Thursday, July 16

A complaint to Transport For London.

Just submitted this complaint to their website:

This complaint regards the driver of train number [xxxxx], Central Line, which left Mile End at [xx:xx].

I was on this train from Liverpool Street to Mile End. During that short time, the driver made two announcements to tell passengers to stop leaning on the doors. The first announcement started "I don't know how many times I have to tell you." The second started "Cars three and seven have passengers who can't understand the PA announcements." His tone of voice was what you'd expect for that sort of phrasing: annoyed, hectoring, condescending, borderline sarcastic.

Firstly, I hope you agree that, regardless of the purpose of the announcements, this is a completely inappropriate way to talk to customers.

Secondly, although I was not in car three or car seven so don't know how crowded they were, I am sure you are aware that the Central Line in rush hour is often so crowded that it is literally impossible not to put pressure on the doors. Telling passengers to stay away from the doors doesn't make it possible for them to do so. Telling them rudely is no less ineffective than telling them politely.

Finally, London is a popular destination for tourists and migrants. There were almost certainly people on the train who could not understand the announcements, as there are all across the Tube network every hour of every day. Since tourism is a major source of the funds that pay TFL drivers' salaries, it would make sense for said drivers not to be rude or abusive to non-English-speakers.

Please do raise these matters with the driver in question.

Thank you for your time.

Joseph Kynaston Reeves

I don't expect the Tube to be nice, and it would never even occur to me to complain about, say, overcrowding or dirtiness, but getting on a train and hearing the driver say "I don't know how many times I have to tell you" over the PA like Ray Winstone teaching kindergarten really takes the fucking biscuit.

I'll let you know if they reply.

Wednesday, July 1

Sex for toddlers.

On one hand, in a world of politicians obsessed with power and influence, it makes a pleasant change to see that Norman Lamb is so uncorrupted by such desires that he's in the running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats. On the other hand, this shit:

So for example, should they should have gay characters in Peppa Pig, or is there a limit?

If you impose arbitrary limits, you’re saying that actually at heart, it’s not equatable. It should absolutely not be out of bounds, which it appears to be at the moment.

It is inconsistent with the philosophy that has led to the legislation. That’s the principle point. So, we have to be clear and consistent.

Clear and consistent, eh? Consistent with what? Well:

We must have compulsory sex and relationships education in all state schools, including faith schools, in a way that makes no assumptions as to whom those learning will choose as their future partner.

So Lamb's position is that the force of law must be used by the state to force people to teach that homosexuality is good even if they believe it is bad — his reference to faith schools makes that clear. And he believes that the same approach — a consistent approach — should be used to force television producers to put homosexuality into childrens' programs whether they want to or not. Even programs for children as young as one, which is what Peppa Pig is.

I have two objections to this.

Firstly, I don't actually care whether they put a same-sex couple into Peppa Pig. Maybe the geniuses at Astley Baker Davies will do so one day; maybe they're already planning to. And maybe they won't. But they're extremely good at this stuff, so I am confident that, if they did, they'd do it well.

But it's up to them. It's not up to a bloody politician to dictate the content of TV shows. Really, this is Soviet stuff. Just no.

A true liberal — one who knew what the word "liberal" means — would have answered a question about putting gay characters into Peppa Pig with "Why are you asking me? I don't make the show. Talk to its producers." But no, Lamb is an authoritarian meddler. He wants control of everything. He's Home Secretary material. No, that's not a compliment.

Secondly, if a gay character were to be in Peppa Pig, it's not as if they'd be having sex on screen, is it? None of the heterosexual characters do. It's a show for small children. And there are already plenty of unmarried adult characters in Peppa. So how does Lamb know none of them are gay? I don't, and I know the show inside-out. He doesn't actually mean he wants gay characters in the show; he means he wants obviously gay characters in the show — a show with no sex or mention of sex or vague allusions to sex in it, ever. Really, he can only mean that he wants a character obsessed with musicals who makes bitchy comments about everyone's shoes and flounces around like a turkey on a trampoline.

And isn't that a tad ... you know ... prejudiced on his part?


Wednesday, June 10

Nodding and smiling.

In 1992, pollsters got the General Election wrong because they had no idea (even though it's, you know, their job to know these things) about the Shy Tory Effect. Afterwards, studying what went wrong, they discovered the Shy Tory Effect. Since then, they have expent considerable effort on adjusting their methodologies to take account of the Shy Tory Effect. Until finally, this year, they got completely caught off guard (even though it's, you know, their job to know these things) by the Shy Tory Effect. Twice. After all these years of effort, they've progressed from being flummoxed by the unknown to being befuddled by the known. Progress.

