Rule One

The man who killed my father is called Nigel John Hughes.

We’ll come back to that one.

So it’s father’s day again. I know this because I’ve spent the last week or so being told that I should take advantage of this day to ply my father with a large supply of whisky. It’d be a nice gesture, I suppose, but also an absolutely unforgivable waste of good spirits, so I’m liable to go with the fifth-best option, and guzzle the stuff myself.

I feel moderately cheated there; I’m pretty sure the best my father managed as a father’s day gift will have been presents in the wonkily-handmade-card-and-liquorice-allsorts line, which in retrospect looks a little shoddy even before accounting for my habit of stealing the coconut wheels and little blue speckly things. So I think it’s reasonable to consider his shuffling off the mortal whatsit before I got to a point where I needed excuses to hit up the Whisky Shop on Turl Street to be thoroughly unfair on everyone.

Still, we make the best of what we’ve got, I guess, and trust that nobody notices the bits where we just papered over the doors, Sleeping Murder style.

That said, it feels only fair I should mention the point where we threw a rug over the massive hole in the floor, just in case some moron takes it into their head to jump on it. Honestly, I don’t feel like this is a necessary warning. Certainly I don’t feel that it should be necessary, but I offer it up in the spirit of May Contain Nuts, ie so nobody can complain later, simply because my experience suggests that people will complain later if they can, even if they end up doing so from a crumpled heap at the bottom of the cellar steps.

The hole under the rug, then, is a fine example of emotional baggage, and as long as you play by Rule One, you’ll be happily free from the sussuration of accelerating tapestries. Simple enough, aye? I’ve said it before, but once again on the Laser Display Board: Rule One: Do Not Fuck With People I Like.

The key there is the definition of “fuck with,” and I carefully worked in an expletive so as to convey the right level of taboo-breaking intent. I have, of course, previously expounded on this, in one form or another (ranging from the tangental, to the incoherent, to the genuinely well-expressed as well it might be after sixteen revisions). Even so, just rarely – which I swear is far more often than I’d like – people screw this one up.

By way of eliminating confusion, therefore: if you deliberately attack a person I care about, then you and I have a very serious and potentially insoluble problem. Odds are high that we’ll never get on again, and even if we talk I fear it’ll take too much effort on my part to make for easy companionship.

So. The man who killed my father was called Nigel John Hughes.

In 1997 he lived in Waters Upton, just north of the main Telford conurbation, although the last I saw he was living at 21 Monet Close, Shawbirch, Telford. I know that because I spent quite a long time idly speculating about how one killed someone and didn’t get caught (not with any view to actually attempting anything, you understand, but in that way one wills a nettle sting to stop hurting by thinking very hard about finding a dock leaf). After a while, I stopped even doing that, because I’ve pretty much forgiven the murdering little fuckstick – although, as I may have revealed there,  I still don’t like him very much.

I don’t hate him enough to want him dead, but I hate him enough that if I met him in a pub, and knew who he was, I’d publicly buy him a drink and make a big fuss about how forgiving I was being, just to peel back his end of the scar tissue and see how things had been healing up,and maybe add in a spot of grit, or something.

Thing is, it ain’t actually worth bearing a grudge against Nigel. Sure, he killed a man, and a man I was bloody fond of, but he wasn’t trying to kill anyone. He was a shit lorry driver, and he fucked up, and he got caught. But he didn’t do it out of malice, just stupidity. It’s pretty easy to fuck up one way or another, and when that happens the best you can hope for is that you don’t cause much damage.

Nigel screwed up in pretty well the worst way he could – once he’d shoved his fat arse of a truck over the road, there was no way anything was going to avoid him, they reckon – but it was an accident. A horrible, world-shattering cunt of an accident, yes, but an accident nevertheless. He didn’t intend to cause anything like the hurt he did, and so he didn’t break Rule One. (Although he did manage to create the damn thing, because I’m pretty sure it’s that one colossal failure to protect people from getting hurt that triggered all the subsequent stubbornness).

Nigel wasn’t out to kill anyone, that morning. He’d probably never left the house wanting to kill someone; that fact Nigel Hughes had previously been cited for tailgating a family down the motorway, the fact he just wasn’t a very good driver, his habitual failure to pay attention, the fact that by his own admission he couldn’t see the road, and didn’t know it was clear, but drove through the junction anyway, the fact that after he’d killed a man he crumpled up in his cab whimpering that if he lost his license he’d lose his job as a professional lorry driver… none of that affects the fact that he probably didn’t want anyone to die.

If he’d had the choice, I expect he’d have picked that day as the day he paid more attention to the road, but it doesn’t really matter. Drive like Nigel Hughes, and sooner or later, someone is going to get killed. That’s just playing the odds. But to drive without skill or awareness isn’t to drive with malice, and without malice you can’t get had up for breaking Rule One. Nor for murder, which is somewhere between justice and a pity, but never mind…

But to hone and craft a letter until it’s as hard and cruel as you can manage, to send a rival out to die, pursue them round a building, to try and pull a personality apart, to withdraw your re-enforcements out when you swore to send them in… To question someone for hours and try to betray them as soon as you get outside… that fucking breaks Rule One.

And to break Rule One is an unforgivable thing to do, because to actually break Rule One as far as I can apply it you need to know someone I care about, and to know me, and I’m pretty damn sure anyone who knows me better than yesterday’s bus driver knows Rule One, and so they know we’ll be done the second they dip their toes in the Rubicon. And when they dive in anyway, well, that always hurts.

I don’t make a secret of this. I’ve never made a secret of this, because apart from anything else I can’t afford to. I wish I could have all the authority of a Godfather, and have people too scared of the consequences to ever try anything, but I haven’t. All I’ve got is the capacity to warn people in advance, and trust that they know I’m not bluffing, and that they like me enough that they don’t want to sacrifice our friendship. And if they don’t think our friendship is worth showing some consideration even on my account, well… shit.

Honestly, on a couple of occasions, I couldn’t tell you whether I was more upset by someone smashing through Rule One or by their carefree willingness to ride over all our history to do so. But I’m too proud, and too protective, and at the root of it all, too bloody damaged to sell myself out for a painless transition, and so things crumble away, and often I’m sad to see them go. But I’ve weathered worse in my time, because pretty well the only upside of a year like the one I went through is that after it’s happened once, it’s genuinely impossible for it to happen again, and it gives you one Hell of a perspective on what counts as sorrow.

On balance, I’d probably do something to stop acting like this if I knew how. I don’t like dropping people, and the closer people get, the worse it is, and even when I try to cobble something together out of the scraps, it’s always more brittle than before. And I hate that, but I’m genuinely not in a position to do anything about it. I spent a bloody long time making sure that people I cared about were going to be OK, and I pretty well hammered out Rule One on the anvils they were raining down on us. And then we won, so I ain’t letting anyone argue with that.

