Tag Archives: political

Canada: a screw in a foot, an election and a man who will set himself on fire

The latest dispatch from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith has arrived.

Her early-morning report from Vancouver goes like this…


Don Bradman holds a cricket bat

Australian Don Bradman holds a cricket bat

I am not usually up at this hour without having attempted to go to sleep. But I was on the phone for almost three hours with a lady named Cricket. I have known her off and on since I was eleven. She has always been a fantastic story teller and my life seems watery and pale by comparison. She lived in Willesden Green in London as a child, with her grandmother who was a lesbian nun from Slave Lake.

It has been a very long and confusing day. I thought the Koreans in the coffee shop were asking me to dress up a dolphin and punish them.

Sorry, that should read  “dress up as A dolphin”. I hope that clears things up.

Coffee is a dangerous drug when combined with a sleeping disorder. The building manager is in the hallway now. He is from Heathrow in West London, but he doles out dire Cockney-toned nuggets to the neighbours like: “WELL, THEY BETTER GET USED TO IT!”

Anna retouched her nose in this 30-year-old picture

Anna Smith retouched her nose

I attach a thirty-year-old photo of myself taken during my black bottom serving maiden era, when I was trying to be a serious actress.

I retouched myself.

That is just correction fluid on my nose to conceal a brown stain on the photocopy; nothing to do with the police, drugs or the French… The original is long lost like my original aorta. I am pleased to report that my fake aorta is made of Dacron. When the surgeon told me he was going to put in a Dacron hose I was elated. The only thing I knew about Dacron was that they make sails out of it, so I knew it was strong and could prove to be invaluable in case of a marine emergency.

None of me is insured for anything, not even the  stainless steel screws (with washers) which I have in my arm. I want everyone to know that in case I am dead. They are in my right humerus. They could save your life.

One time, I was carrying something heavy and I stepped on a large screw. It screwed my cheap basketball shoe on to my heel bone. When I got to emergency at St.Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver again – where I have been revived countless times – the nurses joked: “Now you really ARE wearing spiked heels”.

A rather fuzzy photo of Anna’s foot

Out-of-focus photo of Anna’s feet: she is not sure which was screwed

When the doctor saw my foot, he was not sure what to do. He had not dealt with this exact problem before. So he sent me to X-ray.  They had to call the maintenance department, who sent up a man with a screwdriver. The doctor grimaced a bit but managed to unscrew me. I do not remember which foot that was.

I went to vote in the municipal election yesterday. There was a plethora of trans gender women to choose from on the ballot paper, but I only chose two – one for mayor and one for the Parks Board.

Elections can be interesting.

Just north of Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway is the district municipality of Squamish. Stunt man Peter Kent lives there. He has vowed to set himself on fire if the voter turnout is higher in this election than it was in the last. He says that Squamish has been good to him and he wants to give back to the city and encourage young people to vote.  He won a seat on the council yesterday, but the turnout has not yet been totaled so the CBC has not yet decided whether to send a camera crew to film him.

He said that setting himself on fire is no big deal as he does it all the time.

Socially responsible citizens line up in a Vancouver gym to vote in yesterday’s election. Anna says: "I was told by a polite, pregnant officer that I was not allowed to take this photo."

Socially responsible citizens line up in a Vancouver gym to vote in yesterday’s election. Anna says: “I was told by a polite, pregnant officer that I was not allowed to take this photo.”

Once I spent a long time on Vancouver Island.

When I returned to the mainland there was a civic election and I did not have a clue who to vote for.

So I asked my neighbour Tom, a retired librarian draft dodger anarchist hippie from Detroit, who HE was going to vote for. Tom reads a lot and is really politically informed. I agree with him on most  issues.

He said he was voting for one guy because he wanted to put in more bicycle paths. He named another man he was voting for because the guy would ban genetically modified seeds from local farms. Then he named a woman. He said she was the first woman to fuck him when he had arrived in Canada during the Vietnam War. So he was voting for her.

I did not – still don’t – know what the lady looks like. But Tom looks fine. He dresses a bit strangely – black leggings, a pink toque – but he has agile movement, sharp eyes and lives on a sailboat in the shipyard.

I thought to myself: Anyone who fucked Tom definitely deserves my vote.