So what should the pollsters be looking at, that they aren't? Well, I reckon they could do a lot worse than watching Facebook.

I like Facebook. It enables me to keep in touch with friends (something I am otherwise quite bad at, partly because my friends are scattered around the globe and partly because I just am quite bad at it). We swap silly stories and jokes and have some quite fun and interesting conversations. I know very few people whose updates consist entirely of "Spaghetti for dinner! Woohoo!" (though, to be fair, all my friends know at least one person who goes on and on about his bloody lunch). Facebook is the Web's version of a living room. Or it is when it's at its best, anyway.

Lately, it has not been at its best.

Come round to my living room, and we might converse about many things: kids, work, music, holidays we're looking forward to, just how bloody great Peppa Pig is (really fucking great being the answer to that one), and, yes, quite possibly a bit of politics. That last is tricky, though. Some of my friends agree with me about lots of things, and we can have a good old eye-roll together about how people genuinely thought Ed Miliband was Prime Minister material. (No, really, they did.) Some of them agree with me about almost nothing but are perfectly happy to have a good-natured argument with no hurt feelings. And some live in the Lefty Echo Chamber, in which case I do the sensible thing and don't talk about politics, because disagreement confuses and upsets them, and — and this is the crucial bit — they're my friends. I don't particularly want to confuse and upset my friends. As the old proverb says, better to offer another slice of cake than to laugh about Ed Balls. (Though I understand Yvette does both.)

This used to be a fundamental and well observed rule of social interaction: "Don't mention politics." You didn't do it down the pub, certainly. It wasn't an absolute law: everyone understood there were exceptions, and it was fine when you knew you were surrounded by the like-minded. But, in a mixed group of people, gathered together because of their shared enthusiasm for drinking or Renoir or Abba or (hey, who hasn't?) all three at once, you just didn't do it, because doing so would almost certainly turn a perfectly nice time into a heated argument. And what is Facebook, if it isn't a disparate bunch of people with a lot more setting them apart than they have in common? That's what friends are.

On the Right, the rule is still observed, mostly. On the Left, it's been kicked to death.

Now, I've mentioned before Brian Micklethwait's dictum that it's important, when people espouse political beliefs you disagree with, to let them know that you disagree with them. Not to have a big fight, perhaps not even to have a polite debate, but just to let them know that you disagree. That way, they are informed that people they know, people moving in their own circles, normal people disagree with them. People who are never reminded of that fact can all too easily make a terrible mistake. Every time they mention their politics, no-one ever disagrees with them. Everyone nods and smiles. They can come to believe that their politics are completely unremarkable. They can come to believe that the people they hear about or see on TV who hold opposing views are just some crazy weird statistical outliers.

It never occurs to them that half the people nodding and smiling are doing so not because they agree, but because they don't. They're waiting for the conversation to move onto something less contentious. They're being polite.

I agree with Brian, so, although I very very rarely start a political conversation on Facebook, if someone else does, I join in. I let them know there's another side. But I'm odd that way. Most right-wingers are not doing that. They're nodding and smiling.

And not just out of politeness. It used to be just politeness, but the whole thing has been exacerbated by the Left's new zeal for ideological enforcement via outrage. Over the last ten years or so, a significant faction of the Left have moved from disagreeing with views they dislike to banning them. Sometimes they manage to get the law on their side, as with the recent Northern Irish case where it has been ruled that it is actually illegal to refuse to write a slogan supporting a political cause you disagree with. (That's going to be a fun legal precedent when someone demands a cake with a swastika on it, isn't it? Or perhaps someone could commission a Muslim artist to draw Mohammed?) But, when they can't get the law's help, no matter: they just gather thousands of people together and make their target's life hell anyway.

Brendan Eich: sacked for holding the completely unremarkable belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Not just disagreed with, not just shouted at. His employer was hassled and harassed until continuing to employ him was getting in the way of everyday business, so they backed down to the ideological enforcers and sacked him. And how did the enforcers know what his views were on marriage? Because left-wing agents of the IRS leaked confidential details of people's private political donations to their comrades. Illegal, immoral, and corrupt, but good luck finding a left-winger who gives a fuck. All in a good cause, right?

That PlayHaven developer: sacked for making a pun to a friend in a private conversation. Justine Sacco: sacked and issued with death threats and hounded into hiding, not even for disagreeing with left-wing orthodoxy, but for agreeing with it but using irony to make her point. Irony! Eek!