So on the one hand, I stick with Rule One because I don’t know how to drop it even when it burns, but on the other there’s nothing quite like a burn to remind you why you’re shielding everyone else from the flames.

And this is pretty well where we came in, and here I am again, hoping that the lot of us can just work our way around the rug without anyone dropping through the hole. Because I like having friends in the living room, but I can’t plug the hole without restructuring my entire foundation. And no matter how you might smash the rules, that would count for a bigger betrayal than any of youse lot could manage.

No malice, therefore. And I can’t compel it, and I’ve got no more authority to ask for it than any of you should exercise in return, and all I can promise you is this: if you stick by me, I’ll stick by you, and like for like, I promise I’ll do whatever I can do to pull you from the soup should you need it. But hurt people a-purpose, out of deliberation and malice, counting our friendship for nothing and dismissing Rule One as the request of someone whose wishes are worth nothing to you… well then the best I can promise you is that it when I respond by breaking our friendship apart, it won’t be done with your malice, but with my regret. And the best I can hope is that it’d prove a rough deal on the both of us.

A genuine question

Does granting people the freedom of choice amount to giving them permission to make bad choices?

I ask this because I got involved in a discussion on my sister’s Faceboke page last week. I’d asked her to re-share the video I linked to from here, and it generated a certain amount of discussion.  I’ve got to say, much of that discussion had rather an air of third-form PSE about it, with people pulling assertions out of thin air, and then getting huffy when people questioned them, so it was nice to see national political standards being upheld.

Since this was an Internet discussion – and about politics to boot – it wasn’t long before Nazis came up, although, in this particular instance, the sleek menace of fascism was rather cleverly disguised behind the quaggy jowls of Nick Griffin and the British National Party.

One of my sister’s friends decided that a political system that requires candidate to be elected with a majority would be a boon to the BNP. My sister argued that it wasn’t, and observed that Nick Griffin was himself opposed to electoral reform for just that reason. However, she pointed out, as long as a BNP candidate was elected with a majority vote, at least that would be what most people wanted.

Later on, another of her friends took exception to this, and I ended up trying to argue it out with him. In essence, his argument was that, 1) The BNP are a racist party, and would, if elected, act to remove the rights of minorities. 2) Therefore people should be prohibited from voting for the BNP, in order to protect their democratic rights.

I think I’m doing justice to the guy in my representation of his point above, but just to be sure I’m going to violate Facebook’s copyright to his words and reprint the crux of his argument here:

You really shouldn’t be willing to concede that in a ‘liberal democracy’ the BNP should be allowed to contest and potentially win elections. Is this not like extending sexual freedom to encompass the ability to rape? To say people have the right to vote to strip others of their rights seems to be an inherent inconsistency. It would take some amount of work to justify democracy taking a form where it can destroy itself.

I honestly do not know if it is just me that feels that train of thought makes no sense. I believe that either people are free, or they are not, and that people can either vote as they believe they should, or they cannot. The notion that people should be deprived of the right to vote according to their conscience in order to safeguard their rights is one of those ideas which absolutely will not fit into my head.

We didn’t actually get things sorted out – partly because we got predictably hung up arguing over whether it was fair to say that an act that causes immediate harm on the scale of rape is equal to an act that causes the potential for the potential for harm subject to due parliamentary process (I, uh, think it isn’t, by the way) – so in the end we called a truce.

Practically speaking, of course, we’ve got the latter, but I wondered if other people thought that we should, or if it was just me. Is it possible to have freedom in a digital form, where you can be free to do what you like except make a decision that might impede your freedom? Or is freedom an analogue state, which you either have, with all the potential to enact its own destruction, or have not?

I cling to the hope that it’s the latter, but that could just be gut paranoia of a slippery slope, where one day you can’t vote BNP, and the next you can’t vote UKIP*, and the week after that it turns out we’ve been fighting Eastasia all along.

Still, I thought that would be an interesting question, and would help to take minds off the fact that last week was a moderate let down. Although I notice that nearly a third of the voters went yes, which I don’t account a bad thing, in such a conservative place as Britain (and even less of a bad one in the face of the negative campaigning by the No guys, which at points reached an almost Teabagging level of craziness). And I was pleased to see that Oxford was one of the places that went Yes.

So onward and forward. I’d even stand to Phonebank again, I think, but I’d be grateful if the massed populations of Southwark and Grenwich would take the time to invest in Ansaphones first**, because apparently such things aren’t permitted in the Capital, and waiting for one to kick in when it isn’t there is pretty weird.

* I’d just like to make it clear that, obviously, I wouldn’t vote UKIP even for a new pair of knees. Some principles are worth hurting twenty-seven days each month.

** Excluding, obviously, the people who picked up, and the super-apologetic forgetful guy whose work got interrupted when I chivvied him off to the polling station.

And another thing:

My Facebook status, yesterday (following the frankly imbecillic report on the BBC’s website about New Facecoke, to which I have to struggle to react with anything but bile) was something like

[JTA] is genuinely confused by the way people are objecting to New Facecoke.

In spite of that being my status, I still got another two invites to join thickwitted “Have A Mardy Fit About New Facebook” groups. That, frankly, is just insulting. (Because it means either a) you’ve done that on purpose to annoy me or, b), which is more likely, you’ve not actually bothered to think about whether or not I wanted to join your brainless little group in the first place.)


I am in a slightly grumpy mood anyway, though; I’ve been trying to drink slightly less tea & coffee, and I keep getting headaches. You’d think the solution would be to drink more tea & coffee, thus soothing away the headache, but apparently not. Hmm.

Well that came out sounding rather more fed up than I’d expected it to…

There’s been a “thing” recently, much akin to the cyclical trends of flared trousers, yo-yos and pogs, which seems to be growing in Aber. I honestly can’t tell if it’s been about for ages and I’ve only just started tuning into other people’s conversations rather than sitting there in a Happy Dream World (TM), but I find myself not exactly bothered by it, but sufficiently confused by my own status of ‘at odds with this argument’ that I’ve actually been wanting to blog about it for a couple of weeks.

From where I’m sitting there’s basically a linguistic gulf between me and, um, most of my social circle here, in that they seem (at least in terms of what they say, rather than what they do) to think that being middle class is a bad thing. This baffles me completely, as I shall now relate:

In terms of class I see the bulk of the UK population as having access to two states: Working class and Middle class. Upper class is one of those things that you can’t achieve unless you have it, although you can, if you want, work at getting it over four to ten generations (barring massive social upheavals), so I discount it here since I can only count, uh, threeish people of my vague accquaintance who might fall into that bracket.

I’m fairly sure the problem here is with definition, rather than an actual world view, but I’m not sure, so let me explain.

