others. He sees another crowd across the street on the opposite corner. They are not like him. They have different signs. How did he get here? What was his purpose? What was his name? A faint glimmer of remembrance sparks in his subconscious, but before it has the chance to burn brightly, a group of people wander into the road. They have no denomination. They look awkwardly from side to side at the two groups that flank them, and form a huddle. Suddenly, the one they once called Alistair knew what he had to do. He raised his placard high.

“No! No! No!” he shouted, and it all seemed so clear.

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Fear and Loathing in Loch Lomond.

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I was going to write a sensible blog with my opinions about Scottish independence, having seen enough comedy articles already about the last ditch road trip to Scotland this week of Clegg, Miliband and Cameron to try and save the union. Then I thought I’d write this instead. (warning – bad language)

 

We were somewhere around Carlisle approaching the border when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something to Nick like “I feel a bit lightheaded, maybe you should drive…” when there was a terrible roar all around and the sky was full of what looked like huge flying haggis all swooping and dripping hot fat over the car that was going 82mph with the air conditioning on full blast up the M6 to Scotland. And a voice was screaming, “Holy hell! What are these goddamn things?”. Then it was quiet again. Nick had taken his shirt off and was pouring HP sauce on his chest to facilitate the tanning process.

It was almost noon and there was still a hundred miles to go till we reached Glasgow to start our mission to save the union. They would be tough miles, and very soon I knew, the three of us would be completely twisted. We’d all claimed three thousand pounds each from our expenses, most of which had gone on filling the boot of the car with extremely dangerous substances. We had two multipack bags of crisps, seventy-five tic-tacs, five broad sheets of high powered right wing journalism, a salt shaker half full, and a whole galaxy of multicoloured jellies, pastels, lollies and cola bottles, and a quart of Tango, a case of Red Bull, a pint of milkshake and two dozen pasties.

“Man this is the way to travel!” crooned my deputy, Nick. “I’ll take the highroad, and you’ll take the low road…” Take the high road? You poor bastard. Wait until you see them goddamn haggis. I switched on the CD player to drown out the wretch. ‘Thing can only get better’ was the only track we had, so we listened to it all the way up. It set a good driving pace. A constant speed is essential for efficient fuel consumption, which seemed important at the time.

Clegg turned to Ed who was sitting quietly in the back seat. “We’re your friends, we’re not like the others.” Oh Christ, I thought he’d gone round the bend, “No more of that talk!” I said, “Or I’ll put Grant Shapps on you.” He grinned, seeming to understand. Between the air con and the music, Ed couldn’t hear in the back. Or could he?

How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts ranting and jabbering at Miliband? What will he think then? How long before he makes the grim connection between our purposefully lacklustre attempt at convincing the Scots to stay in the union so that when they leave and take all those traditional labour seats with them we can dominate Westminster for years to come? If he does we’ll just have to bury him somewhere. No way he can leave now and report us to some kind of outback communist newspaper hack who will run us down like dogs.

Did I just say that out loud? Did they hear me? I look over to Nick, but he seems oblivious, occupying himself by firing jelly babies from his nose and out of the window at pedestrians. It is all quiet from the back. I better have a chat with Ed, straighten this out.

“There’s one thing you should probably understand.” I said, grinning. “Are you listening to me?” I yelled.

He nodded.

“Good. You see, we’re on the way to Scotland to save the United Kingdom dream. That’s why we bought this £250,000 Jaguar, it was the only way to do it.”. He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous.

“I want you to have all the background, because this is an ominous assignment with overtones of extreme personal danger. You see, about two weeks ago we were sitting in the commons bar, in the VIP section, of course, when a uniformed dwarf came up to me with a Pink telephone. I answered. It was my contact, he said we needed to come up to Scotland. Ah, Scotland, you can almost see the tidemark where the UK dream peaked and then washed away. I asked Nick here to come with me, you see, I need you to understand that he’s my deputy and he’s from Sheffield. Are you prejudice?”

“Oh hell no!” said Ed, unblinking.

“I didn’t think so. Because this man is extremely important to me.”

And then, before I knew it, we were screeching to a halt on the hard shoulder, just before Gretna Green. Clegg turned around to Ed.

“The truth is we’re going to Scotland to croak a scag baron called Alex Salmond – I’ve known him for years but he ripped us off, and you know what that means, right?”

I wanted to cut him off, but we were both helpless with laughter. What the fuck were we doing out here north of the M25, when we both have bad hearts?

“We’re going to rip his lungs out!” Clegg snarled at Ed.

“And eat them with neeps and tatties!” I blurted. “What’s going on in this country when a scum sucker like that can get away with sandbagging a Prime Minister?”

