Tag Archives: English

The English jury system at work

A friend of mine was doing jury service recently.

After all the evidence was given and after the jury had been deliberating for a while, one of the jury members asked:

“Which one is the accused?”

When she was told which person was actually on trial, she asked:

“Wasn’t the other bloke accused?”

“No,” she was told by my friend, “he was the chief prosecution witness.”

“Oh,” the other jury member replied, “I thought they were both on trial.”

The accused man was found guilty. He probably was.

Who knows?

True story.

3 Comments

Filed under Crime, Legal system

The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

24 Comments

Filed under History, Politics, Wales

The comedians’ cricket team goes down swatting

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the village of Staplefield in West Sussex, to see the annual cricket match between the locals and a comedians’ cricket team organised with Germanic efficiency by Frank Sanazi.

I am not a great lover of cricket. I think the British Empire may have been built by armies going to foreign countries and insisting that the locals played cricket with the English/British until they lost the will to be independent and handed over their countries and natural resources rather than play another match.

But this cricket match and this cricket team was different.

Yorkshire comedian Keith Platt inexplicably dressed as a footballer.

Former submariner Eric was wearing a tennis headband when he fielded but black-rimmed Groucho Marx glasses as a batsman. He claimed these were not comedy props and he needed them, but I wasn’t totally convinced as he developed the hint of a strange gangling run when he wore the Groucho glasses.

Meanwhile, Bob Slayer dressed in black with a normal white sun hat on his head which, when erect (the hat, that is), oddly made him look like a rather down-at-heel TV celebrity chef wearing a rugby strip. He did, though, manage the impressive multi-tasking triumph of drinking at least one pint of beer while fielding.

I had to leave during the second half to see a friend who told me tobacco companies had been discovered putting sugar in their cigarettes to make them more addictive.

And, mid-evening, Frank Sanazi texted to tell me that the comedians had lost by 69 runs – 209 to 140 – but that Bob Slayer had finished 31-not-out and was “now a comedy cricket legend, as he developed a batting style called ‘swatting’ in which he maniacally tried to bash every delivery like he was Zorro.”

An interesting cricket match.

Now there’s an oxymoron.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Sport

Scots wha hae an aggressive voice and Scots wha dinnae – Rab C Nesbitt versus Gordon Jackson

A few years ago, a Liverpudlian friend of mine who is of Indian descent (by which I mean to explain she has a gentle voice) went to Glasgow for the first time.

When she came back, she told me: “At first, I couldn’t understand why everyone I met was so angry and why they were all so angry with each other. Then, after about forty minutes, I realised it was just their Glasgow accents.”

That was no joke. She genuinely was initially confused.

It came to mind today when I heard Glasgow comedienne Janey Godley discussing Scottish football managers on both BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and on BBC World Service’s lunchtime Newshour. (There are now seven Glasgow-born managers of English Premier League teams.)

“There’s something that’s come through so much today,” Janey said in the Newshour interview, “and it’s that a Scottish accent equals aggression. It’s something that people like me have had to fight for a long time. People don’t say I’m a strong comic; I’m called a tough, aggressive comic because of my accent. But our accent isn’t always synonymous with aggression.”

Janey puts the “don’t mess with us” accent down to “gritty Celtic upbringing” in Glasgow.

But the bizarre other side of the coin is that British telephone call centres are often based in the lowlands of Scotland because a Scottish accent is also found by English people to be comforting and honest.

I am old enough to remember when this started and it was specifically to do with soft-toned Glasgow-born actor Gordon Jackson who, in the early 1970s, appeared in the high-rating ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs as calm, reassuring and authoritative butler Mr Hudson.

To cash in on his TV image, a financial services company had him voice their TV commercials and their business rocketed. He – and other Scots ‘voices’ – became much in demand for financial ads. One bonus was that, unless the words were rasped out in a clearly scummy Rab C Nesbitt type accent, the English were unable to socially place any Scottish accent: they could not label the accent as belonging to any particular ‘class’ or any particular area… the accent was just “Scottish” and came with images of financial probity and Mr Hudson style trustworthiness.