I interpret the three classes as being, in very general terms somewhere in the following brackets by, say, 40ish:

Working class: Education level somewhere between Key Stage 3 and A-level, or Vocational Qualification equivilant. Probably employed in unskilled service industry or as skilled manual labour in manufacturing, etc. Financially badly off; limited savings, poor credit ratings, etc. The kind of people to whom DFS offer ‘Nothing to pay for a whole year!’ credit deals at 19%.

Middle class: Probably educated to graduate level and above. Typically management careers, lawyers, doctors, or owners of businesses. Reasonably well off; decent enough credit rating, probably enough savings that they can re-furbish the entire lounge, carpets and all without needing to take out a loan.

Upper class: Probably went to university, although with the luxury of not having to pay much attention. Bulk of money likely to come either from land, or owned industry, or else the whole goldpile went up the swannee somewhere in the last eighty years or so, and they live in a corner of the family estate having donated the rest to the National Trust, or something. Haven’t refurbished any of the rooms since mother insisted on getting an oil-powered Aga back in the fifties.

Now given that, I don’t see what the problem is with being Middle class. Christ, I want to be Middle class. I spent the winter of 1999 with the hole in my £20 BHS shoes patched up with guttering tape. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, I want to be able to go “these shoes are wearing thin, I shall buy some new ones,” not “I am going to have to make these last through until the January sales,” for Christ’s sake.

(Actually, in terms of shoes, I’m rather hoping to go with “These shoes are wearing thin, I shall have to send them back to Italy to have them re-soled,” but I’ll come to that in a minute.)

I assume the only logical reason people don’t like the idea of being ‘Middle class’ is that they mean something else. Claire, for example, said something like “I’d hate to be middle class!” with quite some force, and when I asked why, she said “Because I hate the idea that I have to eat steak, or something, when I just want a pie and chips!”

What I can’t grasp about that is that it’s the exact opposite of why I want to be middle class; viz: I want to be middle class so that if I want a steak, I’m not forced to eat pie and chips because I can’t afford anything else.

What I think must be happening is that when other people say “middle class,” what they mean is what I would call the “petty bourgeois” – the sort of people who didn’t like Keeping up appearances because they didn’t understand why Hyacinth allowed that fat slob Onslow into her house.

I can understand not wanting to be like that (although I’ve always felt that you’d have to work quite hard to manage it) because that kind of attitude makes you sound like a complete prig. When Harriet was at the Borough we dropped a friend of hers off at her house in Newport, following some music thing or other. The house turned out to be on one of the new housing estates up the Forton Road, and, hillariously, as my mother turned into said estate the girl said “it’s OK, we live on this private drive, but you can go up.”

It wasn’t a private drive, of course; what she meant was “1980s cul-de-sac” but that presumably wouldn’t have sounded quite so posh. Now I confess I ought to cut the girl some slack, because just about everyone is an insufferable git when they’re thirteen (or at least I certainly was) but it was especially funny to us because we do live up a private drive. We don’t, of course, own the bloody thing (although the deeds to the house to specify that we are allowed vehicular access at all times) but we had great fun imagining our neighbour Charlie’s response to that statement, because he’s Hellish keen on keeping out anyone without access rights, which I think comes of being a mechanic and wanting lots of room for vehicles to turn.

Presumably, if that girl doesn’t get sufficiently battered by everyone else in society, then she will grow up to be the kind of person who says things like “Don’t put tomato sauce on your french fries, Tarquin; look, dab a spot of mayonnaise on with this lovely little spoon, there’s a good boy,” although for her sake, I hope she doesn’t.

And, yes, people like that are a sub-set of the middle class, but I don’t think they’re by any means the majority (and, in fact, I tend to assume they’re the people on the borderline, the people who can buy a new sofa no problem, but who have to take the payment plan if they want the full suite).

I think people tend to be more concerened with how they look when they’re on the edges. The upper middle class have a tendancy to embarass themselves by trying to jump up more than can be done in a single generation (and consequently go about buying up perfectly nice houses in the Lake District, flying a Union Flag on a dirty great pole in the middle of the drive, and stocking up all the bookcases with complete sets of Sherlock Holmes from the Reader’s Digest which, when put all in a row, make a silhouette of a man with a pipe and a deerstalker which made the whole thing look like an outsized Mister Men Collection. [True story!]

But, aye. I’ve no interest whatsoever in telling people that they’re not allowed to eat chips, and I’ve no aspiration to be one of those people who refuses to have a slobby evening slumped in front of the TV in case someone looks in through the window.

But I also have no desire to be one of those people who, when they quite fancy a bit of fish, is obliged to drive down to the chippy because they can’t afford to get some salmon and new potatoes in. I won’t ever make it to upper class, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t aspire to being a man with a profession, a steady income, and savings enough that I can take whatever holidays I fancy when I can escape the rat-race for a couple of days.

And I really don’t see why wanting that, or taking in the Saturday Guardian, would put me in the petty bourgeois category. And this is why I am confused, because I cannot tell if people object to the notion that I’ll start caring that they only every buy cars which are less than three license plates old (and have never been owned by one of those immigrants) or if they just mean somehing different by “middle class” than I do.

So, I dunno. Am I right in guessing that, or is there actually a problem here? (Because if there is, I bet I can out Yorkshireman Sketch you buggers without resorting to exaggeration) Frankly, I’d be far more worried if I were reading the Daily Mail. That’s what poor people read…

Just in case you missed it on Dan’s blog…

Go check out the post he’s made about the joys of Darkside Active Listening.

Kudos to Dan for putting more thought into the background mechanics of it, too; whilst I’m not entirely sure it’s a compliment to have my pet “force deliberately mishearing” tactic described as ‘something truly bitter and twisted’ (heh. Actually yeah, that rocks) I’m well impressed to find out the reason it *works* is because they move on in their mental script…

…And there was me just abusing the force by feel.

I now feel enormously cruel and evil. It’s fun.

Also enormous desire to play SW JK 3: Jedi Academy, only I’ve no idea where the damn game’s gone; it went AWOL about the same time as my ‘Kind Hearts & Coronets’ DVD, I think… Don’t suppose Dan’s got an .iso or two kicking about?

Once again…

…a bunch of cretins have run about causing a fuss and doing no end of damage to their own cause.

That’s not especially surprising, people are like that. You’d think, however, what with all the bad press Muslims are getting these days, they’d be a bit slower to have a go at papers for publishing cartoons of Mohammed because they’d had a go at another paper who published cartoons of Mohammed.

Really, don’t make death threats against the press; they publish them and you look like dicks.

I’d never have known about these cartoons but for the Carder-like blind outrage shown by (as far as I can tell) a minority of Muslims, and (less explicably) the Saudi government. As it was, I saw this, and immediately ran a Google image search for “Mohammed Cartoon”. Wouldn’t you? You see a fuss and you immediately want to know what it’s about.

There’s a slightly hard-to-understand site (mainly, I think, because I can’t read Arabic, nor semi-Arabic) which is here for reference, and the word that first comes to mind to describe it is “stroppy.”