Clegg was cracking another fruit shoot and Miliband was climbing out of the automatic windows, damned freak couldn’t work the child locks.

“See you guys!” he shouted as he ran back to the nearest little chef. “I like you. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay!”

“Wait a minute!” I yelled after him, “Come back here and grab a 7up…” But apparently he couldn’t hear me. He was running fast and the music was loud.

Nick continued screeching along to ‘Things… can only get better’ as I stepped on the accelerator and we hurtled back onto the motorway.

 

Owl Stretching Time – Pythons and Culture.

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Although I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the O2 arena to watch Monty Python bow out on stage, I was very happy to realise on Sunday that the very last show was being broadcast live on television. Despite the beeped out profanities (thanks to the broadcast going out pre-watershed), it meant that I, and presumably millions of others, got to watch the end of an era.

As far as ‘era’s’ go, it could be argued that it ended some time ago. I remember watching the 30th anniversary evening on BBC2 in 1999. As I recall it was an evening of Python episodes, interviews and documentaries. When the night finished the continuity man announced over the BBC2 logo – “That was the end of Monty Python”, a sentiment the pythons had previously made clear, having contributed only a few snippets of new footage and interviews, and I think, still not really seeing eye to eye on many ideas. (For what felt like many years, Eric Idle seemed to have banished himself to America, only ever appearing in video link ups. I always just guessed it was a tax thing).

This time, however, it felt like a much more fitting way to close the curtain on what has been for them, and us, a cultural phenomenon. It was obvious that they had chosen to come together mutually rather than just responding to expectations because of some arbitrary anniversary. It felt like watching five talented men, happy and thankful for the chance to choose the manner of their own exit, doing it in style.

I don’t really want to review the show in detail here. I think Martin Freeman put it well when in a ‘VIP lounge’ pre-show interview he said that no matter what he thought of the performance, they’ve already done it, they’ve already earned our applause and gratitude. As it happens, I think they more than earned it again with a funny, naughty and well produced finale.

Instead I want to talk more about some other sentiments that were raised by another celebrity fan in the backstage build-up: Harry Shearer, of ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Mr Burns from the Simpsons’ fame. He said that although the Pythons didn’t influence his kind of comedy, what they did do was show people that a group of creative people could maintain control over their own output. There is no doubt from the first moment of Python on TV when Graham Chapman says ‘Good Evening’ before sitting on a stool to the sound of a squeal, and then we cut to a drawing of a pig being crossed off a blackboard, that the BBC had taken a risk (see video below). Even more so when you listen to the stilted, baffled titters of the studio audience who don’t quite know what to make of it. Given that it took some time for Python to grow in popularity, it would have been so easy for some number obsessed executive to have deprived the world of their legacy. It hardly bears thinking about.

Of course there would have been some element of creative control over it, but the point, I think, is that they were allowed to experiment and take risks within wide boundaries, even if they were very silly risks. Without risks, culture stagnates. I imagine this is similar to when Paul McCartney was allowed to do a totally acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Yesterday’, a decision that many other producers and managers would have dismissed in favour of ‘more of the same’. Which takes me nicely onto my next point…

Harry Shearer also said that for these reasons, the Pythons and The Beatles are synonymous in his mind. Both groups inspiring his generation and beyond to stick to and stand up for their own creative vision. I agree with this entirely. For someone born in 1981 I was strangely raised on a cultural diet of The Beatles and Monty Python. This came mostly from my older brother. Quite how he discovered it all I don’t really know, as our parents lived outside of the UK for much of the ‘golden age’ of comedy and music. Either way, they were staples in my life, despite having been born not long before these cultural icons had all but disbanded, or been shot. But even from an early age, it was the sheer creativity of both these outfits that interested me. It was the reach of their influence in so many things that followed in our culture that made me excited.

As we get older and discover the world around us, finding out about the architects of our world is (or should be) a profound experience. Comedians and musicians may not have put the bricks and mortar around us, or paved the streets, but they certainly set the tone. Artists of all kind are the interior decorators of the life we are born into. They add to the ‘point’ of it all. Even if you argue that they are only a small part, they are an important and entertaining aspect that we would all miss if it wasn’t there. Unless that is, you want to live in silent, grey boxes, doing nothing ever but working, eating and procreating, never once telling or hearing a story, making something up, whistling a tune, drawing or enjoying a picture, or laughing… ever again.

There are many ways to make an impact on this world, and so many who try end up adding to the problems or creating new ones because their motives are ill founded. Artists give – even if they are sometimes rewarded for it – they create output to (generally) make the world a more enjoyable place and provoke original thought. It is this sentiment and motive embodied in exemplary examples  such as the Pythons and The Beatles that I wanted to try and get at with this blog, and in my little way to say thank you, and goodbye.

