Get well soon, Splintered

Apologies for the recent inactivity on this fine blog. Splintered Sunrise currently lies not only splintered, but shredded, scooped-out and stitched due to a leedle problemette with a troublesome appendix, although he says his foreword and bibliography are fine. 

More importantly, he’s been denied alcohol and festive stuffing rights – the cruel bastids! 

He is working hard on getting better, and basking on a tropical beach … in his mind! 

Normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime, here is some music. (You’ll have to use the technology in your head.) 

And Friends of Splinty may drop by to fill in … 

Madam Miaow

The assassination of George Galloway by the coward John Rees

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You’ll be thrilled as Palme d’Or winner KEN LOACH moves away from his usual kitchen-sink style to bring you a Hollywood extravaganza based on a classic tale of betrayal and revenge from the Old West.

All the troops of the Governor of Missouri (Gordon Brown) have failed to quash the notorious outlaws of the Galloway Gang. While the press denounce him as an enemy of the people, the legendary George Galloway’s sallies against the railroads, the banks and profiteering landlords have made him a folk hero to the oppressed sharecroppers of Bethnal Green. Galloway seems to be invincible. Or is he?

The outlaw leader has not reckoned on the possibility of betrayal from within his gang. Our drama follows gunman John Rees, who has long been a close follower of Galloway and even served in his personal guard. But recently Rees has become disgruntled by Galloway hogging the limelight, and feels he is not getting his fair share of the spoils. The tense psychodrama mounts as Rees wrestles with his better judgement. Will he screw up the courage to gun down his leader in cold blood? And will Galloway be too caught up in his own legend to see the danger coming?

Starring
JACK NICHOLSON as George Galloway
SHILPA SHETTY as Salma Yaqoob
ALAN RICKMAN as John Rees
KATHY BATES as Lindsey German
SALMAN KHAN as Abjol Miah
DAN AYKROYD as Martin Smith
ANGELINA JOLIE as Judith Orr
EUGENE LEVY as Alex Callinicos
JON STEWART as Mark Steel
RAB C NESBITT as Chris Bambery
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN as the Mysterious Man in Dubai

With special guest stars
ALEC BALDWIN as Tommy Sheridan
and
JACKIE MASON as the late Tony Cliff

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll just love the film all the critics are calling the new Blazing Saddles!

The fairytale of Radio 1

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You know, I usually like Christmas. I’m not a curmudgeon in that sense, but there are a few things I really hate about this time of year. An obvious one is the big crush in Belfast city centre, with the late shoppers and their assorted rugrats turning Belfast into a close approximation of Mumbai. It’s bad enough when you don’t go into a shop – venture into most retail outlets (except Marks, which has a nicer class of mob) and you’ll witness a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies.

But what I really, really hate is the fucking “Fairytale of New York”. Which is odd, because I used to quite like it – a nice mix of sentiment with cynicism. But that was twenty years ago, and familiarity breeds contempt. Especially when most of the radio stations are playing it on a permanent loop. Especially when half the dopes in the country are downloading it for their Christmas parties, sending it racing up the charts and therefore being played even more often than usual. Especially when every busker in town has his own version. After leaving the safe confines of your home, it’s well nigh impossible to go more than 15 minutes without hearing the “Fairytale”.

That’s why I was rather tickled by the outrage at Radio 1 tinkering with the sainted “Fairytale” by bleeping out the word “faggot”. Radio 1, as you’ll know, has a long history of being censorious, most famously with Frankie’s “Relax”, so we should have expected this. And this is of course of a piece with the revelation that the Beeb has also been dickering about with its archive by editing homophobic slurs out of ancient episodes of Porridge, which even Lukewarm himself, Christopher Biggins, thought was a bit out of order. The fact that Radio 2 continued to play the unedited version suggests that this is Radio 1 taking seriously its remit to provide a good example for young people by not using homophobic language. Although I can see the sentiment, it’s all rather too reminiscent of the idea, lifted by political correctness from Orwell’s 1984, that if you eliminate bad language people will be unable to think bad thoughts.

And so it came to pass that, after remonstrations from irate listeners as well as the late Kirsty MacColl’s mother, the full version was reinstated to Radio 1. So that’s the demands of free speech satisfied. Now can we talk about maybe having a moratorium on the “Fairytale” for just one year? Before I feel an irresistible urge to start blowing up radio stations.

Fabio takes over England

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One of the more delicious aspects of the way the Euro 2008 qualifiers panned out has been the discussion of what England, who tend to assume they have a divine right to go to these things, will do next summer. Not to mention the other teams from these islands. I’m rather taken with this idea floating around of a Celtic championship, which would basically be the old Home Nations championship only with the ‘Republic’ taking the place of England.