I know some people on the Web were suggesting that my employers should be hounded into sacking me for the thought-crime of pricking a third-rate comedian's ego. I'm glad that campaign didn't take off. I've got into flame wars online for supporting gay marriage but disagreeing with the idea that it's marriage "equality" and pointing out that the oft-cited "right to marry the person you're in love with" supposedly enjoyed by straight people is entirely fictitious. As I've said before, this is insane: flying off the handle at people who support your cause but don't agree with every single opinion you hold is just bad politics. If your local Labour candidate turns up on your doorstep and you tell them you intend to vote Labour, they don't start screaming at you because you disagree with them about trade union block votes. They're happy to accept the votes of people with a wide range of views. All successful democratic political movements are coalitions — they have to be. That's not to say that non-coalitions can't be successful. They can succeed. By being undemocratic. Or, worse, antidemocratic. Which is exactly what you're being when you stir up an online mob to punish someone for having the wrong thoughts.

Into this toxic new environment, the modern lefty places onto Facebook a link to the latest hateful frothing from The Guardian: "SO TRUE!" What are their friends going to do? Express support for Israel's right to self-defence? Point out that a four-year study by the EPA has failed to find one iota of evidence that fracking pollutes water supplies? Say "Actually, I work for banks, and I'd appreciate it if you, who claim to be my friend, would stop publicly advocating for my salary to be confiscated and my family to lose their home"? Knowing that the public release of our opinions could lead to a flame war, the loss of friends, death threats, and the harassment of our employer until they sack us? Sure, it probably won't, but who wants to take on that sort of risk when they can just scroll down and their next friend has posted a really good cat video? Especially when the reason most of us are even on Facebook is for fun.

No, mostly, you nod and smile.

And thus was constructed the Lefty Echo Chamber. We've ended up with the political equivalent of those morbidly fascinating early-rounds X Factor contestants: people who aren't just offended by criticism but have trouble getting their heads around the idea that people who might criticise them even exist. It's totally outside their experience. I mean, for God's sake, The Guardian actually published this:

Why it’s OK to cry about this election

And it's somehow not a parody.

I finally broke down properly at around 6pm on Friday, when I allowed myself, finally, to think about my little brother, who is severely disabled, and what might happen to him. Whether I should grab him and run for the hills so that we could camp down together under warm, soft blankets and not come down again until the bad people have gone.

Seriously.

The nodding and smiling is getting wearing, though. It's tiring, watching people you like slag you off in public, in front of you, and turning the other cheek. Especially if you're just there for fun. It's like throwing a dinner party to which a bunch of the guests turn up carrying placards saying "FUCK YOU". And there's no middle-ground allowed in your reaction: you can cut them off forever or you can put up with it. A friend of mine told me recently (offline) how angry it made him, being put in the constant position of detesting people he knows he likes. On the subject of one particular friend: "She's lovely, and I want to keep in touch for the sake of old times, but oh my God could she just shut the fuck up?" He's sick of having his friends' politics thrown at him constantly whilst knowing how appallingly those same friends would react if he were to express his own views online. He's sick of being harangued.

So's Tom Conti:

A frequent visitor to my house in London regularly used the expression ‘Tory sh*tes’ – often in front of my in-laws who were Tory but far from sh*tes. Educated, civilised people, they bore it in silence. Conversely, I have never heard Tory friends express hatred for anyone.

I mentioned earlier that I do, very occasionally, start conversations about politics on Facebook. I have two criteria. Firstly, the thing I'm linking to has to be interesting above and beyond its mere political content. So, for instance, I recently mentioned this policy advice from the Adam Smith Institute to the Labour Party, not because I agree with all of it but because it was interesting how these policies from a right-wing think-talk would actually not be out of place in a left-wing party — some of them I first saw coming from the Left, in fact.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have to be up for a fight.

For I was raised on the Left, and the idea of talking about politics without arguing is bizarre to me. But then that was the Old Left. Brian Micklethwait (yes, him again) said to me the other day how he's finding the Communists to be quite reasonable and civilised these days — because Communists (at least as long as you don't let them have an actual country) have always been all about the debate. Endless, endless debate about every bloody thing, sure — but that's infinitely better than this modern penchant for refusing to believe that there even is a debate.

The denizens of the Lefty Echo Chamber don't talk about politics in order to have a debate. They talk about politics in order to declare an allegiance. "Here's a thing I agree with," they say, and their Facebook wall starts to fill up with friends saying, "Damn straight," "Well said," "Couldn't agree more," "Such a good point." What's the fucking point of that? I struggle to imagine anything more tedious.

Not everyone on the New Left lives permanently in the Lefty Echo Chamber, thank fuck. Some of my friends are up for an argument — which is just as well, since they have me in their lives. But sometimes they get exasperated and wish I'd shut up. In which case, I think, "Well, if you don't want to talk about politics, don't talk about politics."