That probably sounds like I’m trying to deliberately wind people up, but really… You don’t, by and large, see the CoE running about demanding people retract cartoons of Jesus. The one time they tried, which was with Life of Brian, they looked like dicks. But at least they didn’t burn flags or make armed assaults on people.

I don’t, really, have a problem with Islam saying “Do not do cartoons of the Prophet, pbuh,” but if they say that because “it’s disrespectful to do so” and then say “and to show you we want you to apologise, we’re burning your flag, and you’re all a bunch of arses” I don’t see how that works. You cannot, if you wish to be taken seriously, demand that people respect your views and then refuse to listen to anyone else’s. The world just doesn’t work like that.

On the aforementioned stroppy website, a fairly sensible-sounding Dane has made a comment, which follows:

I’m another Dane, and the questions below have been nagging me.

  • Why do people who believe in gods feel that they have a greater right to be offended than us people who mainly believe in humans?
  • Why do some people think that the Danish government (and indeed the Danish nation and every danish citizen) have anything to do with this? Let alone have the power to apologize for these drawings, if apologies should be issued?
  • Someone (Moslems, I guess) has burned the Danish flag on the West Bank. Is it okay if we say that this offends me to no end, and so we’re even? Or should the Palestinian government apologize to Danish patriots everywhere?
  • What if Jyllands-Posten comes out and says “nah nah, fooled you, that wasn’t Mohammed, it was drawings of the Taoist deity Lao Tzu”? Or: “Yes it was a guy named Mohammed, but not the prophet”?
  • What if there’s a religion somewhere that worships the Half-Moon, and has a rule that a drawing of the Half-Moon is a blasphemy?
  • I’m a believer. I believe strongly in equal rights for the sexes. Sex-based discrimination offends me. Should the Saudi government apologize to me?
  • Why hit on Jyllands-Posten – have you ever tried to google “prophet mohammed”? There’s loads of material out there to get you offended, if you get off on being offended.
  • What should be done to the Danish artist who, ten years ago, made a movie portraying Jesus getting drunk and having wild sex?
  • yup… maybe Jyllands-Posten didn’t need to print those drawings, and you shouldn’t provoke anybody for no good reason, and we should all just get along, and etc etc. But will the offended Moslems please calm down and start acting like grown-ups? If Allah is really displeased with Jyllands-Postens editors, he will punish them in the after-life, right?

Published By Nikolaj Nielsen – January 30 1:55:09 PM

Which pretty much sums it up in a nutshell.

I mean, really, in a world in which large numbers of addle-brained Yanks are firmly under the impression that Terrorism is a) a bigger threat than global warming, and b) All done by Muslims who are scary and intolerant and c) Not fun now it’s happened to them so they’ve stopped funding the IRA, senior members of the Muslim community are having a pop at non-muslims, who, being non-Muslims, probably don’t give a stuff what the Q’ran says, having as they do, no reason to care at all, and burning flags and causing trouble.

Now one thing I do know is that America loves to pretend it’s a free and liberal country in which people can say whatever they want, as long as it isn’t Anti-American. Having a go at newspapers for publishing things as “freedom of speech” which you find offensive isn’t going to go down well in the USA, because the average American will soon have Fox and CNN telling him the trouble is that these papers are allowed to publish whatever they want.

Yes, it’s something Islam doesn’t like, but Denmark isn’t an Islamic country. Do we expect Denmark to stop serving alcohol in case that offends Muslims as well? No we don’t, but I’m sure some muslims are offended by it. If this were a Saudi paper, or even one in a country with a moderate Muslim population, I’d probably understand the fuss a bit better, but really.. Just because Islam exists in the world doesn’t mean papers which aren’t subject to Islamic law or convention should abide by it’s rulings. If they did, they’d have to abide by the rulings of every other religion as well, and then (presumably) Muslims would be pissed off because the paper was celebrating days sacred to the Hindu gods, of which there are rather more than one.

Bloody extremists. The one thing that’s certain to piss me off more than anything else is people being intolerant, mainly because it’s really not hard to shut the fuck up and accept that some people don’t think the way you do, and trying to bully them into it isn’t going to work.

Bloody humans. Still, give it another hundred years or so and current society will be screwed anyway, and then we can have done with it and go back to anarchic tribalism and barter. Hooray.

Week Ending… (or “that was the week that sucked…”)

Well, care or naff off to some other ego-boosting website, bitch.

Autumn, rarely my favourite time of year, being, as it is, too long for Dick and too short for Richard, with it’s not-quite-summer-heat and not-quite-winter-frosts was OK, although a bit naff on and off, especially since my mother came down with sciatica (sp?) in September and it still hasn’t cleared up yet, which isn’t great, and then came November, and things just went from gay to intolerant fundamentalist bigot…

First there was the trouble at 72, when we realised that the housemates there weren’t too keen on us, and decided it would be better all round if we left them to it.

Then, PJM let us move my room over to house 119c, with a view to moving Ruth’s room to 119d when the girl in there moved out.

119c was great, and the housemates there were all very nice and friendly, and all was going well until I got a worrying letter from the PJM warden. After that things just collapsed faster then a Guild exec meeting, when I discovered what the Warden wanted, which was about the same time I realised that what I wanted was a Lee Enfield (it’s the only type of gun for which I have any amunition whatsoever) and a sniper’s nest overlooking the front door.

At that point, I came to the conclusion that life was just getting too stressful and that, whilst I could devote the rest of my year here to making the lives of the dicks at 119 a total bloody misery, it would have the negative effect of forcing me to stay there whilst they made my life a misery as well. So on Wednesday, Ruth & I went into town and looked around all the estate agents in Aberystwyth (except for ALP Property Management, because they’re terrible (see link).

It was looking fairly promising, with a couple of things we hoped to get viewings for, including a nice-sounding attic flat on North Parade, at about £70 p/w, plus bills. So we were feeling good and cheered up, and headed back for an early night’s sleep at 119 on the Wednesday. And, as I’ve explained that really didn’t work. Evil little bastards. At 0115 Thursday, just after I made that entry, I rang Dan, who was an absolute saint, reacting to my close-to-tears “could we come and stay at the flat, tonight, please” with a spot-on “Yes, I’ll make sure the door’s open and we’ll see you in a bit,” which neatly avoided any silly questions like “Why?” or “What’s happened?” until we were in a better position to explain about it without bursting into tears at him.

On the way to the flat we stopped at the PJM amenities block to tell the porter who’d just been round with the warden that we were down the hill for the rest of the night, and if he got called out again, he needn’t bother going. The fact that I was in floods at this point seemed to un-nerve him (grown men with beards not being the type of people you expect to come and weep at you right after you’ve been round to tell them off for the loud music they’re supposed to be playing), and he kept telling us he’d only been round because he had to, and did we want him to get the warden again, and we said no, because how could it help, and he made a helpless face, and looked worried.