This, of course, cuts little ice with the punters on talkSPORT, who aren’t interested in that sort of thing. They wouldn’t mind a fixture with Scotland, but couldn’t be bothered with the rest of these Mickey Mouse countries. No, they reckon England should be playing against countries like Italy, France or Brazil, who they imagine themselves to be in the same league as. You know what I think the Celts should do? Bring in teams from Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, just to wind them up even more.

And what of the new reign of Fabio? Well, what he has going for him is that he’s a tough old bird (having dropped both Beckham and Ronaldo at Real), very experienced and with his team of Italians around him. He’s also got that four-year contract as insurance against all the punters who expect him to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear immediately.

So will we see England turning its back on ugly football and trying its hand at the sort of technical game the Italians, Portuguese and even Croats and Romanians have prospered with? What would be nice would be a demonstrative break with the discredited regime of Svenism-McClarenism, whose weaknesses have been cruelly exposed.

One thing that needs to go overboard is the marriage to a rigid 4-4-2 formation, persisted with under pressure from dopey fans who reckon England can’t play in any fancy formations. Of course, since England has no real wingers and the midfield therefore tends to be a shambles of players doing whatever they want, in practice the 4-4-2 breaks down almost instantly a match starts.

Another thing that needs to be done is to have more than two tactics. England have persisted a very long time with the strategy of sticking a long ball up the front and hoping their strikers can do something with it. It’s a tactic that brought a lot of exceedingly ugly victories to Jackie Charlton’s Ireland, but it’s terrible to watch and not much use against technical teams. The other tactic is an over-reliance on the set-piece, and in particular the Beckham free kick. This will not cut the mustard.

I don’t pretend to be any great football strategist, but here are a few ideas Fabio might like to take under advisement.

Drop Beckham once and for all. I know he has sentimental value and he can still shift jerseys, but the man is basically heading into retirement, if he would only admit it. He can’t run any more, can only kick with one foot and almost never scores in open play. If you want a free kick specialist, fine, but to have a free kick specialist who can hardly do anything else is an extravagance.

Leave Lampard on the bench. When you’re selecting a team you have to think about balance. Lampard may be one of the four top English midfielders, but that shouldn’t guarantee him a spot in midfield. If you can’t get Lampard and Gerrard playing as a unit with well-defined roles – if in fact they’re getting in each other’s way – then you only play one of them.

Give Rooney something to do. What you have with Rooney is a naturally talented striker who maybe isn’t fast, but is creative. But he spends far too much time standing around with his two arms the one length. You could do a lot worse than, instead of trying to shoehorn him into a strategy, trying to build a strategy around him. And get the bloody midfield to feed him. Only not KFC, he looks like he’s had enough of those.

I am not a number!

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I guess regular readers of this blog will be aware that I’m not a puritan. In fact, I tend to be very libertarian on sexual matters, which as often as not rubs up against prevailing attitudes on the left, and is probably to be blamed at the heel of the hunt on my long-term interest in Reichian psychology. Old Wilhelm may have been a bit bonkers, but he did have some most fascinating ideas.

Anyway, we return to the question of sexism on the left. Andy tried this the other day, only to be derailed by an endless stream of commentators shouting “No! Look at this!”, but that’s no reason to have another try.

May I say in advance, therefore, that I’m not objecting to anyone getting their leg over. What I object to is, firstly, abuse of power, or what passes for power on the left (vide G Healy) and, secondly, hypocrisy. A good example of the latter would be Hoxha’s Albania. Uncle Enver’s homosexuality would be neither here nor there had he run a sexually enlightened government, but he didn’t. But if we dig a little further into our contemporary left, we find layers upon layers of hypocrisy.

So we’re going to try a little thought experiment. And, bearing in mind the laws of defamation, let’s stick to hypotheticals.

Imagine, if you will, a far-left organisation that sets great store by its sensitivity to matters of oppression, and is especially gung-ho about its opposition to sexism. Now imagine that this perfectly decent stance is constantly being undermined by aspects of the group’s internal culture.

Let’s say there is a very senior cadre who is notorious for his wandering hands, at least when he’s had one too many. This is an open secret, to the point where, if he visits your branch, comrades crack jokes about locking up the women. Has this ever been the subject of an internal inquiry, even by the notoriously supine control commission? Dream on.