Cliche images, of course, are a fascinating area of illogicality. as with Rab C Nesbitt AND Mr Gordon Jackson both being the epitome of cliche Scottishness.

The Scots have an unusual dichotomy of cliche images. They are seen as both drunken petty criminals and morally-strict Calvinists… as both penniless jack-the-lads and dead-honest people canny with their money.

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United lies sandwiched somewhere between Rab C Nesbitt and Gordon Jackson.

Leave a comment

Filed under Racism, Scotland, Sport

Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, History, Travel

The English court system? Don’t make me laugh. Tell the very dead Stefan Kiszko it works…

Today I was supposed to be starting jury service in St Albans but, a week or so ago, they told me I had been cancelled because they had “too many people”.

The same thing happened last year. I was cancelled due to too many people.

So, this time because, as they said, they’d “messed me around”, rather than automatically re-schedule me, they gave me the choice of either being rescheduled again or being excused jury service completely this time round.

I chose to be excused.

I was in two minds about the whole thing anyway.

On the one hand, it would have been interesting to see the jury system (not) work first hand. One person I know who served on a jury in South London told me it was virtual anarchy with jury members not understanding or not being interested in large swathes of evidence and one jury member repeatedly turning up late for the deliberations on innocence or guilt because she “didn’t think it was important”.

On the other hand, I would have been very loathe myself to find any accused person guilty because there is no telling what is being hidden, lied about and distorted in the presentation to the jury. The object of the English court system is not to find out who committed the crime but to decide which of two highly-paid advocates – Defence or Prosecution lawyer – presents their evidence better and hides evidence better. It is like judging an ice-skating competition with imprisonment as the top prize.

Plus, I would not want to convict on uncorroborated police evidence.

Margaret Thatcher’s solicitor – a partner in a major law firm – told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the witness stand without corroborating evidence because you could never be certain a Met officer was telling the truth.

Likewise, the owner of a prominent detective agency who employs ex-SAS troopers etc, told me he never employs ex-policemen because you can never trust them.

The story of the framing by West Yorkshire Police of Stefan Kiszko, his disgraceful trial and his wrongful imprisonment for 16 years should be taught to every schoolkid in the UK.

It is an illustration of the English court system, not an exception.

1 Comment

Filed under Crime

How an Apple iPad could finally cure my concussion and help me forget the embarrassing toilet incidents

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about Jason Cook, who is dyslexic but has written three gangster novels and I mentioned that, since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book – not since I got hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in Borehamwood.

I have written books since 1991, but I am physically unable to read them. Always best not to mention this to a publisher.

In 1981, ten years before the accident, I contributed three chapters to the anthology Anatomy of the Movies (which I have just now looked up on Amazon and copies appear, astonishingly, to be selling for £57.60 upwards; sadly I get none of this).

But, since 1991, I have been unable to read any book, though I have written several.

I have no actual memory of getting hit except I was standing on the pavement at a junction. What I have reconstructed in my mind is that I was rushing down to the post office on Saturday morning to send a friend her birthday card before the final midday collection. At a junction, I stood on the pavement and turned round to see if any traffic was coming. The driver’s cab of a large truck passed me by but the front corner edge of the wider, protruding container behind it hit me on my turned-round shoulder, breaking my collar bone in two places.

I was thrown backwards with a slight spin and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a low brick wall maybe nine inches above the ground. What I didn’t know until much later was that my spine had been twisted and jerked when my head hit the wall.

I don’t remember any of that. But, from what I do know, that’s what must have happened.

I do have flashes of memory after that. I remember lying on the ground looking up at a group of people looking down at me; some were kneeling. I remember being in an ambulance and being asked my name and address.

“Ah, you need to write down my details,” I remember saying to an ambulance man.

“No,” he replied. “I’m just checking you know who you are.”

I remember looking at the ceiling while being wheeled along a corridor in Barnet Hospital.

I have only hazy memories. I think I had about ten or twelve stitches in the back of my head, but I can’t remember. I was theoretically in the care of whichever doctor(s) looked after concussion and brain damage; but I was in an orthopedic ward for people who had broken bones because of my collar bone. So the brain doctor upstairs who had responsibility for me didn’t visit that downstairs orthopedic ward because it wasn’t his area and the nurses in the ward I was in were only observing me for the specialist who didn’t come.