 

What’s the story: mourning Tories?

by Garry Abbott

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There’s been a lot of talk and chatter this week on the airwaves about Ed Miliband’s need to construct a more coherent ‘story’ and ‘narrative’ if he is going to win at the next election. He has been accused by some party supporters and critics of ‘sitting back’ and letting the Tories dig their own graves. Apparently ahead in the opinion polls (who actually does them?) – even his own head of policy was secretly recorded at a focus group saying his policies had been novelty, cynical and few and far between.

But what could be more cynical I wonder, than the accepted conversation about an opposition leader who needs to ‘come up with’ (i.e. ‘invent’) some kind of narrative in order to present some option to the electorate? Is it just me who finds the rhetoric of ‘story-telling’ both patronising and worrying?

It smacks of political elitism in an age where we are regularly told that they are losing touch with the people – yet they don’t see that this kind of circular politics is exactly why. We shouldn’t have politicians and parties who are content to sit back for five years and watch the country descend into wreck and ruin, just because it means they will have an easier job winning votes at the next election. The hope is that by May 2015 we will all be begging for change (or at least most of us), at which point Miliband will just stand up and loudly exhort through his nostrils “I will save you”. Similarly, we will have the likes of Clegg, making back-of-throat guttural utterances about how they are the only party who can be trusted to reign in the Tories, after spending 5 years propping them up.

An example of a successful opposition ‘story’ that I heard quoted by a labour supporting media expert, was David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. In political terms, they think that was the bomb. Do you remember that? Cameron telling us that instead of the state doing things for us, we basically need to do it all ourselves (yet still pay taxes). If that’s the kind of narrative Miliband is lacking, then I don’t want to hear it!

There should be no need for a story. The problems are evident for anyone who has even an iota of socialism about them, or as I like to call it, common decency and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. There should be no need to wait five years to hear this. If he and his party were truly passionate about their cause and actually represented an alternative, they shouldn’t rest or tire from doing whatever they can, whenever they can, however  they can to promote it and stop the shameless pillaging of the poor and vulnerable by the current government. As it is, the little we hear from them is often just slightly amended echoes of right-wing policies with no firm commitments to reverse the damage done. Same ideas, different faces, all ugly.

So here’s a little story for Miliband – he is welcome to use it if he likes:

 

Ed went to the fair.

There once was a boy called Ed who went to a funfair. He walked around the funfair, looking at all the games. He looked at the coconut shy, and whack-a-rat, and test-your-strength, and hook-a-duck, but they all looked really hard, and poor Ed couldn’t decide where to spend his money. Eventually he decided not to bother and to go home and spend his money on lashings of ginger beer instead. But then, just as he was about to leave, he saw one last game.

A red faced man called David was standing on a soap box brandishing a sawn off shotgun in one hand and a box of cartridges in the other, shouting “Fish in a barrel! Who can shoot the fish in a barrel? One winner only!”

“Hey mister” he said, “what do I have to do?”

“Simple,” replied David, “in this barrel of water I have placed a fish. Here is a shotgun. All you need to do is kill the fish and you win.”

“What do I win?” asked the wide eyed Ed.

“It’s a surprise.”

No one else at the fair had played this game before, and before long a huge crowd had gathered around him, waiting to see what happened.

“Why has no one played this game before?” asked Ed, suspiciously. It seemed too easy, and Ed has his smarts.

“Because each cartridge costs one million pounds a go, and none of these plebs have that kind of money”.

“Hmmm” said Ed, pondering the situation, for you see, Ed did have one million pounds to spend, and some more, but he still wasn’t sure.

“Go on!” shouted the crowd, “we want to see it done! We can’t afford to have a go ourselves!”

What was he to do?! He really wanted to win the game, but he didn’t really want to spend the money or any effort on it. What if he missed the fish? What if the game was rigged and the shotgun blew his tiny face off?

Ed thought about it long and hard… for about five years. By that time, everybody had lost interest, and the fish had died of old age.

Ed asked David, “so, does that mean I win?”, to which David replied “Yes! You’ve won! Well done” as he removed the dead fish from the barrel and replaced it with a new, live and wriggling one.

“What do I win?” asked Ed.

“This barrel, this fish, this shotgun and cartridges, and this entire funfair! ”

And then David walked off into the sunset, able to retire a happy and rich man.

Ed looked down at the barrel with the new fish. He picked up the shotgun and ammunition in his hands, before standing up on the soap box and declaring:

“Roll up – roll up! Fish in a barrel! Only 1 million pounds a shot!” and once again, the crowd gathered.

THE END.

 

Stalked by Philosophy.

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Well, I’m happy to say that last Thursday I completed my final exam for my Open University degree, specifically (for this particular module) in Philosophy of mind.