Let’s say that you have been approached by not one but several young female comrades who feel uncomfortable around a longstanding cadre because of his persistent habit of talking to their cleavages. (This, by the way, is something I make a conscious effort to never do. I was brought up to believe that it’s only good manners to look a woman in the eye when you’re talking to her.) Since you take this kind of thing seriously, and are worried about the group’s failure to retain young female recruits, you would love to support them. So imagine how you feel when you have to tell them that nothing can be done, and they would be best advised to stay quiet and try to avoid this comrade.

Let’s say that you are aware of a number of cases where ambitious female comrades have achieved positions in the hierarchy, due not to what talents for the job they may possess but due to who they are fucking. Meanwhile, talented women are passed over when it becomes known they are unavailable.

Let’s say that there are a few men in a number of localities who take pride in shagging any young female recruits to their branches, as much for their status as for any sexual enjoyment. (The anthropological equivalent of monkeys sticking their asses in the air.) This actually damages the group in that these young women rarely stay any length of time. But it is impossible to do anything about this, because these men are in good standing with the leadership, and moreover are more than usually outspoken in their PC puritanism.

Let’s say the group has a culture of institutional bullying, where women are not given more consideration, but generally speaking less.

Let’s say that this group had supporters in the Scottish Socialist Party during the Sheridan trial, who were involved in ugly scenes at SSP meetings where women who failed to support the Dear Leader were abused as “bitches” and “cunts”, amongst other witty epithets. Imagine that, rather than dealing with this abuse, the group’s publications blow smoke about the SSP having succumbed to “feminist puritanism”.

Now let’s say that this group runs periodic anti-sexist campaigns among the rank and file, aimed at browbeating comrades for their supposed thought crimes. This practice closely mirrors the sort of thing that used to go on in the American Maoist movement, where perfectly defensible measures to integrate minorities often degenerated into white comrades being forced to self-criticise their unconscious racism. And it’s about as productive, not to mention allowing some comrades to bury their own dodgy records under a mountain of sound and fury.

Let’s say the group has a number of stentorian über-feminists comfortably ensconced in its permanent leadership. They are well aware of the sort of shit that goes on, and you would think they would take steps to set their house in order. But that might mean jeopardising their comfy berths, so they prefer to spend their time writing tomes on “raunch culture” and ridiculing working-class women for wearing push-up bras.

Let’s say this imaginary group, while turning a blind eye to the practices detailed above, regularly expels rank-and-filers for alleged sexual misconduct. Indeed, it does so in such numbers that, were we to take the disciplinary records at face value, the group would appear to be chock-a-block with sex pests. By an amazing coincidence, the vast bulk of people expelled on these grounds turn out to be political dissidents. It has been alleged that this is a deliberate tactic taught to organisers, who can thus avoid dealing with the political substance of any dissidence while blackening the dissident’s character. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Now let us imagine for the sake of argument that this group is inviting us to spit blood over somewhat sexist comments by Asian councillors in Tower Hamlets, and to join in a great frenzy of synthetic outrage at George Galloway expressing opinions that are utterly typical for a man of his age and background.

Cynical? You bet.

The revival of St Trinian’s

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I haven’t yet decided whether to go and see the new St Trinian’s film. Though there’s been a lot of hype, I haven’t come across any previews, which is usually a bad sign. And although I find the idea of Rupert Everett in drag, playing the Alastair Sim part, quite arresting, it’s also got Russell Brand in it. You know the way, a couple of years back, you couldn’t get away from Abi Titmuss? Well, Brand is worse. You could at least cut down your Abi exposure big time by not buying Nuts. Meanwhile, it seems you can’t switch on the TV or wireless without Russell fucking Brand turning up, and while his actual achievements are remarkably slight (let’s be honest, Big Brother’s Big Mouth was pants) he has a chart-topping autobiography out. God help us.

But, getting away from the ubiquitous Mr Brand, I am intrigued at the spin suggesting that this will be a modernised St Trinian’s for the 21st century. What exactly does that mean? Switchblades? Bags of glue? Flash Harry on the Sex Offenders’ Register? The mind boggles. My view is that, like Carry On, St Trinian’s is a period concept that’s better remembered than recreated – or, if you were going to recreate it, you would have to do the thing retro style. There are good structural reasons for this.

I was recently having another look at the old films, and they really do reek of the era of rationing. The first thing you notice in watching The Belles of St Trinian’s, and the most shocking to a modern audience, is the fug of cigarette smoke constantly hanging about the actors. There’s a creaky theatricality about the style. And it really does reference constantly an era and a public-school environment that is long gone, barely remembered and doesn’t translate very well into our time.

But back to the structural question. Going back to the original Ronald Searle drawings, the real heart of the comedy is in the boisterous young girls. And so it is in the films, with the pre-teen tearaways maybe not getting many character moments, but certainly supplying a huge proportion of the laughs. And that is something that would be saleable today. Just look at the eternal popularity of Roald Dahl’s books and the spin-off films, demonstrating that there’s nothing kids like better than stories about resourceful kids putting one over on adults. So you could revive the concept, but you’d have to pitch it squarely at the kids’ audience.

And here we have a problem. Right from the get-go, the films also catered to the dads by giving lots of screen time to buxom sixth-formers in short skirts and hold-up stockings. And as the films progressed into the sixties, the cheesecake quotient rose relentlessly. But that doesn’t really sit very well with the children’s comedy element – it was a bit dodgy even in 1954, and in today’s moral climate… well, let’s say you could go down the rugrat road or you could go down the Lucy and Michelle road, but mixing the two up is just a bit wrong.

And changing mores come into it in a related but slightly distinct way, in that what was racy or titillating forty or fifty years ago isn’t now. The boundaries and taboos that filmmakers of that era pushed against aren’t boundaries any more, and taboos have shifted so much that, while in 1954 a glimpse of stocking was considered something shocking, today I fail to see how you could challenge any boundaries while getting anything less than an 18 certificate. And if you go that far from the roots of the concept, why not just invent something else?

Every so often you hear of some long-dead franchise that’s going to be revived, and you would think (or a financial backer would think) that nostalgia would provide a ready-made audience. But, if you’re tempted, I suggest you go off and watch Carry On Columbus. And I offer that advice for free to George Clooney, in case he follows through on his occasional threats to remake The A-Team. George, I love you, but you’re on a hiding to nothing there.

It could be that I’ll be proven wrong about St Trinian’s, and maybe it will be a triumph. Maybe an ancient franchise can be revived with a bit of sass and the help of Rupert Everett, Girls Aloud, Colin Firth (what is he doing there?) and, er, Russell Brand. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ikea comes to Gotham City

And so it same to pass this Thursday that the Swedish furniture superstore opened up its new premises out by Knocknagoney. I don’t really see it myself, but lots of people seem to go buck mad for Ikea. You’ll recall that when they opened a store in England a while back, there was a mini-riot and some poor soul was trampled to death.

So on Thursday morning the cops were predicting gridlock out in East Belfast, as the broad masses swarmed to Ikea. In the end though, there was no gridlock and the place was only half-full. Presumably the punters wanted to avoid the anticipated crush. Sensible, but it felt like a bit of a damp squib after all the hype.

Thankfully though, there are people not far from here who will go to the opening of an envelope:

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Meanwhile, another retail-related story in the news caught my eye, as an outlet in Connswater Shopping Centre agreed to stop selling golliwogs after receiving a complaint. The noteworthy points were that apparently the golliwogs had been selling hand over fist, and that if Newsline was anything to go by, the one (1) customer who made a complaint had a strong English accent.

Now, we’re supposed to be part of the multicultural ‘UK’, but can you imagine this sort of thing in any urban area in England? Even in Wolverhampton, which I believe still has a statue of Mr Enoch Powell, numbers of people would look askance. It just goes to show how out of synch we are.

Katy French becomes a strained metaphor for the Celtic Tiger

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It’s a curious thing about the death of Katy French, that the media seem determined to find a greater significance in it than just a personal tragedy. Some of this has just been silly – I’m thinking especially of Paul Williams in the Sunday World managing to blame Katy’s death on the Provos, via an alleged Provo-Farc conspiracy to flood the Emerald Isle with cocaine. Even for Williams and the Sunday Roast, that’s stretching credibility. More generally we’ve had the sentimental view that Katy represents some kind of death of innocence for the Celtic Tiger.

I suppose though that it does illustrate some aspects of our modern Irish society. WorldbyStorm has already reflected on this, but there are one or two things I think might be worth flagging up. The first is that up until quite recently I’d never heard of Katy and was very hazy as to what she actually did. In fact, just over a year ago hardly anybody had heard of her, but all of a sudden she was everywhere. This had an awful lot to do with her close collaboration with Dublin’s new breed of celebrity gossip columnists, who manufactured her profile in a quite conscious way. Ireland being short of real celebrities – just look at Charity You’re A Star! – it’s very easy to get a media profile very quickly.