I had enough trouble trying to remember if you put the plastic toilet seat up or down when you sat on it. Sitting on the white ceramic of the bowl didn’t seem to quite work and was distractingly cold on the buttocks. And I can tell you the curved edges dig into your bum. I spent a week there. In the hospital, not in the toilet. I was eventually released from the hospital when a very weary and over-worked junior-looking doctor from the ‘mind’ ward came down to the ‘bone’ ward and said I seemed to be OK. He was very kindly but was just about to go home for some much-needed sleep and appeared to me to be in much worse condition than I was. But what did I know?

It took about eighteen months to (mostly) sort out the pain in my shoulder – but only after I went to a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine not the NHS).

It took about nine or ten months to get over the concussion.

I kept thinking I was better but my mind kept draining away for periods. I would come home, sit on the sofa and look at the wall, blankly, unable to think.

To formulate thoughts in my mind, I needed words and the words would not come to my mind nor come together. I could not hold thoughts together. It was like I could feel my nerve-endings or brain strands like little hands reaching out and trying to connect with one another but not quite being able to reach each other. I could almost put the thought together but could not quite reach. My brain was like thin vegetable soup with separate strands of spaghetti floating about like living worms trying but not quite able to touch each other.

When I tried to read a newspaper, I could only read about three lines of the first paragraph before I lost concentration. It was like looking at an object but then your eyes de-focus. I could see the words in newspapers and magazines OK but, after two or three lines, I could not hold their meaning together in my brain.

It was a flash forward to my own inevitable senility.

After a couple of weeks being OK, I would think I was better, but then my mind would go into vegetable soup mode again for two or three days. Then I would think I was better again. Then it would go soupy again. There was no NHS aftercare, of course, because I had been no-one’s specific responsibility. This went on for nine or ten months.

Since then, I can read newspapers and magazines with no problems, but I cannot read printed books.

Too much print. Too much density of words.

Whether it’s a psychological or physical problem I don’t know.

But I CAN write (and read) books on my computer. I think it’s because the amount of text you see at any given time is much less. Somehow this doesn’t flummox my mind the way holding a 300-page book in my hand does.

Since 1991, I have written comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (published 1996)…

I edited the anthology Sit-Down Comedy (2003) which involved commissioning original work from 19 comedians and then badgering them to deliver the stuff; some just delivered perfect manuscripts; some needed suggestions and help; some needed careful editing; it was a bit like juggling meerkats.

I then edited comedian Janey Godley’s utterly amazing autobiography Handstands in the Dark (I can say that because I did not write it and it was justly a top ten bestseller in 2005 and 2006)…

And, in early 2010, I wrote the first 55,000 words of a 70,000 novelisation of the by-anyone’s-standards controversial movie Killer Bitch. The publisher pulled that one two weeks before I finished the manuscript because all the supermarkets and WH Smiths refused to handle the book (despite the fact they had not read any of it). I might still revive/finish that one, though I’m useless without deadlines.

Anyway, I have written and/or edited/proof-read/shepherded all of the above, but I have not read any of the published printed books.

However, I have an Apple iPad with its gob-smackingly beautiful iBook application.

You can make the pages sepia, change the font and size of the text and turn a page with your finger just like a real book. The corner or edge of the page curls over as you move your finger and you see on the back of the previous page the reversed text and illustrations which were on it.

I adore it.

It is a thing of beauty.

And I think I could read a book on it, just as I can read a manuscript on my normal computer.

I have not yet tried a whole book, but I feel the urge coming on.

The Apple iPad could yet save me from illiteracy.

Oh and – yes – I do have trouble reading printed TV and film scripts too.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Health, Internet, Newspapers

In defence of racial jokes, Bernard Manning and Jimmy Carr but not this British Asian bloke I saw

(This blog later appeared on Chortlethe UK comedy industry website)

I once put on a show at the Hackney Empire theatre in London where a top-name comic refused to introduce or be on stage with comedian Jimmy Carr because, in the preceding week, Jimmy had been much criticised in the press for jokes about gypsies. Especially one gag:

“The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away – and that fact also works if you remove the word ‘moth’.”