Thursday morning, we woke on the sofa bed at the flat (I now realise why Dan claims it was designed by someone who neither slept nor sat down) and Ruth told me about the dream she’d just had, which was mildly amusing. Then we went round the estate agents again, to listen to the depressing news that, although there were places, there weren’t many, and we couldn’t get viewings until at least next Wednesday.

So we went back to the Flat, and met Dan & Claire, who had just found a place to live, and Claire gave us a lift up the hill to see Eileen Watkin in the Accommodation Office.

More or less to her credit, she didn’t automatically take our side, although since Ruth was in tears again at this point, I’d’ve taken a softer line. She did, however, ring the PJM Amenities block, and spoke to Heather Morgan up there, and got rather more sympathetic after she’d done so (I’ve a sneaking suspicion the porter must’ve put a note in their log to say “Er, the noisy people just came and sobbed at me for five minutes, and now they’re going to sleep on someone’s floor so they can’t get complained about again…”, which would explain why she suddenly stopped asking questions about whether we were sure we’d not done anything to annoy them) and said she’d got a solution.

That solution turned out to be Hafan, the University’s collection of static caravans, somewhere round the back of the Arts Centre. It would, she explained, be cheaper than PJM – in fact it’s about £80 p/w inc, for the pair of us, which is half what we were paying in PJM, and she suggested we go and take a look at it. So, we went up to Cwrt Mawr reception, and got the keys to the caravan, and went out there to have a look. By this point, I was already very enthusiastic, although Ruth wasn’t so sure, and was still too nervous to notice that I kept saying “well, I think we should take it unless there’s something really wrong with it,” at five-minute intervals.

As it was, we got in there, and were immediately struck by the fact that the sitting room of the, uh, caravan, was bigger than the PJM rooms, and there was still the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and the spare bedroom to go. Also, there was a gas cooker, which just about sold Ruth…

…Since then, there’s been a mad rush to empty the houses in PJM – many, many thanks to everyone who helped with that, especially Paul, who was an absolute saint, helping us shift shopping trolleys full of our stuff to the caravan (yes, yes, make yer damn Gypsy jokes and have done with it), and also to Bec Corn (in the incredibly unlikely event that she’s reading this) for seeing me and Paul with our over-filled trolleys on the final trip, stopping her Union van, and getting out of it to say “Can I help? Only I notice I’ve got a van, and you’ve got a load of stuff in some trolleys”. OK, earlier that day would’ve been better, but it was still a nice gesture of general good-will.

So, now we live in a caravan. Yes indeed. And it’s stupidly vast. (Well, compared to a normal “study bedroom”, at least). Only downside is that it doesn’t have Ethernet access, but we’re hoping to get onto the Wireless point at Brynamlwg (sp?), which Paul thinks is a fair chance, so we can then turn the spare bedroom into a study, and hook up from there. At some point.

Horrible week, all things considered, and probably the second worst of my scarred and fucked-uip life, but things are looking up now, and my personal tutor’s given my an extension for my essay which would otherwise be due in on Monday. This is good, because we’ve not even properly unpacked yet, never mind had chance to look at notes.

Better now…

Things moved fast in Cork…

…So, then, who wants to help us move? The dudes in the PJM Amenities block are toptastic people, and when I went to them and said “I’m looking to move out of the house I’m in” they said “119 C’s free,” without even asking why. This is good. Asking why would’ve made me sound like a whingey git, as I’m pretty sure it did last night, but then, of course, I couldn’t actually do anything, which isn’t nearly as good.

Temporarily, therefore, we’ll have 119C and 72D, until (at some point) the girl who’s in 119E and wants to move to a house with Freshers does so, and leaves another room free there, into which we can move the rest of our stuff…

Meanwhile, therefore, we’ll have two houses, so there’s no huge rush to move things (which is good, because my legs are bloody killing me – see a later post…) , but help shifting essentials (PC, monitor, TV, PS2 &, like, probably some bedding…) would still be good…

And, yeah, we’re taking a risk that the next housemates will be dicks as well, but at least there’s a chance they’ll make an effort back when we try to be friendly to them…

So, yeah. Off to re-jigger the TV lisence and show Ruth the new place.

Gunpowder, Treason & Plot…

Well, now. Went and gave blood, today, which has left me with a slight headache and a raging apetite, which I plan to sate with bacon, and possibly some form of carbohydrate, in the near future. The room is finally getting nice and toasty, after being freezing all day, when the heating kicked in.

I discovered that the heating was on by jamming my bare foot against the radiator pipe that runs along the back of my desk and getting burnt. So then I dug out the pliers on my penknife, and sat for a full minute with air hissing out of the stone-cold radiator, until it actually bled water (or at least black, oily sludge).

Tomorrow, happily, is Bonfire Night, a cheery festival commemorating what’s probably the UKs most famous terrorist attack, which is all the more impressive when you consider that it was an attack that didn’t actually work…

…I feel there’s something deep and intelligent to say about that, but, frankly, I’m not sure many people would listen, these days. I still can’t understand why, post September 11th, the entire world suddenly woke up and went “Wow, a guy on a plane just invented terrorism! Cool, we can all panic!” when it’s actually been going on for centuries. OK, the bit with the planes was new, and more people died than in your average attempt, but that’s mostly because modern society is very keen on putting lots of people in pug-ugly skyscrapers, which tend to be short on viable exits after the third floor…

And then, suddenly, the entire world is panicking. Now that’s stupid. I can see why New York and Washington would be panicking, because terrorist attacks in your immediate location are likely to scare you (it’s what they’re for, after all). To an extent, I can understand why the rest of the US was scared, too – OK, most of it is a stupidly long way from the places that got attacked, but by and large America seems to have got off lightly, in terms of previous terrorist attacks, probably because it’s so isolated.

The bit I don’t really get is why everyone in the UK suddenly got scared because, on the morning of the 12th of September 2001, we really weren’t relevant to anything. We’d been there, and had an empire, and lost it, and got another one, and generally enjoyed the Great Game for a hundred years or so, and then, after a couple of enormous wars we’d lost the men and the money to maintain an empire (and we had to give India back anyway, because that was the deal we’d made in exchange for their fighting for us) and so we all came home and sank into the quiet obscurity enjoyed by most of Europe, caught between the Communist-hating USA, and the risk-of-another-invasion-of-Russia paranoid USSR, hoping that neither side would get bored of Vietnam and wipe us all out.

And over the next few decades we settled back into normal domestic peacetime status, with major cities occasionally getting targetted by the IRA, and we did what Britain always does when that sort of thing happens which is, effectively, to say “O for goodness sake, can’t those people keep the noise down,” and then offer cups of tea to survivors sheltering in the local school gym. And as a result of that, nobody outside the UK & Eire gave a damn.