So I voted as Tom recommended.

It seemed the right thing to do.

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Filed under Canada, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Surreal

BBC: “You could not piss on the Queen and you had to be careful about Ireland”

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

As I am currently on jury service in a city somewhere in England, I was interested to hear last night a quote from Robert Mark who became Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 1972. He said his ambition was to “arrest more criminals than we employ”.

He seems to have failed.

The quote came up last night, when TV and film producer Tony Garnett was talking at at London’s National Film Theatre.

The second best drama I have ever seen on British TV

The second best drama series I have ever seen on British TV

Tony Garnett was responsible for The Cops, the second-best drama I have ever seen on British television.

The best was John Hopkins’ Talking To A Stranger, directed by Christopher Morahan, who was also in the NFT audience last night.

On television, Tony Garnett produced – among many, many other influential dramas – Up The Junction, Cathy Come Home, Days of Hope and the series Law and Order, This Life and The Cops.

Last night, he said that, when he worked at the BBC and produced some of his most acclaimed shows, “the BBC had a very different management theory. It wasn’t perfect then and one’s freedom was very limited but they did, to some extent, believe in ‘producer power’.”

He then went on to say:

____________________________________________________________

They thought producers were basically ‘good chaps’ – there were one of two chapesses – and, if you had a problem, you should refer upwards. I never thought I had a problem. I was given a fair amount of freedom. You could not piss on the Queen and you had to be careful about Northern Ireland and so on, but you could find a way through.

What’s happened since the 1990s is that everything in this country’s been Thatcherised and management’s right to manage predominates.

Management is one of the great con tricks of the 20th century. A number of people have made a lot of money out of it, including managers and (the management consulting firm) McKinsey’s.

McKinsey’s have a phrase. They say If you can measure it, you can manage it.

The problem with the BBC is that what it’s there to do is be creative and you can’t measure creativity. You just can’t do it. You can say something’s really good if it lasts a century or two but, apart from that, you can’t measure it. So big trouble.

Huw Wheldon (BBC TV Managing Director) in the 1970s – and I’ve only got his word for it – told me they had asked McKinsey’s to come in to the BBC and, after a while, with their extremely expensive chaps roaming round the BBC, the boss man came to Huw and asked: Could you tell me, Mr Wheldon, how many actual decision makers do you have at the BBC? I mean people who can actually take decisions about the product. 

Huw said: Well, we have several hundred producers…

And the man said: Yes, I thought so. I’m afraid we can’t help you.

But the management at the BBC now is so tight and there are so many layers of management that the pyramid is a bit like The Shard.

The BBC has now taken on the shape of The Shard in London

The BBC is now the shape of London’s Shard

So you have lots and lots of people who can tell you what you must not do. And lots of people supervising you at each stage. That is the enemy of creativity.

One problem with the BBC, like the problem with much else in our culture – and this is more in Current Affairs and News than in drama – is that the BBC concentrates on one borough of London called Westminster and makes programmes for people who live in two or three other boroughs – Notting Hill, Islington…

The whole of the rest of the country is completely ignored.

Occasionally, they’ll go and make a programme in Doncaster and they’ll send Jeremy and Emily, who come from a very nice family, and they’ll send them out like visiting anthropologists to either come back with very sympathetic portraits or maybe to laugh at all these Chavs who are not like ‘us’.

I’d like some kids from Doncaster to go to Canary Wharf and make a film about the people there. But the traffic’s all one-way and I think it’s a great, great pity and a dereliction of the BBC’s responsibility, because we live in a very diverse society – in all sorts of ways diverse – and the BBC’s main job is to consult a national conversation.

Particularly in drama, because the beauty of drama is that it allows you to empathise with others: to say Oh, I felt like that. These people are not so different from us.

The BBC have made a very good start at Salford (in the new Media City) but they really ought to fight against London-itis and realise that they are representing and a part of this whole diverse country.

I think the BBC is very important. That’s why I criticise it. If there’s a great institution that has many enemies, one of the problems is that we tend to want to draw the wagons into a circle to defend it – the same is happening with the NHS now.

I think that is a mistake.