The other thing I would ponder on is, yes, how the drugs question relates to the Celtic Tiger. It’s funny, but in recent years I’ve become much more attracted to the old Workers Party bugbear of the lazy Irish bourgeoisie, something that seems to me to have a lot of truth in it. If you think about it, what has Irish capital contributed to the long boom? A sober economic answer might be, frig all. The Tiger has been almost entirely based on inward investment – to be sure, there have been spin-off benefits for Irish capital, not least the construction industry in a wildly overdeveloped Dublin, but the Irish bourgeoisie, as such, has been very much parasitic on the boom.

So booming Ireland hasn’t really developed a culture of enterprise, but it has certainly developed a culture of conspicuous consumption. Look in the Turbine most Sundays, and you’ll see photos of ludicrously lavish society parties, not to mention weddings that even Premiership footballers might think a bit OTT. And this has drastically changed the drugs culture in Ireland. Twenty years ago, the word “drugs” summoned up images of shivering junkies shooting up in inner-city sink estates. What you now have is a very affluent section of Irish society where cocaine use is well-nigh endemic.

To a large extent we’re talking about the younger end of D4, which is why Justine Delaney Wilson’s The High Society reads at times like she’s interviewing Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. But this goes way beyond the Ross types. We’re not really talking about the Irish establishment, but yeah, the sons and daughters of the establishment are as likely as not to be sniffers. And not even just in Dublin – in provincial towns you’ll hear quite open talk about such-and-such from this rich family who’s a notorious cokehead.

And this was the layer of society that Katy moved in. That particular slice of Irish society where socialites, journos, luvvies and the like mix, in clubs where the term “powder room” carries a very definite double entendre. A lot of these people seem to have gone to ground over the last week or so, no doubt due to the fear that a whole lot of drug scandals could be unearthed by the guards or enterprising hacks. Perhaps the death of Katy French will in the end make some contribution in helping to lift the lid on moneyed Ireland’s dysfunctional relationship with drugs.

A respectable beginning

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I’ve acquired the new Respect paper – if you haven’t seen it you can do so online, courtesy of Liam.

My own immediate thoughts are these. There’s some obvious continuity with the old Socialist Resistance, but some notable differences as well. Many of the articles are by the usual suspects, but there’s a fair representation of new people as well. That’s good.

In some ways it’s a bit of an improvement on the old SR. My big problem with SR was that, while there were plenty of good articles in it, the paper as a whole was a bit scattergun and did tend to lean towards good-cause-of-the-month articles. So, when I heard the Respect paper was going to be even broader, I got that sinking feeling. As it turns out, though, the Respect paper has much more focus about it, and leans a lot more towards coverage of strikes and grassroots campaigns.

In fact, most of the articles wouldn’t be out of place in Socialist Worker. The main difference being that SW’s didactic “what socialists say” bits aren’t there. The significance of that is arguable.

Galloway of course features, but not in a Kim Jong-Il sense. The split is kept down to a two-page spread at the end, which is sensible if you want a paper you can actually sell to punters. A strong reviews section to lighten things. And a big picture of Thomas Sankara!

Not bad at all for a paper produced at very short notice, and I’ll look out for future issues with interest. The promised letters page should be important for developing a real public forum. I also stick to my position that it would be worth considering a Bengali-language section, or possibly pullout – maybe that’s something to think about longer term. Quite a reasonable start then, all things considered.

If any readers have their own thoughts, I’d be glad to hear them.

Proper Crimbo in Derry

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You want to know what the difference is between Belfast and Derry? Listen to Stephen Nolan in the mornings, and then listen to Mark Patterson on Radio Foyle in the afternoon. Belfast is represented by all the punters ringing Angry Steve to give off about what a bloody awful city Belfast is. By contrast, the Patterson show – and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anything else like it – consists mainly of Derry people, who naturally all know each other, slapping each other on the back and talking about what a brilliant place Derry is.

Some people say Derry has a great community spirit, although that might be more convincing if it was safe to go out after eight. What’s undisputable is that Derry has an uncanny gift for civic boosterism. The Americans call Chicago the Windy City, but it’s got nothing on Derry.

So it wasn’t a suprise to see 13,000 people in Santa suits crammed within Derry’s walls in a bid to set a new world record for the number of Santas in one place at one time. This is exactly the sort of thing Derry does well. Everybody got in on the act. Local MLAs Mark Durkan and Martina Anderson were wearing Santa suits. There was a Santa hat on Free Derry Corner. I don’t know if Eamonn McCann was dressed as Santa, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Cue plenty more backslapping for what seems to be a successful record attempt. And I was much taken with the organiser who gave out on the news that Derry was now Santa Town. It strikes me that this would be a great way to resolve the controversy over the city’s name.

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