I had no problem with Jimmy Carr nor with the joke. Told in his particular dead-pan persona, it is a beautifully-crafted joke. From some other comic, it could have been very ethnically offensive. From the Jimmy Carr on-stage character, it did not seem to me to be offensive. It is/was a joke.

In a Guardian interview in 2006, Jimmy said, “If you’re doing wordplay, there is no real place to take offence. It’s like taking offence at a crossword puzzle… People don’t come and see my show and go, ‘That’s what he thinks’.”

I think if the late Bernard Manning’s live act – much attacked by knee-jerk PC supporters who never saw it – were performed today, word-for-word, by Jimmy Carr or Jerry Sadowitz, then trendy journalists would give it a four or five star review. Because they don’t believe (despite the gypsy jokes) that Jimmy Carr or Jerry Sadowitz are actually themselves bigoted.

But people do believe in retrospect and without having seen and heard him deliver jokes live on stage, that Bernard Manning’s live act was racist. Because they’ve read or heard other people say it’s a fact.

I did see Bernard Manning perform live three times. He was very funny. I also once had lunch with him. It seemed to me he had a bit of a superiority complex – he thought he was a bit better than the other Northern Comics of the time – but then he probably was. And he was very funny in a hard-edged, cynical way not un-reminiscent of the current Jimmy Carr on-stage persona.

The first time I saw Bernard perform live, at his own Embassy Club in Manchester, was probably in the early 1980s. It was one of the slickest professional shows I have ever seen in my life, performed in tacky, glittery decor like a cheap Hong Kong Christmas party that Butlins had staged for holiday campers in the mid 1950s.

The room was filled with ordinary down-market punters who clearly seldom went out and were be-suited and dolled-up for their Big Night Out. The only comparable thing I’ve seen was a Sunday night show at a Masonic hall in Easterhouse, Glasgow, which felt like it was set in South Vietnam circa 1968. The exterior (the walls were topped with barbed wire & broken glass) and location of the venue (a lone building in the middle of what felt like and very possibly was a free-fire zone) looked like something out of Escape From New York and the punters were middle-aged blue-rinsed women in over-tight sparkly dresses and dark-suited men looking uncomfortable wearing tightly-collared shirts and seldom-used ties.

What struck me about Bernard Manning’s act at the Embassy Club in Manchester for his very mainstream, very middle-of-the-road, probably Labour-voting but very conservative early-1980s audience was that, for the first third of the act, he used the word “cunt” very liberally. It was all over the place. This was at a time when the word was unacceptable in alternative comedy shows (which were only barely starting) and never heard on feature films, let alone in straight middle-of-the-road live punter shows. The use of the word “cunt” tailed-off after the first third of the act and had disappeared entirely by the final third.

It only struck me the next day that this was part of Bernard’s professionalism.

The show had been due to start at 8.00pm.

At 30 seconds before 8.00pm, Bernard appeared on stage and briefly introduced the first act. There then followed competent singers, competent comics. Nothing hyper-special. But satisfying. There were two breaks. In one, there was a charity raffle. In the other, chicken-in-a-basket. Throughout the show (as was the way with Northern clubs) you could order drinks at your table and there was a constant flow of staff bringing drinks from the bar to tables. It was a visible money-making machine and the paying punters got value -for-money. They got what they paid for.

At the climax of the show, they got Bernard Manning doing his stand-up act – he was the one they had come to see – and they expected his act to be rude and shocking. That was why they had come. He delivered. It was cunt-this and cunt-that and cunt-the-other at the start. After he had established the act was rude and shocking, he just got on with good, solid gags and had no need to say “cunt”. He had delivered what they expected and, next day, those punters would be able to tell their friends and workmates: “Ooh, our Bernard, he were so rude. It were proper dirty.”

Even there, I am perpetuating a stereotype.