The more you love the BBC and the more valuable you think it is – imperfect as it is – the more you should criticise it. Society’s changing all the time. Technology’s changing all the time. The BBC won’t stand still. It will get worse or it will get better and we’ve got to push it to be better all the time. It’s no good just defending it.

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Filed under Drama, Politics, Television

UK comic Tiernan Douieb is becoming more political and is going to Iceland

Tiernan Douieb in London this week

Tiernan Douieb in Piccadilly Circus, London this week

A few years ago, the comedian Tiernan Douieb was at risk of having the Michael Palin problem: people just thought he was too nice.

I had a feeling Tiernan decided to change his persona sometime around 2010, by bringing politics into his act, so I asked him about it this week:

“Oh, I think I’m still quite friendly on stage,” he said. “I’m trying to do the politics in my own voice, by saying I’m an idiot but this is how I understand things and this is why I’m upset. I’m not trying to get on my high horse and say I know more than the audience. But, yeah, I did want to get away from just doing silly gags.”

“Why were you worried about being loveable?” I asked.

“I wasn’t so worried,” Tiernan laughed. “But, at the moment, I’m just generally very angry with the government and I thought I want to talk about this because, for the first time, it’s really bothering me. I felt what I was saying on stage – the gags – didn’t really… I didn’t care about it any more.

“My family – my dad and brother and mum – are all quite political and I’ve generally been the crap one who didn’t care really care enough until a couple of years ago. I did start doing political stuff a little before the Coalition came in – about the financial crisis. It felt like a good challenge and I quite enjoyed getting my teeth into it – saying to myself: How do I make this horrible situation funny?”

“So how do you make a horrible situation funny?” I asked.

“If you look into a subject enough, there will always be something ridiculous, but you’ve got to research it. I’m learning. I’m still learning. I’m finding that there are gigs I can’t really do the political stuff at, especially on a Friday or Saturday where people seem to just switch off. People have the automatic assumption that, if you start to talk about politics, they won’t enjoy it. They just think: This is going to be boring. I’ve just finished work. This is the last thing I want to hear. I want to hear dick jokes.”

“So,” I asked, “you perform one type of routine Sundays to Thursdays and another type Fridays and Saturdays?”

“That’s almost it,” agreed Tiernan. “Also if I’m compering, I don’t do political stuff very much then because, selflessly, I’ve got to set it up for the other acts and, if I do something that changes the opinion in the room…

“The other problem with doing topical or political stuff is that it changes every week. I have bits of material I have where I go: Argh! I can’t do that any more! because they’ve changed that policy or whatever.”

“Did you also start writing for the Huffington Post because it gives you more gravitas?” I asked.

“Well,” said Tiernan, “much like you, I used to write a daily blog on my website. The object was to force me to get up and write something each day. Then, because my blog was about all sorts of things, I thought I’d write one for the Huffington Post which was just political stuff. And then I gave up writing my blog because I got bored with writing something every day.”

“I find,” I said, “that writing a daily blog does force me to do things. But I still don’t understand how to use Twitter effectively. Performers love it, though: possibly because they want constant attention.”

“Personally,” said Tiernan, “I like using Twitter because it helps me to generate jokes. I can write a topical joke very quickly and then it’s out there immediately.”

“But doesn’t that also mean,” I suggested, “that you’re giving away good jokes for free and, if you then use that joke in your act, it feels like a stale joke because people who follow you on Twitter will have heard the joke already?”

Tiernan disagreed.

“I don’t use a lot of jokes I Tweet,” he explained, “because they are so topical. If I do three short jokes based on the news, they won’t be relevant tomorrow. I do Twitter for the same reason I used to do a blog: I find it keeps me really sharp. I get up every morning and think What gag can I get from that?… And what gag can I get from that?… Bam-Bam-Bam… I need to start my brain in the mornings, otherwise I can sit there aimlessly for hours. And often I put on Twitter a short joke that, later, I find is a theme I can develop. If it gets ReTweets, I know people have found it interesting. If I do a couple of jokes and they work, then I Tweet I’m gigging there… and that does work as self-promotion. At the Edinburgh Fringe, I sold 4 or 5 tickets a day, just as the result of Tweets.”

“And your next big project?” I asked.