But a handful of now ex friends have been quite firmly ensconced in the Lefty Echo Chamber, and have simply cut me off for not toeing the line. One man — a man I once defended from bastards on the Internet, ironically — unfriended me and, I think, will never be in contact again because I pointed out that Mitt Romney is quite a nice guy. One very old friend turned his Facebook wall into a constant barrage of ranting abuse against bankers, laced with a profound ignorance of finance dressed up as expertise, and hasn't been in touch on- or offline for years because I, though polite, didn't just sit there and take it. And one friend, whose Facebook wall was basically just the US Democratic Party's Twitter feed, was so abusive towards me for disagreeing that I had to unfriend her. Her only purpose in mentioning politics was to collect sycophancy. Disagreement was not allowed. Well, fuck that. Why would I sign up to a service where I get harangued and am not allowed to answer back? Because that service is offered by a friend? That makes it worse, not better.

But even most of my friends who are willing to have an argument still have one foot in the Lefty Echo Chamber. What else could explain their reaction to the election result? Not just disappointment or upset but sheer uncomprehending bafflement. They have almost no experience of the existence of Tories, yet it turns out loads of people voted for them. Who are these people?

These people are the ones nodding and smiling. You know lots of them — statistically, unless you're in Scotland, it is highly likely that around half your friends voted Tory. Hey, some of your friends probably voted UKIP. Yes, even though you've been calling them "evil stupid Nazis" for years, to their faces. They still did it. They just didn't tell you. Because they knew, with absolute certainty, that you'd be an arsehole about it.

Like Rebecca Roache, for instance, who is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of London and was a research fellow in philosophy at Oxford, and who became briefly famous for writing this drivel:

If you’re a Conservative, I’m not your friend

One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.

This makes me profoundly glad to have studied philosophy at the country's leading philosophy department. I mean, I hear Oxford is considered quite prestigious, and yet they're still producing philosophers this laughably stupid?

Firstly, let's not get confused by Roache's deliberate conflation of the Facebook Like button with an actual literal liking. (I say "deliberate" because I'm assuming she's not a total fuckwit.) The Like button simply defines what you get in your news feed. I'm pretty sure every political journalist in the country Likes the Conservatives' and UKIP's pages — and Labour's, and the SNP's, and probably the British Communist Party's. Frankly, a philosophy lecturer with a declared interest in the study of ethics should be doing the same. I mean, come on: you want to teach ethics but you don't want to be exposed to various ethical systems? The message here is clear as a bell: Don't study philosophy at Oxford or London, kids.

But now look at what Roache had to do in order to unfriend her right-wing ex friends: she had to check their Likes. Why? Because they didn't fill their Facebook feeds with their politics — if they had, she wouldn't have had to check. Did Roache do the same? No, obviously not: there's not much in her public feed, but enough to leave little doubt about her politics. And we are talking about someone who told the world that she can't even bear to have right-wing friends here. She's not exactly shy about expressing her opinion.

So here's the glaringly obvious thing that appears not to have even occurred to Roache: All those people she cut off because she couldn't bear the thought of even knowing them were people who kept seeing her proclaim her views, who disagreed with those views, who no doubt found some of what she said outright offensive, and yet they remained her friends anyway. How self-absorbed do you need to be not to realise that this is something to be valued, not thrown away?

As I said above, that is what friends are.

All that being said, diss Peppa Pig and you're dead to me. Some things are just... I can't even... Just no.

Sunday, March 15

He aten't dead.

Fear is strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.

When people recount their favourite Terry Pratchett quotes, they tend to concentrate on the hilarious and sarcastic and silly. And, you know, he was good at that. But if he'd merely been one of the funniest writers on the planet, he wouldn't've been half as successful. What made him truly great — the reason he got accused of literature — was stuff like the above, from Small Gods.

I miss Terry Pratchett.

Thursday, February 19

Great moments in middle age.

It is the thirteenth of February. I am purchasing a card in WH Smith. I take my purchase to the till. The till woman looks at me and says, in borderline incredulous tones, "You do know this is a Valentine's card you're buying, yeah?"

Pretty sure that never happens to Russell Brand.

Wednesday, January 28

On the upcoming general election.

People who know me keep asking me how comes I'm not totally into the election coverage like it's the greatest thing ever; how comes I appear to hate it even more than people who aren't interested in politics. Well:

Politics is fascinating, because it's simply about people and how they can live together. What could be more interesting or important? Elections, however, are not about politics. They are about politicians.

Tuesday, January 13

Offence.

There's been a lot of this over the last few days:

There’s a perfectly good reason not to republish the cartoons that has nothing to do with cowardice or caution. I refuse to post them because I think they’re racist and offensive. I can support your right to publish something, and still condemn what you publish.

....

This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do.

This is a very good point — right up till the killing starts. At that moment, the cartoon ceases merely to mean what it explicitly and literally means and takes on the extra implicit meanings of support for freedom of speech and solidarity with those who exercise it. Obviously.

(And let's just get this out of the way at the start: I'm not going to publish cartoons of Mohammed on this blog because I am frightened of violent reprisals. I hope I would be brave enough to publish them if I were single. But I'm not, and, during the Kerfuffle, I had people tracking down my family and harassing them, including poking around my back garden. If reporters can do that, so can Salafists. If it were just me, I'd risk it, but I won't risk my kids. Anyway.)

Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity. When a rabid Islamophobic rightist killed 77 Norwegians in 2011, most of them at a political party’s youth camp, I didn’t notice many #IAmNorway hashtags, or impassioned calls to join the Norwegian Labor Party.

Well. Have the NAACP stopped doing what they do? Have Americans responded to the bombing by ceasing their support for civil rights? Have non-racist Americans started being racist because the bomber wants them to? Nope. Did the AUF respond to Breivik's killing spree by disbanding? Did Norwegians respond by abandoning the Labour Party? Have sane non-racist Norwegians started being racist and embracing batshit conspiracy theories because Breivik wanted them to? Nope. Have most Western media outlets responded to the Paris shootings — and previous violent intimidations — by refusing to publish the cartoons, just as the killers want them to? Why, yes, so they have. It seems to me that that is a rather crucial distinction.

So, maybe there have been some other cases, cases where the intimidated have responded to their non-Muslim intimidators by doing exactly what they don't want them to do? Funny you should ask.

On Thursday the 11th of July 2002, Peter Tatchell, George Melly, and a crowd of like-minded lovers of freedom stood on the steps of St Martins-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square and read out James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which says that Jesus was gay. Then they challenged the police and the DPP to prosecute them for blasphemy. And that protest is the reason why blasphemy is no longer illegal in England & Wales.

So my response to those who think they shouldn't publish cartoons of Mohammed because they're offensive is to ask these two questions.

Firstly, do you think Peter Tatchell really believes that Jesus was gay?

Secondly, does that even matter?

The reason we have freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and universal suffrage in the UK is not that we sat around and waited to be given them. It is that some brave men and women quite deliberately set out to do precisely what they were told not to. I don't see that it matters whether the people telling us what not to do are intimidating us with threats of prosecution or threats of murder. Either way, we should salute those who piss them off.

Thursday, January 8

Provocation and stupidity.

On days like today, I expect hordes of bien-pensants bastards to be eagerly queuing up to blame the victims for their own murders. Give it a day, maybe two. But The Financial Times are apparently trying to set some sort of appeasement speed record, so jumped the queue and published a quite despicable piece by Tony Barber while the bodies were still warm. Publish and be damned — and they are.

This is their current version of the article, with the rather disingenuous disclaimer

This article is an expanded and updated version of an earlier blog posted on January 7

Expanded and updated? Redacted in the face of over a thousand hostile comments, more like. The particularly nasty bits of the original are preserved here:

In other words, Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.

This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.

Perhaps Tony Barber thinks that he, a man who invokes Voltaire only to undermine him, is a convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. The freedom to say whatever you want, so long as you agree only to say what the men with guns tell you to. No thanks.

Here's what the "stupid" Charb said in 2012:

"We are provocative today. We will be provocative tomorrow. I do this because it's our job to draw about actuality," he said.

He said his job was not to defend freedom of speech. "But without freedom of speech we are dead. We can't live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat."

Barber is apparently too fucking thick to appreciate that the staff of Charlie-Hebdo were bravely fighting for exactly what makes his own job possible. They weren't stupid; their latest publication wasn't a fuck-up. They knew the risks, and took them anyway — including publishing the Danish cartoons back when every newspaper in the UK bravely declined to do so. I appreciate why an editor might choose not to publish such things, but I wish they'd be honest about it: just admit they're frightened. A lot of us are, and that's understandable — and worth talking about. Instead, time and time again, we have to put up with this mealy-mouthed smug bollocks about how "We're not frightened, oh no, and we're still staunch supporters of the freedom of the press, but the thing is, we're just far more intelligent and sensitive than those crass cartoonists. Sensitive to the people who are threatening to kill us if we don't do what they want. But we're not frightened. Honestly, what a preposterous notion."

Even redacted, Barber's piece is still awful. He wants to talk about the real threat facing France: the possibility that Le Front National might get more votes.

Surveys show that a majority of French people rejects racism and dislikes extremism

he helpfully informs us, referring not to the extremism of the Al Qaeda cell who gunned down twelve innocent people in cold blood today but to the extremism of people who might restrict immigration.