Then suddenly, a bunch of planes hit things several thousand miles away, lots of British people get killed, along with proportionally more Americans, and just as we’re thinking “That’s a bugger, that is, I’d better take an extra tin of biscuits and a spare teapot when I head over to the school,” the Government has suddenly upped and said “Woo, U.S.A! U.S.A!!” and before we can finish muttering the usual comments of “Tch! 1917? What time d’you call this, then?” and “Never on time for anything, are they?” we’re suddenly back on the world stage shouting about how much we’d like to be next, please, if that’s not too much trouble, because, hey, you know, we’re kind and considerate, and we’re suddenly going to go to war in Iraq.


That was a bit quick, wasn’t it? Think I missed something there… Wind it back a minute… No, no, stop, that’s Nuremburg, you’ve gone too far… Yeah, right, Russians march into Berlin… forwards… Yalta, yeah, right… Beatles, there we go, yep, Carry On films, keep going… Harold Wilson, Brighton bomb, end of the Cold War, Manchester bomb, Tories lose the ’97 election, hysteria about the millenium bug, Sepember 11th, everyone’s really shocked, America suddenly gets cross… advert break… America still cross, nobody can find Osama Bin Laden… everyone says we shouldn’t go to war, lots of protests… we go to war anyway… er… OK, normal play again… er… we go to war anyway… Bugger, we suddenly look important.

Hm. And then there were those divvies on the London Underground, and things got a bit more back to normal, in that we knew where we stood, then, ie, people were blowing other people up, and we know how to deal with that. (“Better make it chocolate digestives, love, not everybody likes hob-nobs. There’s a spare box of Tetley in the back of the cupboard, it was on offer in Tescos…”)

But there was still that really weird bit between 2001 & 2003 or so when the entire country seemed shit-scared, and the Government was saying “tear up the Magna Carta and everything will be just great,” and everyone seemed to be running about saying “Yeah, OK, then, because we’re scared!”

Scared of what, exactly? Getting killed by terrorists, I assume, or the risk that your friends and family might get killed. Which is fair enough, God knows I worry about Ruth all the bloody time, although that’s probably more to do with my own past than terrorists, but why did everyone suddenly panic? I just don’t get that…

…And nor do I really understand why it took a bunch of explosions on the underground to snap everyone out of it. All I can really think is that September 11th made everyone panic because it was new, so the attacks on the 7th of July were like seeing a repeat on the telly – you might not want to see episode nine of “Porridge” for the tenth time, but at least it isn’t another gritty serial-killer drama with a female detective who hasn’t got the decency to cover herself up properly, and keeps using words like “Bastard” before nine o’ clock.

If it’s strange that it took bombings in London to wake people up to the reality that terrorism isn’t anything new, it’s just plain surreal the way the USA reacted to it – not only did they try and shut down the metro in New York (because even terrorists can take the wrong turning at the roundabout, and one underground system looks very much like another when all your wearing is a belt of C4) but they started mass-producing junk mousemats and T-shirts with the London Underground logo on them and slogans like “London Stands”.

Well duh. Three bombs aren’t going to level London, now, are they? Frankly, if the Luftwaffe didn’t manage it, and the Zeppelins didn’t manage it, and Napoleon didn’t manage it either, a few radical Islamists aren’t going to manage it all in one day.

I don’t believe anyone in the UK bought one of those things, but apparently they were really popular in the US, presumably because a large number of people wanted to show how very supportive they were being of the UK in it’s own “9/11” (which is stupid in itself, because, as I’ve said before, quite a lot of British people were in the WTC when it collapsed). I’ve a sneaking suspicion that several of the people who wandered round the US wearing “London Stands” T-shirts will be associated with the people who spent the previous 30 years wandering round the US and helping to fund the IRA who were setting bombs in London, but I imagine it doesn’t feel like that if you’re a few steps removed from the actual detonator, so maybe they don’t spot the irony there.

And yet, a few hundred years after the failing of a terrorist attempt that would’ve serverely fucked up the politics of the UK for a very long time, we’re getting ready to set off a bunch of fireworks, and burn comedy effigies of the guy they caught trying to set the fuse, and tortured until he confessed. Which is fine by me, really – Bonfire night is there to celebrate the fact we’re capable of defending our own democratic freedoms, which we’ve been carving out of the laws for the last eight hundred years…

…And at the same time we’re gaily sitting down and not paying attention whilst a bunch of goons keep suggesting we get ID cards, continue to allow detention without trial and start accepting evidence obtained by torture again?

That’s not the Government rallying round with tea and biscuits, that’s the Government acting like a bunch of panicky toddlers because we had to up and boast about how we were joining Bush and his stupid “crusade” and suddenly a lot of people are looking at us like it’s the middle of the third act of Othello, and our mobile phone’s just started playing the stupid Nokia Tune on full volume…

Better lock ’em up, then.

I think I’m getting increasingly jaded by all this, and it’s coming across in my NaNoWriMo efforts – I suddenly found I’d created a totally dystopian backdrop to the main action, which I’d not really considered when I first started. But then, the whole thing is completely stupid, so I don’t see too much of a problem with showing it’s logical extreme.

Words written: 4061 / target: 50000

so far. I really ought to stop going back and re-adjusting paragraphs and just get on with it…

You arrogant menopausal *bitch*…

…God’s teeth the people in reception down here pissed me off just now. We haven’t, you see, been given the e-mail giving us 48-hours notice of our need to move out and transfer up to PJM. And Ruth, it turned out last night when I went down to find out why there wasn’t a transfer notice on my door, found out that whilst I was due to transfer on Sunday, Ruth wasn’t.

So today we went down there and asked if this was true, and could Ruth be put on the transfer list and the bitch at the back there – Mary, I think she was – said “no, you have to move out by 10 o’ clock this morning.” Said this, mark you, at a quarter past nine, without our having had any notice of moving! Christ, we’d only started packing because we thought it was probably this weekend; nobody had actually told us anything.

And then the jumped up little fuckbitch tried to suggest it was all our fault, and we couldn’t have Ruth stay another night because “who’s going to pay for it”!

Frankly, I’m up to here with being shitted about anyway, and I’m not standing for that bollocks from anyone too incompetent to extend a transfer like the ones they do at least twice every year, just because they can’t find a name on the list…

…Contrast this with the dude I just spoke to in PJM about transferring, a dude who knew all about what was going on, and add to it the poor ruddy porter they just sent round with a chitty telling him that I was due to move out today (despite the fact that I was told only last night I didn’t have to leave until the 20th at the latest, and my place in PJM wouldn’t be availiable until the 18th), and we suddenly find ourself deep in Speaking To Elaine Watkin territory with a Complaint.

Because, frankly, I’m paying money I still don’t really have for putting up with being crapped over by these dicks, and I had to get up before 9am to boot, despite not getting to bed until 3am because of trying to tidy the fucking flat. And a ruddy complaint, frankly, is too good for the arrogant cretinous bitch.


California becomes the first American state to make suitably tolerant noises! Another fifty or so and they might start to pull level with, uh, the 20th Century. MMM.

In fairness to America, however, it’s not entirely their fault they’ve got a society on a par with the more intolerant bits of C. 14th Europe, because they’re only new. The trouble is they will go coupling that with a conviction that they’ve got God’s blessing on this one *cough, Carder, cough, cough*…

Still, I’m pretty impressed by that… Now they just have to, uh, actually put it into law. But with any luck…

Does you good to remember that American’s aren’t actually the bastards Bush keeps trying to make ’em out to be. Incidentally, uh, Annie seems to have gone quiet. Hope things are looking up a bit. If not, I’d recommend against killing US Embassy workers in the current climate; it’ll only make Bush look popular again. Good luck with it. (And you can probably come to Aber again, if you need to escape!)


…Actually an interesting quiz, in the way it makes you think, rather than randomly click based on gut reactions. I’m interested by the main mix I seem to have dug out, though; given the general lack of a “Quaker” option on the test I reckon a Christianity/Buddhism mix… The Paganism, I reckon, comes from my innate tendancy to believe there’s a quid-pro-quo that ought to be inherent in pretty much any form of worship.

Ah well. Kudos to Jon for bringing this one to my notice.

You scored as Christianity. Your views are most similar to those of Christianity. Do more research on Christianity and possibly consider being baptized and accepting Jesus, if you aren’t already Christian.

Christianity is the second of the Abrahamic faiths; it follows Judaism and is followed by Islam. It differs in its belief of Jesus, as not a prophet nor historical figure, but as God in human form. The Holy Trinity is the concept that God takes three forms: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Ghost (sometimes called Holy Spirit). Jesus taught the idea of instead of seeking revenge, one should love his or her neighbors and enemies. Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to save humankind and forgive people’s sins.



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with

When “Push” becomes “Shove,” how do you react?

It’s an interesting question, and one which has been vaguely floating in my head for the last day or so (and by God, that was a fantastic episode of Evangelion…) mostly because the interesting part, from where I’m sitting, is not how you react, but why.

For most people, of course, I can’t answer, and I’m not especially good at answering for myself either, but I’m getting better. The reason I can’t always answer for myself is firstly because I’m not sure anyone can ever give an honest answer to a personal question, and secondly because I know very well that there’s a large gap between who I was at one time, and who I am now. It’s not a chronological gap, of course, but it is a little unnerving when I wind up in an introspective mood.

Those of you who kept track of my LiveJournal posts a few weeks back might recall this vaguely unpleasant mope, which unnerved me at the time because it’s a nasty flashbacky sort of post, and unnerves me still more now, for pretty much the same reason. But that’s not my normal “push=shove” reaction, all things considered… It’s occasionally a reaction I get when a shove turns nasty, and I feel I’m getting driven backwards into a pit, but it’s not my normal response, because that’s generally more bloodthirsty.

In retrospect, this makes a reasonable ammount of sense. It can take very little for me to start shoving back; back at school once I was coming out of the VIth form corridor, when Major T [head of the CCF] tried to barge past me. I can distinctly recall thinking “I’m not taking any shit from someone who’s trying to force me back through the door,” and I jammed both my arms accross the gap at pretty much the same time, with the result I forced the old sod back out, with him swearing every inch. That’s generally my reaction, although I’ve had it on a greater or lesser level as a result of everything from people pushing into queues ahead of me, right up to gut-wrenchingly awkward situations.

Sometimes it’s not quite so awkward, of course; during the trip to Edinburgh I ran into some large American tourists who demanded I walk back down the Walter Scott monument “because we’re Americans, and we want to get back to the hotel for lunch,” which was actually fairly entertaining (partly because the people behind them looked horrified, and partly because, when I explained I was on a trip from a school older than America by about 150 years, and should therefore have priority, they, er, crashed, frankly. It was an interesing example of cultureshock in action, and a little sad for ’em, but they shouldn’t have been such arrogant sods, all things considered.)

I imagine this bloody-mindedness was something I always had tucked into my character somewhere, to an extent. But it’s nothing like a reaction from my mother’s side of the family, unless it’s about something big, and I can’t see any traces of it on the other side, either… Presumably, therefore, it’s something I’ve developed under my own steam.

The first time I clearly recall finding myself in a situation where there were two choices, and neither was a good one, and I would not accept the choice people were trying to force on me will’ve been at some point in 1998, at Shrewsbury Magistrate’s Court. My mother & I were there because Nigel Hughes, a man who, seven months before, killed my father with a lorry, was appealing against a sentence for something called ‘driving without due care and attention.’ Apparently, he didn’t mind the £400 fine, but he’d also lost his driving liscence for twelve months, and that put his job (driving lorries) at risk.

Oddly enough, the judge didn’t actually think dear old Nige was especially good as a professional lorry driver, and kept things pretty much as they were. And so my mother & I filed out of the spectator’s gallery, followed by those members of the Hughes family that didn’t have to exit via the cells. Or, at least, we would have been, but the sods went and hung about and tried to avoid us, with me stood there holding the door open for ’em. Bear in mind, please, it was a heavy door, and I was only just thirteen, and fairly weedy, and I could’ve done without hanging about waiting for them.

After I’d coughed, in a pointedish way for a couple of times, and they’d taken notes for their PhDs in Carpeting of Municipal Buildings Studies, it dawned on me that they were, in fact, pretending I wasn’t there, presumably because they were too embarrased to look at me. Impolite little shits. And I rapidly went from very hurt, to specifically much more hurt, and then to rather more angry than I could ever remember being. About that time I gave the door what I thought would be a fairly gentle push, and it jumped back six inches, hit the stop with a smash, and then slapped back into my hand, where it bounced.

They looked up at that. And then away again! Jesus… I don’t actually remember my exact words, but I think I said something like “Get through the fucking door, please, I need to go and comfort my mother.” So they did, although I noticed they were still fascinated by the pattern on the carpet.

I’ve had pretty much the same reaction to similar situations ever since, which is fair enough, but it does worry me sometimes. I’ve long since got over the worst of it, where I could find myself a stray insult away from bloody murder (anyone remember the dark old days, when my blazer was full of drawing pins?), but there’s still a fairly solid core of steel somewhere in me, and it tends to find its way to the front when people start to push…

…But I can fairly confidently defy anyone to attempt to wander vaguely adolescentwards surrounded by the chaos I went through (I had my grandmother, grandfather and father die within eleven months of one another, and then the battle to keep the life insurance [it was in trust, but try telling that to the fucking Reciever] and then the battle to get compensation [which got settled about eight days before I came to Aber, six years later]) and not develop an innate distaste for people trying to fuck you over.