“I’ve got a director friend and we’re talking about doing a video-cast every week – 5 minutes on YouTube of political humour, really topical. We’re both very sick of the fact there’s so much that dictates what’s on television and radio. We both have a lot of projects turned down because everything needs to be changed: You’re not allowed to say that on television or whatever.

“Sod it! We want to do an angry political rant every week. We might call it The Partly Political Broadcast and make it as funny as possible but with a point.”

“So you’re going to carry on down the political path, then?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m enjoying it. But I’m not a big Labour Party fan either. I think they’re awful as well. I don’t think anyone really speaks for the people or really cares. It’s mostly about earning money and I think, while that’s the case, there’s a lot to say.”

“What about Boris Johnson (the Mayor of London)?”

“I hate him,” said Tiernan. “I got booed at a gig for saying I hated him. He’s awful. He’s terrible.”

“But he makes people laugh…” I said.

“That’s the thing about being funny,” said Tiernan. “You can get away with everything. Comedians are dangerous.”

“And Boris is a comedian…” I said.

“No, he’s a clown.”

“What’s the difference?”

“He’s more farcical,” said Tiernan. “He’s more slapstick. His scripts are well-written. I’d love to know who writes his speeches. I think he improvises parts of them. I went to one of the Mayoral Debates and I didn’t really like any of the candidates. Brian Paddick was reading a script…”

“He was the gay policeman?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Tiernan. “And he was just so wooden and boring… but Jenny Jones and Boris came over as being very normal. If you watch enough performers and performance, you can tell when people are being ‘real’ and they just seemed genuine. But Boris ‘mugged’. Any time anyone else spoke, he would pull faces and distract the audience, so people were giggling. It was so cruel.”

“But effective,” I said.

“Incredibly so,” said Tiernan. “I just hated it.”

“Perhaps you should be a politician,” I suggested.

“I couldn’t do that,” said Tiernan instantly.

“The problem,” I said, “is that, to be an effective politician, you have to be two-faced and have adjustable morals to deal with all the shits you have to negotiate and compromise with.”

“I’m going to Iceland on Monday,” Tiernan said. “for my first holiday in two years. I like their ethos. Not their eating ethos – sheep’s heads and putrified shark – but the Mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, was a stand-up comedian and went in to the election for a bit of a laugh. He formed a party called the Best Party and some of their policies were We’re definitely going to get a polar bear in the zoo and Free towels at all the swimming pools and all the voters went Yeah, We’re so sick of everyone, we’ll vote you in and he ended up being Mayor and now he’s going to run for Prime Minister.

“Their whole ethos is just Peace. They want to be a peaceful nation. They don’t want an army. They’ve got these lovely ideas. I mean, they still eat puffins, but… I dunno… the whole place appeals to me.”

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Filed under Comedy, Iceland, Politics, Twitter

Naked man sits on Duke of Cambridge + the artist raised in a mental asylum

A Tweet alerted me to a twit atop the Duke of Cambridge

Yesterday afternoon’s coughing (I still have a bad cough) was lightened slightly by reports on Twitter and the Huffington Post about Whitehall and some nearby streets in Westminster being closed for three hours.

The first I knew of it was a Tweet from one James Thorne, who apparently has some connection with the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford, saying:

Whitehall currently closed as police try to coax down a naked man from atop Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge.

Huffington Post report

When I looked up the Huffington Post, it was their lead story on the front page.

Meanwhile, back on Twitter, the London Evening Standard’s political correspondent Peter Dominiczak had Tweeted:

Now hearing that the police closed Whitehall because of fears the man has a knife. I could see an offensive weapon. But no knife.

I thought This must be on the front page of the tabloids tomorrow but, no, nothing this morning.

Last night, though, my eternally-un-named friend told me amid coughs (she is afflicted, too):

“There was a bloke I vaguely knew around Deptford/Lewisham way who used to climb up high places to protest.”

“What was he protesting about?” I asked.

“I can’t remember,” she replied. “It would have been about the war in somewhere-or-other. It wasn’t about the war in Vietnam, because this must have been in the late 1970s after the war had finished. But something like that. Some war or other. We could phone up someone and ask for actual details.”

“Nah,” I said, “I don’t think we should let facts interfere with my blog.”

But then I did ask someone else.