The second time I saw Bernard perform live, there was a young honeymoon couple in the very front row who foolishly admitted the fact to him. He, of course, went for sexual jokes throughout. They loved it. At the same show, there was a black couple in the audience. He went for them as well. They loved it. Afterwards, they were laughing and joking with him.

I also saw him make anti-Semitic jokes.

He was part-Jewish.

I have seen the brilliant Jerry Sadowitz make what most people would consider anti-Semitic jokes.

He is Jewish.

The London-based New York comic Lewis Schaffer tells the best Holocaust joke I have ever heard.

He is Jewish.

Recently, I saw a new-ish comic, a British Asian, make an anti-Indian joke.

It should have felt OK – like a Jew telling a Jewish joke against Jews – but, to me, it felt racist.

It is relevant that he is a new-ish comic.

It’s the way they tell ’em.

A joke is a joke is a joke.

It’s the way it’s told that makes it funny. Or racist.

There is a difference between racial and racist jokes.

The sign of a non-racist society is that anyone can be the butt of a good joke.

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Racism, Theatre

Facebookiin

Don’t even begin to ask why, but this morning I had to translate something from English into Finnish and, according to Google Translate, it turns out that the Finnish word for “up” is “Facebookiin” (with a capital F).

This must surely have caused chaos when the Pixar animated movie Up was released in Finland shortly before The Social Network (the film about the founding of Facebook).

I tried typing “Yahhooiin” into Google Translate but, sadly, there is no such word in Finnish.

We live in confusing times.

Leave a comment

Filed under Internet, Movies

The English legal system: Justice reduced to the level of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent

I have to do jury service next month. That should be interesting.

The basis of the English legal system is that the accused is guilty unless he can (afford to) prove himself innocent. The police investigate a case and find the person they believe (or claim) is guilty. The state’s prosecution system then decides if there is enough evidence to convict and, if there is – ie if the defendant is presumed to be guilty – then the accused person is prosecuted on the basis that they are guilty. The state pays for a prosecution lawyer whose job is to get a guilty verdict; if he/she spots anything that may imply innocence, it is his/her paid job to prevent it being presented to the court.

Under the English legal system, the prosecutor is paid to mislead the court on the evidence, to hide evidence which may prove the innocence of the defendant and to prevent the Defence from presenting any evidence which will reveal anything which may show the innocence of the defendant. That is his paid job. The defence lawyer is paid by the defendant himself/herself to get an innocent verdict and to hide anything which might show or imply guilt.

The jury’s job is not to investigate the facts nor to decide if the accused is guilty or innocent. Their job is to decide which of the two well-paid lawyers present a better case. The object is to vote on whether the defender or prosecutor is better on style, content and presentation, much like competitive Ice Skating but without the numbered cards you hold up. It is justice reduced to The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

I remember a case in which a jury member spent his spare time going to the crime scene and talking to witnesses outside the court. The judge threw him off the jury and told him it was not his duty as a jury member to investigate the case but to decide a verdict only on the evidence presented. I think the jury member was threatened with Contempt of Court.

The lawyers who present the case? They have spent about seven years in an academic institution being trained in the art of legal lying, falsification of evidence and misleading the court. Which is why politicians like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are often ex-lawyers. They were highly-trained as liars.

The result of all this? Lots of guilty people escape conviction and lots of innocent people get imprisoned, sometimes for decades.

There is also the fact of widespread police corruption across the UK.

On 27th September 1998, the Sunday Telegraph revealed in an article written by Geoffrey Seed and Alasdair Palmer that it had obtained “the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and attended by 10 of Britain’s most senior officers and policy makers”. The minutes stated that “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service” and the NCIS’s Director of Intelligence said that corruption may have reached “Level 2: the situation which occurs in some Third World countries”.

I was once told by Margaret Thatcher’s lawyer that he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the dock as a witness unless what he said could be corroborated by another witness: the possibility that the policeman was lying was too great to risk.

The object of the English adversarial system is to win the debate at all costs including justice. Added to this, there is the fact all police evidence must be suspect.

The English courts do not provide justice. They play a game with people’s lives in which innocent defendants are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. This is no accident. It is an inevitable result of the current English legal system which is adversarial not investigative.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime