Life In Brexit Britain
Copyright 2017 Laurence Buxton.
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Welcome all of you who have been kind enough to buy this e-book.
This is simply a collection of my thoughts on life in Brexit Britain, both in terms of how things seem to have changed politically and also the hobbies, the characters and the little ways of life. It’s only when one looks back at the start of the journey that one realises how long the road is that’s just been travelled, and I wanted to give you a chance to hear my thoughts, for what they’re worth.
This e-book is free and I appreciate your custom; however please do peruse my fictional works, the details of which are at the end of this e-book.
Thanks, and happy reading.
BREXIT: (A DISUNITED KINGDOM) PART 1.
“Wow! Didn’t see that coming.”
That was the reaction of virtually everyone (with expletives optionally added) when Britain voted to come out of the European Union, regardless of whether they voted in, out or remained uncommitted. Going to bed that night, as a proud Remainer, the ‘as gracious as possible’ Nigel Farage conceded with a promise to have a second vote if the vote was close. A promise which, as it turns out, he hasn’t exactly shown an enormous desire to fulfil.
I am a Remoaner. By the very process of writing this, I am Remoaning. Like someone being evicted from their flat, hanging on by the fingertips to the doorframe for just a few more seconds, I didn’t want to leave the EU. As I was born the year after we initially joined the EU is what I’ve known us be part of for my whole life. And perhaps that’s something which the hardcore Leavers don’t quite get – that to us, the break-up of the EU is in many ways as dangerous as the breakup of the United Kingdom would be to them, even if waving the ‘blue with gold stars’ at Last Night Of The Proms wouldn’t quite look the same.
Look – I get that Leave won. That much isn’t in doubt. And even I would state that it’s rather disingenuous for those in my camp to state that only 72.2% of people in the country voted in the EU Referendum so as they didn’t get more than 50% of the vote, citing that they were probably younger and maybe college-educated people they’d likely have voted to stay. Surely such an argument is akin to a cricket team saying that as the batsman didn’t leave the pavilion it wasn’t fair that the bowler’s first ball hit the stumps. If it’s true the stay-aways were the ‘lazy youth’, then had they made it to the polling stations yes they probably would have voted Remain – but they didn’t. Leave won, fair and square.
But to continue with the house analogy, is it sensible that the country voted to move out of a house (the EU) without any knowledge of where they were moving to? At the moment we are cheerfully seen by much of mainland Europe (our old letting agents) as having wheeled our suitcases out of the front door, our belongings stuffed in numerous old bin liners with coathangers bursting through the sides, without any idea where we’re headed. And at the risk of being crushed as a Saboteur, or denounced as an Enemy Of The People, I still think the same now as I did then.
Britain screws things up. Hardly news, and hardly the only country in history to make mistakes. But we’ve derived our national character, indeed an entire sense of humour, on our bumbling, accident-prone, self-effacing but ultimately endearingly charming way of doing things. And, like a character from a Carry On film or perhaps more aptly a Brian Rix farce, Boris Johnson encapsulates this strain of Britishness. With his rigorous personification of the supposedly-extinct class system, floppy blonde hair, anything-for-a-laugh attitude and absent-minded demeanour, Boris has made a career playing his own British-buffoon personality for giggles, albeit with decided hints of political calculation teeming underneath his puppy-like willingness to be the butt of the joke.
Yet the comedy might soon be about to end. Can we trust Boris and his fellow Brexiteers to lead us to a land of milk and honey if we do go it alone? The complete chaos that greeted the result of the vote immediately indicated otherwise. This was no government machine swinging faultlessly into action. This was a confused, panicked response to a result which was never remotely deemed likely. I still remember Nicola Sturgeon’s calm (and accurate) assessment of what had happened, using the word “turmoil” to describe what was going on. Frankly, she was correct, and the events of the next few days would hardly disprove her. Her party had pushed for its goal of independence in the Scottish referendum, and the Scottish people had partially voted against going it alone because of fear they would be forced out of the EU. Now, despite every single constituency north of the border voting to Remain, they would be, like the rest of the UK, be Leaving.
I feel it isn’t so much our Leaving that may come to define us, though, but the nature of it. If you got into a debate with a stranger at the bar after a few drinks, and asked them if they were happy with the status quo or would they change something – anything – would they generally vote for the former? Perhaps, if they were clutching a winning lottery ticket, but not otherwise. At the moment it feels like we have taken the advice to Leave, but we’re not aware what’s on our own lottery ticket. We’re like Dick Whittington with the knapsack on our back, but in this case Dick’s not sure whether he’s heading to London or somewhere else entirely.
The following few days have seen a country divided, which was all-too-predictable. The Sun, the Mail and the Express have derided the dire warnings that the country would fall into disrepair and economic chaos as scaremongering. The Remain-voting young’s despair has been characterised by protest marches on the capital, and by hurling abuse and anger at an atypically-grim faced BoJo as he slinked out of his front door the morning after the vote. Was his decision to standard-bear for Leave a ploy to get David Cameron weakened, as Alistair Campbell hypothesised in an Australian TV interview just after the vote? Was his intent to actually a secure a narrow victory for Remain, not Leave? Either way, the subsequent ‘knifing’ of BoJo’s Caesar by Gove’s Brutus simply highlighted the split in the Tory Party as much as the country. Even among those supposedly on the same side there was rampant division and disharmony.
You couldn’t make it up. There have been petitions, the most dramatic being the one initially drawn up by a Leave voter, which was then hijacked by my brave boys and girls, to have a second referendum as the gap of victory was not big enough. Perhaps, as a LFC fan, I could get a second running of the 1988 FA Cup Final as Wimbledon only won 1-0 (or more recently maybe a re-run of the 2013/2014 Premier League season, where we lost in the overall league chase by just two points to Manchester City), though for all the cries of “sore losers” from the Leave camp the petition gained over 4 million signatures. But reason had gone out of the window. Everywhere you looked was clickbait one way or the other – those who would have us stay and rerun the campaign, notably because of the slogan painted on the side of the Leave battlebus that the £350 million saved from EU contributions going could to the NHS, and those who perhaps rightly felt that democracy was being impeded by the push to declare the result nul-and-void.
This raises another concern. At what point can a successful campaign be declared ineligible due to the ‘not quite truths’ told by its figureheads? Can they be punished subsequently for immediately admitting (as Nigel Farage did) that the £350m would not actually end up in the hands of the doctors and nurses after all, and the result wiped out? Even as a still-seething Remoan, sorry, Remainer (does that make me a Remainiac?) I’m not sure it can. For those who wanted the establishment to get a bloody nose it was the ultimate right hook. Enough to lead ‘gambling man’ David Cameron to throw in the towel with immediate effect, which was what Boris, not knowing how events would unfold, might have wanted all along.
Yet the referendum, which did for nationwide politics what the Scottish Independence Referendum had done so effectively before by bringing it front-and-centre, raised questions over who we should have deciding our futures, the politicians or the people. An X Factor-style phone in? A series of vox pops, local news-style? The success of the Leave campaign was on taking back control, of a populist revolution. You might compare them to the Parliamentarians defeating the Royalists in the English Civil War, though a civil war was hardly the intention of having a referendum.
But what of our elected politicians? One of the concerns of the vote was that the politicians – even the prime minister – never seemed to be leading or guiding the country, merely bringing their unseemly squabbling in Prime Minister Questions to the public venue, and encouraging them to emulate them with their friends, neighbours and family members. And the referendum result, far from calming everyone down, has merely stoked everyone up again.
No, very few of us saw it coming. And now we have young versus old, urban versus rural, progressives against traditionalists. As someone with an expatriate family I wonder what will happen to Britons abroad, as well as the EU nationals working and living here – as someone who has worked with many Polish people I found them among the very hardest working and committed of employees, not the scroungers they have been painted as by some. Disunited Kingdom? That’s what it feels like right now, and it feels like something changed for good on Thursday 23 June 2016.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION
In this world where our phones are our constant companions, and we can’t read a book on an electronic device without being bombarded with adverts, are we missing the chance to go off-grid? We have our news headlines tailored to our personal interests, political opinions and football teams. And it just keeps coming. Take football, or politics, which have increasingly grown closer together. We get rumour, counter-rumour, headline refuting rumour, rumour refuting headline, official statement denouncing all the misleading publicity when the rumours have been fuelled either by a career-hungry politician or a money-driven agent.
We tend to live our lives by suggestion. Where our pictures and words become how people know us. Blogging, vlogging – items which were once private in the forms of diaries or treasured photos have now become almost obligatory. People who avoid social media are seen as those who once declined to own a television, as some kind of hermit, quasi-caveman or near-primate. But then there are those of us in the middle, who aren’t necessarily taking pictures of breakfast or puckering up in some glitter-strewn bar but don’t want to fall out of the loop either. As a non-technophile and non-technophobe how do we get by from day-to-day?
One of the things that presents a challenge is finding that an app isn’t what you thought. What did I think WhatsApp was? Well, everything except what it actually is. Is Instagram a good way of advertising my books, or merely a time-consuming way of preventing me from writing them? Hard to know. And then there’s blogging. If I write a book – and, with a blatant plug, I would like to give you the chance to see them in all their glory – can I honestly let the novels in question do the talking for themselves, or do I need to explain every little thing about them before people have had the chance to be surprised by them (in a pleasant way, I hope).
At what point did the messenger become more important than the message? I mean, I understand how Ernest Hemingway’s love of bull-fighting and early life in Paris shaped his subject matter and whether we love or hate his works, though whilst I profess to having a wariness for some of his pursuits and interests I still love his books. But as my hero David Bowie once sang, we seem to now live in an age where someone’s latest picture, or their off-camera or off-mic pronouncements, matter more than their achievements. John Wayne is now probably better known for his image and right-wing politics than his films, and many who denounce him because of his beliefs have probably never seen any of his appearances on celluloid, though in the case of the painfully pro-Vietnam War flick The Green Berets I would argue they had a lucky escape.
More recently there’s the case of the soon-to-be-former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, whose 2017 election campaign never seemed to quite recover from the press digging into his religious beliefs and whether he thought homosexuality or abortion were sinful. My position, as a Lib Dem, is that my former figurehead has the right to be judged by his actions rather than his private thoughts, conflicted or not as they may be. Didn’t Gandhi – and yes I am aware of the unintentionally comedy of putting Mahatma Gandhi and Tim Farron in the same sentence, as would Tim himself, I’m sure – sleep alongside naked women, in order to test his faith against his lustful thoughts? Now I’m sure that Mr Farron doesn’t tune into repeats of Queer As Folk and see if he can avoid the temptation to shout “not on my telly!”, but whether or not he has conflicted views of his own isn’t he entitled to still fight for the rights of his fellow men and women, perhaps all the more selflessly if he has private reservations about what they do behind closed doors?
Perhaps pictures and headlines have now become so 24/7 that privacy gets buried behind constant crushing reality. I was chatting to a friend of mine over the weekend, and he agreed with me that we don’t live in an era where myths can flourish through potential unreliability. As previously mentioned I am a big fan of the late David Bowie, but I cannot envisage a situation where a young equivalent could emerge now – with his ability to limit and control the media you couldn’t guess where truth ended and fantasy began. His travel back from the Far East on the Trans-Siberian Express; the ambiguity over his arrival at Victoria Station, and whether he really did do a Nazi salute; his bizarre stay in Los Angeles which allegedly encompassed the supernatural (and Station To Station and The Man Who Fell To Earth, respectively contenders for his finest album and film respectively) and perhaps most pertinently his disappearance from the public eye, resulting in the ‘Berlin Trilogy’: none of these events would be allowed to pass without constant exposure today, which may have prevented them ever happening at all.
Andy Warhol, quite the influence on David, was another example of someone knowing how to manage the media and perception. But when he spoke of everyone having their 15 minutes, he couldn’t have envisaged a situation where the 15 minutes became their entire lifetimes. You can understand the need for people to want to star in their own movie once in their life, to matter. But when the movie merely contains numerous observations about why their child’s latest nonsensical burblings are of enormous fascination to them, or why they feel the need to post on social media advising they’ll remove ‘friends’ they’ve never met unless they say something to swell their precious egos, you wonder if that’s a film we all need to buy a ticket for.
Where does achievement end, and vanity begin? Does a B-list ‘celeb’ show a hidden talent by releasing a book, which is snapped up by a publishing house on the basis of their name rather than anything else? And does it work in reverse, where the likes of talented people like Stephen Fry and Gary Lineker (best not mention Lily Allen) connect constantly to the man and woman in the street through Twitter in a manner which was far more difficult before? There’s an argument for stating that the natural divides of wealth, class, creed and colour have been broken down by Twitter and other social media apps.
Furthermore is a blog, or a vlog, a career now in itself – take Zoella, for example? It’s as if the entire world, or the 99% of us who own an Iphone, laptop, tablet etc, is not just broadcasting their own life-long Netflix series or movie – they’re doing their own party political broadcast with themselves as their one-man party. Narcissism is the new social skill. Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba might once have been seen as an extremist caricature where great talent is married to inate bankability, but perhaps they merely reflect how society picked up from the all-round successful David Beckham and made such behaviour mainstream.
Perhaps it’s where the human race is headed. Perhaps the Darwinist ideal will turn out to be a perma-tanned, perfectly-toned footballer (with at least a passing turn in the Premier League) with underarm tattoos, a team manning their social media account telling their adoring fans that they like it when they win games, a new haircut which needs advertising around the hoarding at all the top-level football grounds, and endless media speculation on which supercar they will next be snapped at the wheel of. But does this translate into real life? Do offices re-hire former employees on multiple times their previous wages, and encourage them to make sure the world talks about a symbol they’ve shaved onto their scalp? No, sadly they don’t. So perhaps the idea that the entire world is now all on the same playing field is an illusion, and social media might one day be discovered to be the longest-convincing mirage of all time.
THE DECLINE OF THE HIGH STREET.
I’ve lived in Stratford-upon-Avon since the year 2000, when I moved here with my brother and my cousin. In that time, I’ve noticed a slow but steady decline in the bustling and full nature of the high street. You can go through Bards Walk even when the town is at its busiest and be almost totally surrounded by uncleaned shop windows displaying only emptiness, apart from the occasional pile of opened post.
Even as a committed Remainer I have to admit that this can’t be laid at Brexit’s door. The rise of the internet, the move away from the friendly bank manager being the focal point of the community, the shrinking in the number of night clubs across the United Kingdom. In my town there were once at least 5 nightclubs, and even more after-hours bars. Now they’re all but extinct. Even retired people have acknowledged that for all the RSC is a draw you do need other things for people to do than visit tourist attractions. Locals need something else to spend their cash on, particularly in the winter when there are less in the way of festivals on the Rec and the Christmas Market can only be extended for so long.
I think it’s a concern when the high street loses its ability to entertain for a day, and it’s certainly a concern to when people look to browse from shop to shop but can’t when many of them have closed, relocating to wherever the rates are better value. Visitors to this once-fine town might enjoy looking at Shakespeare’s birthplace, but to turn off it and walk down the aforementioned-Bard’s Walk would surely provoke confusion among many Oriental brows. And what would a town guide do? Apart from walking up and down, nostalgically remembering “Aah, I remember when that gorgeous little chocolate shop used to be here” to their bemused, camera-wielding tourists from Tokyo, there’s little entertainment to be had there, only sadness.
This decline and fall actually helped inspire one of my books, Guilty Conscience, so it’s not all bad. And there is some hope for the future. There has been an attempt to redefine Bell Court, a square in the centre of the centre of town, with a new cinema, modern bars and a multitude of floor-mounted little spotlights. But is Stratford losing its original character, or merely redefining it? Its shopping centre, the Maybird, is heavily criticised for taking business away from the town, but to get cheaper rates only a fool would consider staying put.
Does this happen to all towns, in the age of Amazon? I don’t think it does, personally. I can walk around Warwick, for example, and see the same shops I saw years ago, some which seem to have been there even since I first moved to the area, and certainly the past few years. Barely a closed premises to be seen. But is the RSC itself enough of a pull? The Chicago Rock nightclub probably raises eyebrows among some for the apparent anti-social behaviour it encouraged, yet the street it used to trade on now contains numerous fast-food outlets and ends in a taxi rank, catering plaintively to customers who no longer come rushing for their services. Talk to anyone there and they will talk of the closed nightclubs seriously impacting their business at the weekend. And there’s a serious lack of nightspots all week round. One of them currently opens for less than half the week, whilst at least two other establishments, one of which could technically qualify for being a nightclub of sorts, have both faced issues with suspensions for noise pollution and overcrowding.
I just hope that the powers-that-be get to do something about this. Stratford-upon-Avon’s rates and council tax seem to rise but with little return in the way of improved pavements, clear walkways – if anyone has walked up the Timothy Bridge Estate or along the canal they will know what I mean – and if these less-glamorous areas don’t get development then one would wish the town to be more welcoming to outsiders. Personally I hope the Bell Court development is successful, as if the town declines further then many future visitors’ only entertainment outside the Bard may be limited to watching the residents kicking tumbleweed away.
HENRY BLOFELD: Most English Englishman Ever.
Who is the most English Englishman of all time? I’ve heard several names put forward over the years, from WG Grace to Winston Churchill, surely the only Englishman to have led his country to victory in World War 2. John Le Mesurier has even been put forward in the past by lad mags. But Friday of the week brought a sad announcement and perhaps officially a new contender for this honour, as perhaps the world’s most distinctive cricket commentator made it official that, by the end of the summer, he will be leaving the crease for the final time. Yes, Henry Blofeld, the living embodiment of all things quintessentially and timelessly English, is to retire from Test Match Special.
Leaving the crease, downing stumps, heading to life’s pavilion – use whatever cricketing metaphor you wish, it’s a day when clichés are allowed. It’s also a sad day, for those of us who have memories of being stuck in a tailback on the M5 coming back from the South West, but actually storing the experience in the memory bank solely for Blofeld’s discussions on pigeons, cake and buses. Traditionally the return from one’s holiday is akin to the feeling one gets on Boxing Day evening, with an early start at work on the 27th, or the sensation of waking up on New Year’s Day evening with a body that recognises the price it will now be paying for such merriment earlier, but Blofeld ensured that this particularly memory was a fond one.
How so? Well along with the likes of tennis’ Dan Maskell, F1’s Murray Walker, Horse Racing’s Peter O’Sullivan and Golf’s Peter Alliss, Blofeld belongs to that breed of sports journalists whose personalities brought more to commentary than just the comment, memorable as many of his observations proved. His plummy tones marked him out as a kind of modern day, older Bertie Wooster. The fact that once upon a time he was a schoolboy with a fine talent for bowling before a bizarre incident with a bus lies long in the past, his career since 1972 with TMS giving a kind of comfort to the listener, a soundtrack to the summer – whether the listener cares for the sport of LBWs, Duckworth-Lewis Methods and silly mid-offs or not.
It’s a gift that few commentators seem to master. Mr Walker could keep a listener entertained – though some of my contemporaries might disagree – by his sheer enthusiasm for F1 even during its less memorable races, or with surprisingly gentle and subtle baiting of the late, great James Hunt into coming out with a trenchant, controversial opinion which would amuse or aggravate the viewing public. Even after moving from the BBC he proved invaluable in balancing the brickbats which rightly came ITV’s way over their indiscriminate advert breaks, which in terms of priority even demoted dramatic changes of lead to beneath whether their petrolhead viewers would wish to buy a certain brand of lemonade or some varnish for the fence in the back garden at that exact moment.
Meanwhile Dan Maskell personified the “Oh, I say!” genteel side of British life synonymous with Wimbledon, and like many his rare skill for understatement and good manners only when he was no longer on the scene and angry viewers were not berating Points Of View with niggles about the noise made from between his teeth when he spoke (the Twittersphere would have been proud of such a debate now). Ironically though this seemed to slowly seep away not after Maskell had gone to enjoy strawberries and cream in the great hereafter, but when Andy Murray triumphed at SW19. For all the despair that would follow when the likes of Jeremy Bates and ‘Come On’ Tim Henman were knocked out it fed into the annual narrative of plucky British spirit: of the British ‘good’ battling the non-British ‘great’, in the forms of the likes of Pistol Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. But then Murray won outright, and only went and did it again. Suddenly, having been built up by the media, he couldn’t be brought down in time-honoured fashion.
Peter O’Sullivan and Peter Alliss, with their very different personalities equally fit their sports like gloves on their respective hands. O’Sullivan with his mac, and lugubrious monotone, was a far cry from the likes of Cornelius Lysatt on Radio 5 now, who sounds as if he has bet his house on every single race he commentates on. Alliss, on the other hand, with his portly demeanour and air of establishment, perfectly complimented golf and its general adherence to traditions, his well-bred purr a soundtrack to compliment the “oohs” as the ball dropped onto the green amid a ripple of applause.
But the breed is dying off. Des Lynam was BBC Grandstand’s laid-back but self-proclaimed perfectionist, hiding his determination to keep absolute control behind his well-seasoned lounge lizard persona, as well as forming an annual double-act with Jenny Pitman at the Grand National. David Coleman was a voice of restraint at the 1972 Munich Olympics in the most tragic and difficult of situations, and his deep but increasingly-warbling tones graced many an athletics or football event regardless of whether the coverage lasted a few minutes or a few hours. In the days before super-slick, technically-advanced, always-available live commentary, horizontally-scrolling headlines and ‘breaking news when we come back after these important messages’, perhaps the days when commentators could rely on creating word paintings have receded.
And perhaps that makes Blofeld’s retirement all the more sad. At 78 he is making the decision to leave before he can no longer do himself justice, which is much the reason Murray Walker gave for bowing out from F1, but the fact that there has been almost universal regret at his stepping down tells us much about who we are. Cricket, like many other sports, is not all moments like the nail-biting run chase in 2005 when England prevailed in the Ashes. Much of it, like life, is finding the humour in the low moments, when the covers are on to protect from the rain, and an enjoyment in observing and mocking with gentle humour which has always been a part of the English national characteristic. So happy retirement Henry. From someone with a passing though not excessive regard for the test game enjoy your moments out of the spotlight, and thanks for being not the national stereotype of the English eccentric who puts warmth, laughter and individuality before success, but the real thing.
DONALD TRUMP: AN ILLEGAL PRESIDENT?
Following Brexit I have become used to waking up to political surprises – and I write this following the Hung Parliament of the 2017 General Election, though more of that later. We have a situation where the leader of the free world is a brash, outspoken businessman, famous for giving people their marching orders.
I remember the moment I knew Trump had won. It was at what seemed his low point, when a recording of him discussing the dating game (to put it at its most politely) on a bus became public, apparently dooming his campaign to failure with even his fellow Republicans queuing up to attack him. But amid the ‘them and us’ atmosphere of recent events (I’m looking at you, Brexit) I think that the public mood had changed. Negative campaigning ‘Project Fear’ was out. Celebrity endorsement was out. Denouncing all of one’s followers as racist and backward was also out.
As with Brexit I was on the ‘other side’. If I were American I’d vote Democrat. But again you can see why the people needed to hear something positive. Yes, there was the constant baiting of ‘Crooked Hilary’, with the call-and-response nature of the demands to ‘lock her up’ eventually backfiring on the victor and leaving a sour taste in the mouth of the public after a particularly unedifying campaign. But the appearance of the likes of Madonna, Katy Perry and Lily Allen denouncing Trump did little to help. In this age have we really descended to the level of “I’ll set my famous chart-topping mates on you”? As someone who’s yet to accept the delights of the current chart-topping trends I do hope not.
And as with Brexit there is also a debate about any possible rerun. There are all sorts of investigations going on into the influence of Russia in the election, and rightly so. Yet ultimately there hasn’t yet been any proof of this, and it would be a dangerous game to assume guilty until proven innocent. Trump was a divisive character long before he entered the political trail, but for all the cracks he’s caused in his own party his message seemed to resonate with America. Are his views and statements of intent really the product of a redundant age if he’s able to win an election? And if so is it in spite of them, or because of them?
The other problem with Trump, and which is now being acknowledged in articles professing an enjoyment of such entertainment, is that he has made serialised political drama redundant. The days of the West Wing are long gone, but House Of Cards (growing up I was always a big fan of the original UK trilogy), at the time of writing in its 5th season, seems oddly low-key. In the past 12 months alone we have not only had a deeply-divisive businessman secure the White House whilst talking of Muslim bans and building walls to keep out Mexicans, but the UK deciding to withdraw from the EU through a public vote, numerous terrorist attacks across Western Europe and political shocks across the free world. Never mind Kevin Spacey’s dastardly asides to camera – who needs those when you can needle the leader of the free world to have 3am outbursts on Twitter? As lavish and stylish as the Netflix series is, it can’t hold a candle to the real thing.
Donald Trump is the embodiment – albeit with added billions – of the drunken uncle with more money than judgment, of more attitude than diplomacy. His brash, seemingly-humourless domineering has shown itself capable of changing the entire mores of the American political arena – during state visits he can quite unconcernedly break off to get involved in a spat with the media. The press, in turn, baulk at the sudden obstructions they face – a president who prefers to deal with them on his own terms. Barack Obama once opined that whilst he might disagree with the views of his fellow Americans he would defend to the hilt their right to speak them – Donald Trump seems to have taken that logic in reverse, that no matter what position his people have put him in he will speak his own mind, come hell or high water. And in an era of political volte-faces that in itself is as shocking as anything else.
WHY ROCK MUSIC NEVER ESCAPED THE 1970s.
When it comes to rock music I love the 1970s best. There we are. No matter how dated the make-up and feather boas of the era of glam-era Bowie, T-Rex and Roxy Music might look now – let alone the ‘brickies in make-up’ of Sweet and Slade or the aliens from another planet of the more obscure Zolar X – might look now, or the precious intellectualism of the progressive rockers that ran alongside them like Genesis or Yes, the confidence and ground-breaking nature of these bands was the high point of rock. Anti-establishmentarians might prefer punk for its confrontational nature, stadium rockers might pine for the 1980s with the likes of U2 and Simple Minds, but for me the 1970s was the time when an English music fan was most spoilt for choice.
It was a time when Britain was captured by ‘scenes’ : the most remarkable thing about the 1970s is just how many scenes there were. Not just glam or prog but folk, hard rock, metal, soul, disco, funk, the aforementioned punk, art-rock post-punk and even the early beginnings of new wave. You could even have a case for saying boy band, if you count the Bay City Rollers as such. These didn’t necessarily have to run in direct, antagonistic competition to each other, except perhaps when punk took on the prog-rock and West Coast scenes with open hostility. But on the whole there was no ‘mods v rockers’ dilemma, no need to belong to one camp or another. It was possible to imagine someone enjoying both the gender-bending fun of Glam before becoming a disciple of disco as that subsequently rose to the fore.
Indeed if glam rock began the vital move towards embracing a kind of alien, polysexual preening, influencing everyone from testosterone-fuelled rockers like Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones, punks like Siouxsie And The Banshees, to new wavers like Ultravox, Icehouse, Japan and the Talking Heads, then progressive rock steered psychedelic rock away from Carnaby Street-clobber and ‘groovy baby’ cliché into an area where intellectual and literary concepts could inhabit pop music and classical and jazz structures could subvert traditional three-minute lengths. Its general reputation for navel-gazing (which overlooks the likes of the innuendo-laden Caravan or the spaced-out trippy humour of Gong) caused it a great deal of unfashionability, particularly on the ascent of punk, but a band such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer reaching number 1 with a record concerning giant armadillos with tank tracks for legs can hardly be said to be pandering to the mainstream.
Why has music not recaptured the drama of this era? Well first of all there’s the theory of ‘two-decades-on repetition’ – if you listen to the 1990s music scene there’s great stuff there, to be sure, but ultimately slightly paler imitations of what came before in the 1970s (which was itself arguably influenced by the 1950s – for one of glam’s origins look at doo-wap, for example). For Suede, read Bowie. For Oasis, read not just The Beatles but the likes of The Faces, T-Rex and even Mott The Hoople. For Blur, The Kinks and for even the lesser-known Gene, The Smiths. All are very worthy bands in their own right but perhaps the British scene was successfully trading on its past glories – only the likes of the Seattle-formed The Smashing Pumpkins showed the ambition, with a double LP concept album like “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness”, had the flair and scope to rival the great works from some 20 years ago.
Second, there’s the change in public tastes. In an era of youtube, and clips of songs or shows to share with people on phones, people’s attention spans are… sorry, I drifted away for a second there… increasingly limited. Even by the end of the millennium relatively experimental artists such as Bowie’s guitarist and foil Reeves Gabrels were complaining that their own works were there to be enjoyed in their entirety, not downloaded in bitesized chunks. The pioneers and technophiles were being overtaken by their audience, and it’s remained a sore point ever since.
And thirdly, the differences in production depending on who was twiddling the knobs for their clients made a vast difference to the success of their records. David Bowie was arguably at his best with Tony Visconti, though this neatly overlooks records such as Hunky Dory and the seminal The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders From Mars, and the same could certainly be said of his old sparring partner Marc Bolan, and Roy Thomas Baker always added that painstaking attention to detail that made Queen’s classic albums such as A Night At The Opera truly grand. I think that nowadays the advances in studio technology, whilst inevitable, have removed some of that flair and individuality.
Yet perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom. The comeback in vinyl, which has started appearing in the likes of Tescos and Sainsburys in the past couple of years and is seemingly rising to again challenge the digital medium, gives hope to those of us who were worried at seeing both the old black discs apparently being ushered into extinction some years ago, to be no doubt followed by the rattle-y old cassette tape. And it’s not just nostalgia either – a vinyl can jump out from a shelf and catch the eye of a visitor to a market stall, record fair or indeed a home, the way a download can’t, and one might say the same about books v kindle, however much easier it is to move house by simply taking a small handheld device rather than a myriad of back-breaking boxes of hardbacks and paperbacks. I know of what I speak.
And if one looks at the download charts the old acts aren’t finished yet. The likes of ELO and even Rick Astley are still able to challenge the likes of Ed Sheeran and get to number 1. What might have been considered niche interests shortly after their ‘heyday’ are getting a look-in, with the reducing quantity of downloads needed to top the charts. The kind of bands and artists once lampooned by Alan Partridge as the essence of square-ness haven’t entirely given up the ghost yet.
FILM – A DYING MEDIUM?
One of the great pleasures of Youtube, for me, is the double-act of Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, most notably when Kermode gives his opinions on the movies released that week and his honest thoughts on their pros and cons. As a lover of film I was brought there for Kermode’s passionate stream-of-invective reviews on anything that was out at the time, giving the same attention to the likes of the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks effort as the more obviously Oscar-grabbing fare. His furious tirades at the shallow blockbusters (particularly anything directed by Michael Bay or starring Gerard Butler) are perfectly offset and subtly encouraged by Mayo’s calm, almost imperceptible teasing and coaxing, much in the manner of Murray Walker’s twinkly-eyed comments to rile James Hunt back in their golden age.
And such tirades are deserved, too. I have always enjoyed going to the cinema, finding that the mere presence, the event, of seeing something on the big screen, with the staccato Pearl and Dean music and the all-fresh trailers, can help to polish a less-than-inspired effort. Independence Day seems an ordinary War Of The Worlds knock-off on a weekday evening on the telly, Welcome To The Jungle seems a rotten attempt to shoehorn Sean William Scott’s notorious ‘Stifler’ persona into a lame action adventure, albeit one in an exotic setting. But watch these at your local multiplex, with the panaromic swoops and sheer sense of spectacle, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable experience on your hands (unless you’re Mr Kermode, of course, whose popcorn may well be routinely poisoned for all I know).