“Something I remember him doing,” this other person told me, “was putting up a bunch of drawings all over the London Underground as he felt ‘art was for the people’.  The ‘people’ obviously liked his art because no sooner did the pictures go up than they were taken and he continued to put them up over quite a while but they never lasted long. Indeed, I have one he did for me hanging in my flat. They looked very like Matisse drawings and he’d do them in a few minutes.”

“What was his background?” I asked my eternally-un-named friend last night.

“I think,” she told me, “both his parents were shrinks – or maybe only one – but they both worked in a mental home and he was raised in the mental home. I think it would be like being raised in a pub. You’ve got your actual own home, but it happens to be on the grounds of…”

“Insanity,” I suggested.

My eternally-un-named friend sighed.

“…an institution,” she said.

“Perhaps he modelled himself on the people he met when he was a kid,” I suggested. “His father figures were the inmates of the asylum.”

“Not exactly modelling himself,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “but perhaps having a view of the world where he could see the ‘real’ world is crazy in other ways. Maybe he was familiar with people having a protest and taking all their clothes off or doing something daft.”

“And to meet him and talk to him…?” I asked.

“He was a nice guy,” she told me. “It was the late 1970s. Maybe he might have been a bit of a hippie. It was so long ago. If I remember right, he was very pleasant, decent, easy-going. He probably went to Goldsmiths College. “

“Was he eccentric in other ways?” I asked.

“Well, you see,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “I wouldn’t exactly say he was eccentric. More like he just liked to be hands-on in a protest and his way of protesting would be to climb up something.”

“Was he arrested?”

“I think that sort of thing did happen. But it was a harmless thing. It was never an aggressive protest. It was more of… Big sigh. I disapprove of this. I have my beliefs. So I’m going to save the whales by going up a pole, because I know that gets noticed.”

“The South Pole?” I asked.

My eternally-un-named friend looked at me, unsmiling.

“He was a bit of a hippie,” she said, “but then everyone was in the late 1970s. Well, most of the people I knew.”

We then both had coughing fits. When we recovered, my eternally-un-named friend mused:

“Maybe, in the mental home, people did things like that and the ones who got noticed weren’t the ones who ranted around yelling, it was the ones who sat on a pole… or maybe he was just good at climbing.”

“It must have been strange being raised in a mental home,” I mumbled.

“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I was raised on RAF camps and it’s very different from the civilian world. So, if you’re raised in a mental home complex, you’re going to have a different view of things. The world out there in the ‘real world’ is different. It’s disorganised, it’s more corrupt… It’s very disorganised. It’s bleedin’ anarchy.”

We laughed.

And then coughed.

Here is the naked man in Whitehall:

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Filed under Eccentrics, Politics

North Korea – A land of nuclear bombs and satellite launches, but no electricity

North Korea reveals the face of the evil Americans

I look out of my hotel window in the early morning and see a Turner sunset with two tall Dickensian chimneys, a yellow golden sun, the indistinct nearby river and a bleak landscape in a misty, disfiguring white haze. It is The Fighting Temeraire with pollution. It is Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.

We are driven south in our coach on long, long, decidedly dodgy potholed-pitted roads to the DMZ – the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea. The countryside is eerily empty as we pass through it, as if all human life has been hoovered up by some giant alien vacuum cleaner.

I would like to come back here with a farmer who could explain what I am seeing. The barren brown supposedly agricultural land looks barren to me, as if the regime has over-farmed it or something, but I am no expert. To my inexpert eye, something has gone very wrong; no-one is farming the occasionally slightly-ploughed fields for mile after tens of miles.

If your land is devastated, you would normally invite in specialists with expert advice but North Korea is no normal country and has, I suspect, screwed itself.

On the one hand, they have lived in self-imposed isolation for decades. On the other hand, the Great Leader Kim Il-sung thought up his superficially-attractive philosophy of The Juche Idea.

This basically means the country and everyone in it should be self-reliant. But, this being North Korea – a land which is not of Planet Earth – the Juche Idea is counterbalanced (or negated) by the idea that the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and subsequently his son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and now the grandson the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un go round the country giving on-the-spot advice.

This is a paranoid country with a population indoctrinated since birth into worshipping – and that is not too strong a word – the ruling family. Nothing will happen until the current Leader comes to a factory or a field or a region and says, “I think we should produce more cabbages/paperclips/babies.” Once that is said, a plaque goes up commemorating the visit and (certainly in Kim Il-sung’s day) the fact that the Great/Dear/Supreme Leader gave on-the-spot advice.

How the advised people are going to produce more cabbages or paperclips, of course, is up to them. I imagine they can cope with the details of complying with any advice to have more babies.

But, for whatever reason, the countryside on the long, rough road to the DMZ at Panmunjom looks devastated. And this is dangerous.

North Korea had actual famine in the 1990s and currently the proud, independent nation which follows the Juche Idea of self-reliance and accepts no help from others, gets food aid from its arch-enemy the United States in return for (in theory) not furthering its nuclear ambitions and arsenal.

But picture a country with no real knowledge of how diplomacy, international relations or the outside world actually works. Picture this country with a devastated farming industry, a situation so desperate that they have to go ask their arch nemesis for help. This is a country whose leaders, if they have their noses tweaked or their pride dented even slightly more or unintentionally more, will react with sudden, unpredictable behaviour which is totally OTT. If they think they are being treated like children, they will react like children with no concept of any rules or what is a normal or balanced response.

On our way to Panmunjom, at about 10.30am, we are told that, this morning at 8.00am, North Korea successfully launched its rocket – the one the West thinks is a test for an ICBM – carrying what our young female guide called “our satellite number 3”.

At Panmunjom, next to a small block of gents and ladies toilets, up a slight slope, I see a tall man with his back to me facing a tree. It is evident he is pissing on the tree. A guard spots him. Two soldiers bring him back from the tree. Two non-uniformed men are called. They look shocked. The man’s Western tour guide is called. Much worried discussion ensues. The man looks slightly triumphant. They are standing perhaps 20 feet away from me. It seems, from talking to other people, that the man is an American.

In certain circumstances, it is possible to agree with the North Korean view that the Americans are, en masse, barking at the moon.

Eventually, as we are taken down to the actual border itself, the man seems to be let off with a severe reprimand. But I would pay to be a fly-on-the-wall when he tries to leave the country and the border guards go through his belongings.

At the border, things have changed slightly since I was here in 1986, but only slightly.

There are still three blue huts where peace negotiations have taken place since the early 1950s. In the middle of a central table in the middle hut, negotiations took/take place. The border runs through the middle of the table; the North Koreans sit on one side; the South Koreans/Americans sit on the other side. The huts are painted by the Americans. They are blue because that is the United Nations colour but, since I was here last, it is a slightly darker blue. Perhaps this has been dragging on for so long that they have forgotten why the huts are blue.

When I was here in 1986, opposite a large stone North Korean building, stood a small South Korean pagoda on the upper of level of which stood an American G.I. with what, I presumed, was a directional microphone. Today, the pagoda has been moved to the left (as seen from the North Korea side) and a large building erected to rival the North Korean building.

When I was here last time, the two sides had just finished a ‘flag war’. One side erected a giant flag pole with a giant national flag flying from it. The other side erected a taller pole with a bigger flag. The first side then erected an even bigger pole with an even bigger flag. And so on. And so on. Looking at the poles today, the North Koreans won the flag war.

Party people (a phrase which has different meanings in Manchester and North Korea) wear small flag badges with the Great Leader Kim Il-sung or, less often, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il’s face on them. The soldier designated to tell us the ‘truth’ at Panmunjom has a badge with two heads on it – both the Great Leader and the Dear Leader. This has more prestige and is, we are told, specially awarded.

I notice that our two North Korean guides wear single-head badges, but our driver wears a double-head badge.

We overnight at a hotel in the nearby town of Kaesong. The hotel has no hot water or electricity.

North Korea launched a satellite this morning, but the country’s agriculture system is medieval. They are proud yet have to accept food aid from their arch enemy America. On a hill overlooking the town of Kaesong is a gigantic bronze-coloured statue of Kim Il-sung. It is floodlit at night. But even the hotel which aims to impress foreigners has no hot water or electricity.

The older male North Korean guide tells me it is too cold in his room to sleep.

Earlier, when it was still daylight, he took us to a roundabout at a road junction to get a better view of the town. Before we crossed the wide road, he warned us: “Take care crossing the street because of the traffic.”

There was no traffic.

Giggles were stifled in the group.

You do not laugh at or with North Korea. This is a land without a comedy club and without a sense of humour.

Humour is a dangerous thing.

But the country has something else which, I think, will eat away at it.

Children sometimes wave at our coach as it passes by. This never happened in 1986. Coaches and people who were visibly foreigners were ignored.

Children who wave at coaches containing people who smile and wave back at them will grow up into adults still willing to believe all Western foreigners are devils. But imperceptible cracks will be inbuilt in their indoctrination. It is the start of a slippery slope.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Filed under North Korea, Politics

The eccentric UK cult of the Kibbo Kift Kindred & the Greenshirts of the 1930s

The Kibbo Kift Kindred were keen on costumes & ceremonies

I was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1976 (yes, I am that old) but sadly I did not go to see a rock musical called The Kibbo Kift at the Traverse Theatre which was, as far as I can remember, at that time, a rather ramshackle room up some metal stairs.

I am very sad I did not see the musical, written by Judge Smith (his real name) who co-created heavy metal rock group Van der Graaf Generator in 1967.

But last night I went to a Sohemian Society meeting to hear Judge Smith (now bald – aren’t we all) extol the eccentric virtues of the now almost totally forgotten 1930s movement called the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift… and its highly charismatic leader John Hargrave – an illustrator, cartoonist, wood carver, thriller novelist, inventor and psychic healer.

By the age of 17, Hargrave was Chief Cartoonist for the London Evening Times.

After the First World War, he joined the Boy Scouts and, a charismatic outdoor man, he was soon appointed Commissioner for Woodcraft and Camping. In 1919, now calling himself ‘White Fox’, he married the leader of the Merry Campers – part of the Camp Fire Girls movement – called Ruth Clark (her ‘Woodcraft name’ was ‘Minobi’)

John Hargrave started the Kibbo Kift Kindred in 1920 as an anti-war breakaway from Baden-Powell’s more militaristic Boy Scouts. Hargrave’s aim was to encourage “outdoor education, the learning of handicrafts, physical training, the re-introduction of ritual into modern life, the regeneration of urban man and the establishment of a new world civilisation.”

These aims were to be accomplished by hiking and camping. “Picturesque and dramatic public speaking” was also encouraged.

The man sitting next to me in the Sohemian Society meeting last night had come down to London all the way from Leicester just to find out more about this extraordinary group.

During the Kibbo Kindred’s weekend hiking and camping extravaganzas, members were encouraged to make their own tents and wear handmade uniforms – long Saxon-styled hooded cloak , belted tunic and shorts for men; knee-length dress, leather belt and Valkyrie-style leather helmet for women. They liked a bit of elaborate ritual and ceremony, did the Kibbo Kift. At larger ceremonial meetings, the KK’s different Clans, Tribes and Lodges paraded with their tribal totems – everyone was encouraged to carve their own personal totem pole and parade round with it. Their tents were decorated in bright colours and their elaborate robes and regalia embossed with symbolic designs were somewhere between Hiawatha and Art Nouveau.

They used the native American greeting of the outstretched arm and raised open hand (to show you held no weapon) and Hargrave was “somewhat annoyed” when he discovered that the Italian Fascists’ raised arm salute looked exactly the same. Hargrave dropped the hand greeting when too many photos of Nazis in Germany with raised arms “caused confusion”. He did not like Fascists.

The Kibbo Kift sound like a bunch of amiable loonies but, involved in the Kibbo Kift, were suffragette Emmeline Lawrence, photographer Angus McBean, social reformer Havelock Ellis, biologist Julian Huxley and author H.G.Wells.

By 1925, Hargrave had switched his interest from ‘back-to’nature’ to the political Social Credit movement, which aimed to eradicate poverty and unemployment. The Kibbo Kift Kindred split when Hargreaves refused to recognise a new South London Lodge called ‘The Brockleything’. He formed the more political Green Shirts; the ‘back-to-nature’ diehards formed The Woodcraft Folk organisation (which still exists today).

In 1930, Hargrave formed a “Legion of the Unemployed” in Coventry. Wearing green paramilitary uniforms and berets, these political activists became known as the Legion of the Kibbo Kift and, by 1935, were known as The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit, marching through the streets with their own bands of drummers. In 1935, they put up a Parliamentary candidate under the banner of the Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but lost their deposit.

As Judge Smith explained to the very crowded room above a pub last night, the Green Shirts were the largest uniformed paramilitary street-army in 1930s Britain. They supported and promoted the Social Credit movement which, basically, said the Western banking system based on massive debt (the economic system makes money by lending money) is mad and inevitably results in periods of boom and bust. They had more followers than Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, yet have been totally forgotten.

They were idealistic and had a particular dislike of ‘fat cat’ financial institutions, Communists, Fascists and the Governor of the Bank of England.

During the Second World War, Hargrave invented an ‘automatic navigator’ for aircraft. The RAF tested it, decided it worked well but, as it required a gyroscope and all the gyroscopes were being used for bomb sights, they never took up the idea.

After the War, Hargrave decided he had the power of psychic healing and dissolved his organisation in 1951, making a living as an author, illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair and the Daily Sketch.

In 1967, he discovered that the new Concorde supersonic airliner had a ‘moving map display’ which sounded remarkably like the ‘automatic navigator’ he had invented during the War; but he had allowed his patent to lapse. Despite this, eventually, in 1967, he forced the British government to hold a full Public Enquiry which, basically, decided that Hargrave’s idea had, indeed, been nicked but he would get no money for it as he had let the patent lapse.

In 1976, now in his eighties, Hargrave went to see Judge Smith’s rock musical The Kibbo Kift in the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe and enjoyed it thoroughly though, Judge Smith said last night, this may have been because he was “pretty deaf by then and this very loud rock music may have been the first  music he’d heard for years”.

Before he died in 1982, Hargrave set up the Foundation of the Kibbo Kift Foundation.

All the paper records are now held by the London School of Economics; the costumes, banners and other physical stuff is held at the Museum of London.

Unjustly forgotten. As Judge Smith said last night, “one of the most unusual things about this very unusual man is just how little-known he and his movement are today. There’s no biography; there’s been no TV documentary. But he is far more interesting, significant and downright entertaining than many personalities of the time who are still famous today.”

On my way home from the Sohemian Society meeting, a girl opposite me in the tube train was making up her eyes with her right hand, using her Apple iPhone 4S in her left hand. She had it switched on to the camera, using it as a video mirror.

Times change. Lateral and creative thinking continues.

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A tip for comedians: the TV technique Tony Benn learned from Adolf Hitler

A friend drew my attention to a piece about Twitter in a three-year-old edition of Psychology Today which says:

“I used to design videogames, so I’m pretty good at tuning gameplay ‘action’… Twitter is definitely designed to encourage addictive usage. When I designed games, we would measure eyeblink rates to see if the player was entering a state of “flow” during gameplay. If the blink rate dropped precipitously after a few minutes of play, the game would most likely be a hit. And if you test a heavy Twitter user in the same way, I’ll bet that a similar thing is happening – a drop in the blink rate, some pupil dilation, and a surge in neuro-adrenaline.”

I take this to mean that the less someone blinks, the more interested they are and the more mesmeric the video game has become.

Somewhere-or-other in the long centuries-gone-by, I read two stories about highly self-obsessed politician Tony ‘name-shrinker’ Benn. Or ‘Mr Benn’ as I like to call him (after the TV cartoon fantasist).

One fact I read about him (the self-obsessed politician) was that, if he drank as much tea as he said he did, he would be dead.

The other was that he had modelled his TV style on Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler, allegedly, would never blink when he was being filmed making speeches. If he needed to blink, he would turn his head slightly away from the camera, do the blink and then turn back. This gave him a more self-assured, stronger image and, it was felt, gave his speeches a more mesmeric, can’t-stop-watching quality.

Mr Benn (the politician) on television apparently copied Herr Hitler on film.

I have no idea if that is true about Hitler or about Benn, but it would make a lot of sense. And it might be something other performers interested in techniques of persuasion should think about.

Especially dodgy politicians and comedians.

Of course, one potential downside is it might also make you look mad…

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Filed under Politics, Psychology