Unusually, for one of my long rambling posts, there isn’t very much of a point to this (although if you’ve got a different reaction [or, indeed, middle or lower -gear reactions!], I’d be very interested to hear it…) but I vaguely needed to let off steam. And, all things considered, I think it’s a fairly useful reaction, because it does tend to get people if not listening, then at least bloody worried that they ought to have been paying more attention when I stopped shouting at them and suddenly got calm…

Going to play something called “Wesnoth,” now, and trust the package manager installed it properly.

No doubt I’ll see many of you tomorrow. Have fun!


There’s never anyone to punch when you need to, is there?

Dear God…

…Returning from the Flat, past WH Smiths, what did we see but a collection of loons stood in the street (presumably after several hours) waiting to go in and collect a book they’d already reserved

So, predictably, we ended up re-running the old “what needs to happen with Harry Potter, and why is JK Rowling too dim to do it” conversation, which threw up a few new points. Well, I say new, but I imagine anyone who’s previously considered the intrinsic naff-ness of Potter will’ve found them before…


Ideally, at the end of this book, Dumbledore needs to be dead. He can’t die at the end of the next one, because that’s when Harry has to die.

That oughtn’t come as a shock to anyone; it’s how the genre works. Heroic fiction requires the hero and the villain to take one another down in a gigantic stand-off, hence Potter must die at the end of book 7 (because that’s the last book).

Dumbledore needs to die before then because there has to come a point at which everything seems hopeless, and there seems to be no way for the Good Guys to win. (That’s the point, you’ll generally find, when you can’t bear to put the book down or stop reading, because you have to find out what happens next.) This is most noticable in films, and the most famous and obvious example would be the end of ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’

I doubt, however, Rowling will do that, because I’m not entirely convinced she realises she’s writing heroic fiction (although it should be pretty obvious to anyone who thinks about it – clearly defined Bad Guys, a few Nasty People and a Young Hero determined to Overthrow Evil and Save The Day) and, therefore, she won’t see the need for the hero to die in a Last Desperate Attempt to Save The World.

Don’t believe me? Try:
Gandalf Vs. Balrog: Both die.
Elendil Vs. Sauron: Both die.
Vader Vs. Palpatine: Both die.
Asriel/Coulter Vs. the Metatron: Both die.
Neo Vs. Agent Smith (in Revolutions): Both die.
Holmes Vs. Moriarty: Both die.
Rimmer Vs. The Rage (Last Human Both die, and it’s incredibly powerful because Rimmer isn’t heroic, but he’s fulfilling the ideal.)

(Note that, although some of the Good Guys do survive, they are dead at the end of the story, even if they come back later…)

It’s the way the genre works, simple as that.

Trouble is, Rowling isn’t very good at that, or, indeed, at killing people in general. Sirius, for example, was a stupid person to kill because the only character that affected was Harry. Hagrid would have been a really clever person to kill, because he’s rather more interesting, and there’s lots of characters capable of feeling sorry, guilty or pleased… But no, Sirius fell through the metaphcurtain, and nobody gave a toss. Bad plan.

Bad plan, yes, but also typical of Rowling’s problem: she doesn’t care about any of the characters other than Harry. It’s as if Tolkien had tried to do LoTR and only paid attention to Frodo, mentioning the other characters, but not really exploring them. Doesn’t work. It’s like Blackadder, without the feedback from Baldrick and the others – can you imagine the end of Goes Forth if you’d never got to feel anything from the other characters? Christ, of course you can’t; without George admitting that he’s scared, after all his patriotic fervour, to actually go over the top, it wouldn’t be worth beans…

The best Potter book is Askaban, because it’s a self-contained thing, and that’s what the books ought to be: an ongoing theme, but also self-containing stand-alone tales, not Neon Genesis, not Future Boy Conan but Futurama – there’s an ongoing plot woven through it, and you can gain more from knowing what’s gone before (The scientist in Space Pilot 3000 [“Welcome to the world of tomorrow!”] appears at Fry’s funeral in “The Sting,” and it’s a really nice touch; it’s not essential to have seen the first episode, but if you have, then it’s a really nice touch, especially since Leela was the one who used to work with him…)

But Rowling tries to be both stand-alone and ongoing-or-bust, and it’s not just clunky, but tiresome. (Futurama, after the first episode, doesn’t really bother to explain how Fry got to the year 3000, and when it does, it demonstrates an incredible understanding of what’s going on – right in there in Space Pilot 3000 you can see the shadows under the desk…) So rather than take it as a given that the magical world has Quidditch (a game in which only two players are important: the opposition Seeker and, surprise surprise, Harry) we’re forced through a chapter about it in every book. Likewise we get a section in which we’re shocked to discover that Harry doesn’t like his aunt and uncle, and that Snape doesn’t like Harry very much, and that Draco Malfoy is exactly the same character he was before and he hasn’t developed because he isn’t Harry Potter

And that’s the problem in a nutshell: nothing is examined except in direct relation to Harry, and that’s rarely the mark of a good story. Certainly, it’s not something which will allow Potter to get killed, and without that then it’s not a tale of Good Against Evil, it’s a tale of Something Without Closure Against Evil…

I cried when I read Holmes’ death. I cried at the end of Last Human too, because there was a meaning behind it all, a sense that there was hope from a tragic sacrifice, and Potter readers won’t ever get that because, even if Harry were to die, nobody would be left behind for the readers to give a damn for.

And that would be fine, if the publicity engine hadn’t over-hyped the books to the point where people will queue in the cold just to get a copy they’ve already made sure they’ll get with a deposit. If this book were coming out into the environment of the early years, when Potter was published, and few people knew or cared, that’d be fine. But Rowling has let the publicity run away with her work, and now people pretend she’s a genius, a really original writer, someone who Got Children Reading Again, before selling out to Hollywood so the children can Go Watch the Film.

I have no idea if she’s realised it, but if I were in her shoes tonight, I’d feel terrible. Rich, yes, but incredibly sad with it, because everyone would belive I was something I’m not; believe I was better than I am, and they’re not buying the books because of me, they’re doing it because they’ve been told they’re brilliant books…

And they’re not. Really, they’re not. A world in which magic costs nothing, takes no effort, two words can kill someone forever simply doesn’t work: the wizards wouldn’t have retreated from the muggle world, they’d have overrun it, and the death of Voldemort would never have stopped the Death Eaters, because with that level of power, who needs a leader? Christ; if you can use magic to cook and travel and kill, how come you have to teach people? There’s got to be a spell that gives other people knowledge, because if there isn’t, how can we be expected to believe everything else – no cost, remember, no effort at all, and so there’s no need for schools at all…

Harry Potter is a tale of Good Versus Evil in which the side of Good is ignored in favour of a specky orphaned adolescent, and the side of Evil is bogiemanned into teachers and bullies… And that works fine for a children’s story, just about, but it’s not good enough for a world-wide phenomenon that sees Canadian retailers taking out injunctions on people they’ve sold the book to, and hundreds of people waiting up for something which, despite what they’ve been told, won’t be any better than the last five.