Yet we now seem to be in an era where superhero films, remakes and pointless sequels are de riguer, more than ever before. Remember when the original, Sam Raimi-directed Spiderman films, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, had a strong, original story, which you could follow through the trilogy and see the growth of the characters we’d come to know and love? Money-making may have entered the heads of the film’s makers (there is a certain piece of product placement in the first Spidey film which makes the Bond movies look subtle), yet watching them feels more like an intelligent, well-crafted TV series with enormous production values, beyond even Game Of Thrones. The same could certainly be said of Christopher Nolan’s moodier Dark Knight trilogy, which incorporated among its themes the growing fears of terrorism.
But are such films themselves part of a (very recent) bygone era? We are now faced with an incessant barrage of explosions, quips and post-credits cameos by Samuel L Jackson, as admirable and unique a presence as he is, in order to advertise the next barrage of exploding, quips and post-credits cameos by Samuel L Jackson. We have Transformers and the Pirates Of The Caribbean films which don’t just exist to make money but also seem to exist because they always seem to have done – much like Andy Townsend being a football pundit: was he ever not one? I can genuinely say that the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean is the only time I’ve fallen asleep in a cinema, not at its lack of humour or action but at its inability to convince of its need to exist.
Good art, bad art – it’s all relative. Many will slate Citizen Kane for being old, black and white, or overrated, but the important thing is that art somehow should convince you of its need to exist. Some will lap up the latest Saw films (one of which left me staggering out of the cinema almost unable to breathe or speak properly) or Anchorman efforts for giving them the respective torture-porn or crude comic fix they need. I think ultimately what makes art respectable is the idea that at least they do what’s said on the tin, that we know who they’re aimed at and what they’re trying to do. When all that can be said is that they’re there to make money and be like previous ones then that’s a problem, and that’s even a problem for the likes of the Star Wars sequels, as highly-regarded as they are.
But I am not of the opinion that references to previous great characters or sequences makes a film in itself. A comedy can be judged by its number of laughs, a horror film by its number of moments when the audience hides behind its hands or seeks a partner’s reassuring hand or chest. But now we’ve reached a point where a blockbuster can be judged merely by its explosions and nods to old characters or lines of dialogue, and whether its sales prove it a success. Like many recent Tom Cruise films, we have a feeling that these films don’t really need to be, and it didn’t always seem to be so : even the worst Arnie action film surrounded the various spins on “I’ll be back” or “Get out” with eye-catching performances and many interesting storylines and ideas, particularly in a sci-fi vein.
Sadly my recent visits to the cinema have proven to me a theory that Kermode himself has put forward – that film and TV have started to blend into each other. I went to see a film recently on Britain’s legendary wartime Prime Minister, unsurprisingly entitled Churchill, which despite its strong performance by Brian Cox in the titular role made me think it was essentially the kind of drama you’d expect to catch on Sunday evening on Channel 4. On the other hand I can watch an episode of Game Of Thrones and think it was much more suited to the big screen than the superfluous, franchise-milking Hobbit trilogy, which could easily turn up on a Freeview channel and create a modicum of interest until Gandalf bellows “Run!” for the umpteenth time, or Legolas jumps about more in the style of a computer game than an engrossing fantasy epic. Even the most successful series can end up turning into the merchandise it once inspired.
Film has to ‘matter’. More than TV drama, more than TV comedy, I really feel there has to be a point – something which separates the Toby Maguire trilogy from the subsequent ones. A well-written review of The Amazing Spiderman, the first to star Andrew Garfield, made the point that everything about the film seemed to work perfectly well, apart from its need to exist in the first place. That isn’t to decry Garfield’s performance, or Rhys Ifans’ either. But I see the point : it concerns me when art simply exists to keep existing. And in its remorselessly-hyped need to exist it all but drowns out a one-off screening of a black-and-white effort from the Congo, which you subsequently hear is the kind of masterpiece that would change your life except you didn’t know it was on and now you can’t remember what it was called.
And at the risk of pleasing their old fans the studios that churn out the identikit blockbusters just end up saddening them. Having bemused fans at the sight of the aged Harrison Ford gamely but wearily battling aliens in Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull, which only succeeded in bringing back memories of the iconic character’s debut and making the more mature members of the audience wonder where the plot as well as the intervening time had gone, we not only have the sight of Hans Solo being hauled out of retirement only to be killed off but in Ford being brought back in Blade Runner 2049 (assuming the film is set in the future rather than being prematurely advertised). And on top of all the other unexpected sequels popping up all over the place we even have the mooted Mary Poppins 2, which hauls Dick Van ‘Cockernee’ Dyke back into the front line. Whether he will be indulging in CGI-assisted sweeping routines remains to be seen, of course, but it’s not something I’m aware the general public were crying out for.
But perhaps we get the cinema we deserve. As Mr Kermode has stated if we all go and watch Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 or Transformers : The Last Knight (even the titles seem to be becoming derivative) in our droves we’re merely encouraging the endless sausage machine to continue pushing out sausages. All the critical drubbings in the world don’t seem to matter much when box-office records are being shattered. But what a shame that blockbuster films can’t fight back against the growing threat of the download on demand boxset by showing a bit of a sparkle, a little originality or panache. It’d just be lovely to go to see a movie which makes you think as well as gives you the explosions and big names, and pander to the lowest common denominator.
BREXIT: (A DISUNITED KINGDOM) PART 2.
It is June 23 2017 as I write this. Exactly a year after the Brexit vote we are not really a great deal further forward. What I know of our destination could probably be written on the back of a fag packet, if one could squeeze any words between the alarming pictures of decaying humans and strangely-alluring pronouncements that smokers die younger but live faster (or words to that effect). Even as a non-smoker I wonder whether the Government will repel or attract new people to the weed.
Yet in some ways much has changed, albeit for the worse. We have a Prime Minister who called an election to strengthen her hand (her sentiment) against the EU negotiators, though what we actually got was a weakened Conservative government despondently finding themselves with a Hung Parliament, and entering into an arrangement with the Northern Irish DUP to help them possibly just about win vital votes in the House Of Commons. No-one seems to agree on quite how much we’re paying out but virtually everyone seems unhappy about – the SNP, the Welsh Assembly, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, you name it. An attempt to unite the country hit rather a snag in the form of the much-stronger-than-expected Jeremy Corbyn.
I’m not a Labour supporter personally but I found a positive glow from the more relaxed demeanour of Corbyn. He seemed much more of a natural campaigner than any of his peers in England, and showed a ruthless ability to capitalise on Teresa May’s wobbles, such as his last-minute change of mind on attending the leaders debate and humiliate her in her absence simply by being there. He breezily dealt with a series of stumbling interviews for himself as well as his shadow cabinet by making light of them, and seemed to grow beyond belief as a media performer. In many ways his smiling demeanour and John McDonnell’s bragging that they would be looking to form a Government unaided by any smaller parties – no coalitions of chaos here, thank you – showed a confidence that had ebbed away from the Conservative party that nominally won the election.
So what are we left with? Teresa May’s Conservatives – which during the campaign seemed to suffer an identity crisis rather similar to a boy band member going solo only to subsequently slink back to his old troupe when individual success eluded them) that lost its majority by trying to extend it. A Hung Parliament where we were supposed to have a largely blue House pushing for a red-white-and-blue Brexit (quite). A manifesto for the supposedly-winning party which seems to have been totally shredded within days of success, some of its policies at the whim of the DUP’s 10 MPs compared to the Conservatives’ 317. An unofficial coalition-style arrangement from the party that decried the ‘coalition of chaos’ they said would result if the progressive parties prevailed. “Nothing Has Changed!” Teresa May cried desperately as the manifesto pledge on dementia tax was proven to have been amended. Much has changed, as it turns out – to the ongoing befuddlement of the EU.
What are we supposed to make of all this? Wave our union flags – which by the way I’m still of the opinion do a disservice for Wales, surely there must be a representation for the Welsh dragon on there, breathing fire on the flag and setting it ablaze – outside Brussels in a permanent street party? We live in a time where European cities have faced almost constant terrorist attacks. It concerns me that when resources were demanded for dealing with this, whether thousands more bobbies on the beat or investment in other methods – the focus is being taken off this and any raises in taxes perhaps being put aside for one part of the United Kingdom. And there are further concerns, too. I’ve attended Belfast and found it a fascinating place, wanting to see first-hand the city that used to be on the news on what seemed a daily basis when I was growing up, for all the wrong reasons. Taking a trip up the Shankhill Road and seeing the peace wall in person made me realise just how precarious the Peace Process is, and speaking to residents how they would dread a return to the kind of friction that few in the United Kingdom outside Ulster could comprehend.
Yet on the other hand, can we block the arrangement, even if the cynic in me can hardly be on board with the Conservatives’ claim that this arrangement has solely been put in place to be good for Britain? On the BBC’s Question Time Gina Miller – along with the abdicating Tim Farron and the de-seated Nick Clegg one of the leaders of the Remain cause – passionately defended the rights of Teresa May to form a government under the current rules, in the face of shouting opposition from a Corbynista. The member of the audience was duly asked to leave by David Dimbleby, to the pleasure of the rest of the crowd, which in many ways was an upset of the usual pattern of the Labour MPs in the panel often being alleged to get preferential treatment.
As with most of the other topics I have covered here, we are in a state of flux, of change, even if the change can lead to places once visited. The Beatles mentioned it on The Long And Winding Road as their career together was drawing to an end, Bob Dylan became synonymous with changing times, and the legendary David Bowie virtually personified the process of change. We live in times where we no longer have a time or place we could call home, where politics, film and pop music which once complimented or reacted to each other, seem to have no connection to the others at all. Now we will not even have Henry Blofeld sweetening the pill of a rainy afternoon at Lords. Will we still be in the EU when you read this, will Trump still be President, will there be a wall between the USA and Mexico, will Liverpool FC have finally won the Premier League? You tell me!
About The Author and Other Books
Laurence Buxton was born in Worcester in 1974 and currently lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.
He has written “The Idol” in 2005/2006, Mandy And The Missing : Ascent Of The Absent in 2014 and the second in the series, Mandy And The Missing : A Deadly Deception, in 2016. There are a further 4 books planned for the Mandy And The Missing series. Laurence is also in the process of creating a new book, “Guilty Conscience”.
As well as writing Laurence enjoys socialising, motor sport, walking, football (he is a fan of Liverpool FC) and attending literary festivals and music gigs.
Contact Laurence on or
This book was written principally in response to the Brexit earthquake, but also as a comment on some of the quirks of Britain and the Western World in general. From the decline of the British high street, the increase in impersonal interactions between the population, the increasingly mechanical nature of the moviemaking world - these are just some of the topics covered here. I'm also distributing this book free of charge as an introduction to my work, and as an attempt to get people thinking, amused, or both. Please be aware all opinions are those of the author and he respects yours too!