Look, I have no particular love for France's (or any country's) National Front, but, whatever we might think of their manifesto, can we at least agree that they don't commit mass murder? And that, therefore, while the bodybags are still being wheeled out of the building, the Real Problem That Needs To Be Addressed is not that someone somewhere might consider voting for them? The real problem is the mass murder. The real problem is the assault on freedom of speech. If you're a journalist and that assault has worked on you, that is understandable and I sympathise, I really do. But what you need to do is shut up. Ignore the subject. Go write a piece about trout fishing. Don't try to pretend you're supporting the cause you have so readily abandoned by pissing on the graves of those who died for it.

As an antidote to Barber's despicable swill, I recommend reading Claire Berlinski's visceral reaction. She was there. And she has something more accurate and more distressing to say about freedom of speech:

President François Hollande said the trivial: “No barbaric act will ever extinguish the freedom of the press.” That the statement is self-falsifying seemed to bother him little: That barbaric act literally extinguished the press. Literally. They are dead. Their freedom is thus of little relevance.

Charb, Cabu, Tignous, Honoré, Wolinski, Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat, Frédéric Boisseau, Michel Renaud, Moustapha Ourad, Merabet Ahmed, Franck Brinsolaro: Rest in peace.

Philippe Lancon, Fabrice Nicolino, Laurent Sourisseau, and the unnamed police officers: Get well soon.

Tony Barber: Go to hell.

Thursday, December 18

The aftermath.

Back in the day, I used to blog quite a lot. I built up a regular readership, until I could rely on around 800 hits a day. Wow, 800 hits, I thought. That's impressive, I thought. Some days, it was 1000. Amazing.

I don't blog much any more, don't have the same sort of following. I mean, I blog like four times a year now. The other day, I thought, hey, this post's actually pretty good. Might get a bit of attention. It might even get really big — like, 1000 hits. Maybe even 2000.

Then Tim Worstall blogged it. Then he Tweeted it. Several thousand people read it. SEVERAL THOUSAND. It was amazing. Then Marc Andreessen Tweeted it.

And then all hell broke loose.

It's been the weirdest day of my life. Which sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? If you'd suggested to me a week ago that having a blog post go viral could result in the weirdest day of my life, I'd've thought you were deranged. It's just a load of people reading some of my writing. How weird could it be? And, you know, I've had some pretty weird days. But — trust me on this — going unexpectedly viral is seriously bloody weird.

The post's been reproduced in so many places, it's no longer possible to track how much it's being read. Looks like at least a quarter of a million people. It's in the papers — not just online, but in print. I am famous. For fifteen minutes, at least.

Everything I wanted to say about Brand and RBS, I said. I won't be revisiting the topic. My apologies to those of you who are apparently gagging for more. I find it bizarre that anyone might think that that piece constituted insufficient writing, but hey. My favourite comment I've seen on the Interwebs so far:

Maybe book 2 will come out soon.

To those journalists wanting interviews: Sorry, but no. It's not my forte. If you want to discuss this further, please contact RBS's press office. They're very nice people.

To those journalists who have decided to harass my family: Please stop it. Sneaking around people's back gardens is not exactly classy. And I can save you some time anyway: you're not going to find any dirt on me. Not because I'm wonderful, but because I'm dull. I literally cannot think of anything someone might say about me that would be worth the expense of tracking it down. "Sometimes he wears a silly hat." "He claims to prefer Elementary to Sherlock." "When he gets proper drunk, he can be a bit of a hugger."

To everyone who's contacted me: Thank you so much, and I'm sorry I can't reply to you all.

To the multitudes who are sending me social media connection requests: If I don't know you in a face-to-face sort of a way, I'll be ignoring you. Sorry. I'm sure most of you are lovely, but I'm equally sure some of you aren't, and I can't tell which. Social media just turned into a minefield for me, so I'm throwing away the rollerblades. I'm sure you understand.

Finally, I would like to say that the news sites that have made "Bloke writes about his lunch" their third or fourth top story, considering that the first two right now are Pakistan and Sydney, should be ashamed of themselves.

Anyway, my next plan is to slag off 1 Direction. What could go wrong?

Tuesday, December 16

An open letter to Russell Brand.

Dear Russell,

Hi. I'm Jo. You may remember me. You may even have filmed me. On Friday, you staged a publicity stunt at an RBS office, inconveniencing a hundred or so people. I was the lanky slouched guy with a lot less hair than you but (I flatter myself) a slightly better beard who complained to you that you, a multimillionaire, had caused my lunch to get cold. You started going on at me about public money and bankers' bonuses, but look, Russell, anyone who knows me will tell you that my food is important to me, and I hadn't had breakfast that morning, and I'd been standing in the freezing cold for half an hour on your whim. What mattered to me at the time wasn't bonuses; it was my lunch, so I said so.

Which is a great shame, because I'd usually be well up for a proper barney with you, and the points you made do actually deserve answers. Although not — and I really can't emphasise this enough, Russell — not as much as I deserve lunch.

Before I go any further, I should stress that I don't speak for RBS. I'm not even an RBS employee, though I do currently work for them. What follows is not any sort of official statement from RBS, or even from the wider banking industry. It is merely the voice of a man whose lunch on Friday was unfairly delayed and too damn cold.

So, firstly, for the people who weren't there, let's describe the kerfuffle. I didn't see your arrival; I just got back from buying my lunch to discover the building's doors were locked, a film crew were racing around outside trying to find a good angle to point their camera through the windows, and you were in reception, poncing around like you were Russell bleeding Brand. From what I can gather, you'd gone in and security had locked the doors to stop your film crew following you. Which left us — the people who were supposed to be in the building, who had work to do — standing around in the cold.

My first question is, what were you hoping to achieve? Did you think a pack of traders might gallop through reception, laughing maniacally as they threw burning banknotes in the air, quaffing champagne, and brutally thrashing the ornamental paupers that they keep on diamante leashes — and you, Russell, would damningly catch them in the act? But that's on Tuesdays. I get it, Russell, I do: footage of being asked to leave by security is good footage. It looks like you're challenging the system and the powers that be want your voice suppressed. Or something. But all it really means, behind the manipulative media bullshit, is that you don't have an appointment.

Of course, Russell, I have no idea whether you could get an appointment. Maybe RBS top brass would rather not talk to you. That's their call — and, you know, some of your behaviour might make them a tad wary. Reputations are very important in banking, and, reputation-wise, hanging out with a guy who was once fired for broadcasting hardcore pornography while off his head on crack is not ideal. But surely a man who can get invited onto Question Time to discuss the issues of the day with our Lords & Masters is establishment enough to talk to a mere banker. And it would be great if you could. Have you tried, Russell? Maybe you could do an interview with one of them. An expert could answer your questions and rebut your points, and you could rebut right back at them. I might even watch that. (By the way, Russell, if you do, and it makes money, I would like a cut for the idea, please. And I'm sure it would. Most things you do make money.)

But instead of doing something potentially educational, Russell, you staged a completely futile publicity stunt. You turned up and weren't allowed in. Big wow. You know what would have happened if a rabid capitalist had just turned up unannounced? They wouldn't have been allowed in either. You know what I have in my pocket? A security pass. Unauthorised people aren't allowed in. Obviously. That's not a global conspiracy, Russell; it's basic security. Breweries have security too, and that's not because they're conspiring to steal beer from the poor. And security really matters: banks are simply crawling with highly sensitive information. Letting you in because you're a celebrity and You Demand Answers could in fact see the bank hauled in front of the FCA. That would be a scandal. Turning you away is not. I'm sorry, Russell, but it's just not.

Your response to my complaint that a multimillionaire was causing my lunch to get cold was... well, frankly, it was to completely miss the point, choosing to talk about your millions instead of addressing the real issue, namely my fucking lunch. But that's a forgivable mistake. We all have our priorities, Russell, and I can understand why a man as obsessed with money as I am with food would assume that's what every conversation is about. Anyway, you said that all your money has been made privately, not through taxation. Now, that, Russell, is actually a fair point. Well done.

Although I can't help but notice that you have no qualms about appearing on the BBC in return for money raised through one of the most regressive taxes in the country, a tax which leads to crippling fines and even jail time for thousands of poor people and zero rich people. But never mind. I appreciate that it's difficult for a celeb to avoid the BBC, even if they're already a multimillionaire and can totally afford to turn the work down. Ah, the sacrifices we make to our principles for filthy lucre, eh, Russell? The condoms and hairspray won't buy themselves. Or, in my case, the pasta.

And then there is that film you're working on, isn't there, for which I understand your production company is benefitting from the Enterprise Investment Scheme, allowing the City investors funding your film to avoid tax. Was that the film you were making on Friday, Russell, when you indignantly pointed out to me that none of your money comes from the taxpayer? Perhaps it had slipped your mind.

And, of course, you've been in a few Hollywood films now, haven't you, Russell? I take it you've heard of Hollywood Accounting? Of course you have, Russell; you produced Arthur. So you are well aware that Hollywood studios routinely cook their books to make sure their films never go into taxable profit — for instance, Return Of The Jedi has never, on paper, made a profit. Return Of The fucking Jedi, Russell. As an actor, and even more so as the producer of a (officially) loss-making film, you've taken part in that, you've benefitted from it. (While we're on the subject, I hear great things about Hollywood's catering. I hope you enjoyed it. Expensive, delicious, and served (at least when I dream about it) nice and hot.)

But still, you're broadly right. Leaving aside the money you make from one of the most regressive of the UK's taxes, and the tax exemptions your company uses to encourage rich City investors to give you more money, and the huge fees you've accepted from one of the planet's most notorious and successful tax avoidance schemes, you, Russell, have come by your riches without any effect on taxpayers. Whereas RBS got bailed out. Fair point.

Here's the thing about the bailout of RBS, Russell: it's temporary. The plan was never to bail out a bank so that it could then go bust anyway. That would be too asinine even for Gordon Brown. The idea was to buy the bank with public money, wait until it became profitable again, then resell it, as Alastair Darling clearly explained at the time. And that is still the plan, and it does appear to be on course. Not only that, but it looks as if the government will eventually sell RBS for more than they bought it for. In other words, the taxpayer will make a profit on this deal.

Of all the profligate pissing away of public money that goes on in this country, the only instance where the public are actually going to get their money back seems an odd target for your ire. What other government spending can you say that about, Russell? What other schemes do they sink taxpayers' money into and get it all back, with interest? And how many people have you met who have actually been right in the middle of working to make a profit for the taxpayer when you've interrupted them to cause their lunch to get cold?

As for bonuses, well, I'll be honest: I get an annual bonus. I'm not allowed to tell you exactly how much it is, but I will say it's four or five orders of magnitude smaller than the ones that make the headlines. It's very nice — helps pay off a bit of credit card debt (remember debt, Russell?) — but, to put it in terms you can understand, I'd need to work for several tens of thousands of years before my bonuses added up to close to what you're worth.

But here's the key thing you need to know about bonuses, Russell: they come with conditions attached. My salary is mine to do with as I will (I like to spend a chunk of it on good hot food). My bonus my employer can take back off me under certain conditions. Again, I do not speak for RBS, so cannot say anything about the recent FX trading scandal or PPI or any of that shit. But, in general terms, bonuses have conditions attached, such as "And we'll claw back every penny if we discover you were breaking the rules." And yes, it does happen. The only bonuses that make the news are the ones that get paid. But, every year, bonuses either don't get paid or are even taken back off staff for various reasons, including misconduct. I'd've thought, Russell, that anyone who wanted bankers to be accountable would approve of the scheme.

And now, if I may, a word about your manner.

Much as I disagree with most of your politics, I've always rather liked you. You do a good job of coming across as someone who might be fun to be around. Turns out, that's an illusion.

Because, you see, Russell, when you accosted me, you started speaking to me with your nose about two inches from mine. That's pretty fucking aggressive, Russell. I'm sure you're aware of the effect. Putting one's face that close to someone else's and staring into their eyes is how primates square off for a fight. Regardless of our veneer of civilisation, when someone does that to us, it causes instinctive physical responses: adrenaline, nervousness... back down or lash out. (Or, apparently, in the case of the celebrity bikes you like to hang out with, swoon.) I'm sure that, like turning up with a megaphone instead of an appointment, such an aggressive invasion of personal space makes for great footage: you keep talking to someone in that chatty reasonable affable tone of yours, and they react with anger. Makes them look unreasonable. Makes it look like they're the aggressive ones. Makes it look like people get flustered in the face of your incisive argument. When in fact they're just getting flustered in the face of your face.

I've been thinking about this the last couple of days, Russell, and I can honestly say that the only other people ever to talk to me the way you did were school bullies. It's been nearly a quarter of a century since I had to deal with such bastards, so I was caught quite off my guard. Nice company you're keeping. Now I think about it, they used to ruin my lunchtimes too.

One last thing, Russell. Who did you inconvenience on Friday? Let's say that you're right, and that the likes of Fred Goodwin need to pay. OK, so how much trouble do you think Fred faced last Friday as a result of your antics? Do you think any of his food got cold, Russell? Even just his tea? I somehow doubt it. How about some of the millionaire traders you despise so much (some of whom are nearly as rich as you, Russell)? Well, no, because you got the wrong fucking building. (Might want to have a word with your researchers about that.) Which brings us back to where we came in: a bunch of admittedly fairly well paid but still quite ordinary working people, admin staff mostly, having their lives inconvenienced and, in at least one case, their lunches quite disastrously cooled, in order to accommodate the puerile self-aggrandising antics of a prancing multimillionaire. If you had any self-awareness beyond agonising over how often to straighten your fucking chest-hair, you'd be ashamed.

It was paella, by the way. From Fernando's in Devonshire Row. I highly recommend them: their food is frankly just fantastic.

When it's hot.