Over the last four years I have completed six modules (in this order): Creative writing (Levels 2 & 3), Arts Past & Present (level 1), An Introduction to Philosophy (level 2), Introducing the Social Sciences (level 1) and Philosophy of Mind (Level 3).

It was a funny order to do things in, but then, I never actually intended to do a degree. I started with creative writing in order to become a better writer, and spread the first two courses over two years. Then I thought… what the hell. I enjoyed the experience, and I thought that philosophy, arts and social sciences would give me a good understanding of universal themes and thoughts in the world that could only benefit my writing and general creative activities.

All in all, I was right! It turns out that philosophy has been the real stand-out component (after the creative writing), and although I don’t necessarily ascribe to a great deal of Western philosophy conclusions, I have, and do, find the questions it raises fascinating and very important.

That said, since completing the exam (where I had to answer three questions in three hours with nothing but one of them old-fangled pen things and no notes) I was looking forward to a break from the concepts of life, the universe and well, everything. But that was not to be, because now I don’t have to think about it for exam-passing purposes (fingers crossed) – I’ve only just started to realise IT IS EVERYWHERE.

I always knew in principle it was everywhere – it’s quite hard to think of any subject that isn’t touched by fundamental questions of reality. But now, more than ever, it is reverberating around my head, as if the pressure from the exam has been alleviated and released a kind of dense thought-steam into my noggin. Not only that, but it seems to crop up on everything I watch, read and hear, and in so many conversations. It’s like I’m being stalked by Socrates, constantly around the corner and occasionally shouting ‘But why Garry? But why? Why does the cat meow? Does it even understand the concept of communication and that you are a separate entity with your own thoughts and feelings? Does it Garry? Does it?’.

‘Go away Socrates!’ I shout back. But he was never there… He was never there.

Even trying to escape into a film didn’t help. As I watched the passable remake of ‘Robocop’, and considered the main character ‘Murphy’: nothing but a brain, face and spinal column, hanging in a Robotic shell, having his emotions suppressed and losing his sense of ‘self’, I thought ‘hang on!’, and up popped Daniel Dennett, the modern philosopher of mind – ‘What is consciousness? Is it just the processing of information? Why are we different from machines? ARE we different from machines?!’ he screamed.

And I shout back ‘Go away Daniel Dennett. Go away with your physicalist theories that struggle to explain the phenomenological nature of experience and therefore redefine it in order to solve the problem.. .’ But this time, he really was there, and I had to chase him with a stick. (On a real note, it was as I was contemplating that Robocop was actually one big metaphor for the nature of consciousness that I realised one of the characters is actually called ‘Dennett’ in a not very subtle nod to the philosopher).

Not only that, but one of the first conversations I had after my exam was a friend asking me “what actually is philosophy?” in order for me to explain to a child she was looking after. I started to answer, but then I thought… hang on! And in the corner of my eye I spotted Plato, pointing a gun at me, saying “yeah Garry, what actually IS philosophy? Tell me! Tell me so I can write it down many years ago and then use this gun to make people listen”… which led to all sorts of causal loop and possible quantum world problems, I can tell you.

How was I to escape? I needed some kind of activity that wouldn’t challenge me to think about all these grand metaphysical and empirical questions. Something… easy.

Thank God the football’s on.

Not to have a go at the sport. I actually do watch and enjoy it (international matches at least). But it ain’t half easy on the brain.

Man kick ball. Other man kick man. Man blow whistle. Man kick ball again. Etc… It’s almost like it doesn’t matter what happens… in fact, it’s exactly like it doesn’t matter what happens. There is something in the relative pointlessness of it all that I relish. It matters to some people, some of the time, but only subjectively, not actually. Yes, football is just what you bring to it. Those men are not kicking a ball, they are kicking projected desires and hopes on your behalf in some kind of socially accepted contract and… hang on… there’s someone in the room with me… it’s only bloody Immanuel Kant! ‘Tell me about the nature of football and human desires!’ he is shouting, brandishing a machete, ‘construct football as a metaphor for the transcendental presupposition of experience itself!’ he continues…

It seems there is no escape.

Blog-i-day? Blog holiday?

After almost 90 weeks of continuous blogging (a word that stubbornly refuses to be recognised by the spell-checker despite it being entailed almost completely by the notion of technology) and nearly 40 weeks of continuous ADMIN CAT cartoons, I am having a week off. That week is this week. So, when I say ‘off’ I mean, this is it for this week.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a cartoon that isn’t Admin Cat. Click on it to see full size if the text is a bit small. I’ll be back next week!

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ADMIN CAT! Debate!

This week’s ADMIN CAT! #33 29/05/2014

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