It’s that time again

At what point did Do They Know It’s Christmas become part of the classic songbook of radio-friendly festive tripe, rather than what it really is, a song about starvation?

Those who were around when it was released (and greetings fellow dotards) will recall that hearing it always carried with it a heavy sense of the reason for its creation. When it hit the top of the charts, every performer on Top Of The Pops (apart from one bozo from Slade) wore a Feed The World t-shirt. This was never a song about celebrating Christmas, it was about getting sustenance to people who were dying.

But somehow, in the last decade or so, it has become a fundamental part of the avalanche of schmaltz which infests the December airwaves. Do broadcasters really not understand that just because a song has Christmas in its title, it doesn’t necessarily slot in alongside classics like Wonderful Christmastime or pap like Last Christmas? There are clues in the lyric, after all. “The Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.” It’s not exactly “When the snowman brings the snow”, is it?

And while we’re on that subject, “There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time”? Yes there will. You might have to look pretty hard for it – the higher ground of Chad, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, Mount Kilimanjaro, there’s even a ski resort in Lesotho. Given that Africa is as big as China, India, the USA and most of Europe, generalisations were always likely to be a bit on the crass side. The whole continent didn’t have famine, you patronising Europeans.

The worst of it, though, surely has to be “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”. Sorry, do what now? Thank God that someone else is starving instead of me? I won’t, if it’s all the same to you. If I’m going to say anything to God, I’ll probably ask why anyone needs to be starving at all. And if I’m going to thank him, it will be for my not being a smug, self-important, tax-evading rock singer who apparently believes himself to be an international statesman.

Still, at least it’s not that abomination by Mariah Carey.

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A minute of your time

There was a minute’s silence at the football on Saturday. I was there with my youngest. He’s old enough to have figured out for himself how he feels about it, but even so I felt like maybe I should explain to him why it mattered to me. He’s used to me talking rubbish, spouting controversial opinions for comedic effect, so I thought I should say why observing a minute’s silence was important.

It seemed quite straightforward at first. It’s to acknowledge the sacrifice of people who gave their lives to protect our freedom. People who died for what is just and proper. I’ve been watching the 1980s documentary series The Nazis: A Warning From History with my kids (that’s right, I’m a fun Dad), and it’s very easy to understand that the men who fought the Nazis in the Second World War were doing the right thing. They really did exactly what I wrote above – protect our freedom and die for what is just.

The problem is, not every conflict into which our young men have been thrust can make the same claim. It’s hard to say that the invasion of Iraq effected by Tony Blair was anything other than political, not to say cynical and profoundly misguided. A cold analysis from outside the partisan hotbed of Northern Ireland itself would struggle to find a straightforward right or wrong viewpoint. This is not, let me make explicitly clear, any comment on the bravery or sacrifice of the men and women who fought in these wars. It is a comment on the muddier ethical and moral imperatives behind them.

Well, I reasoned, if it’s complicated to use the wars themselves as the rationale for the minute’s silence, it’s easy to use the character of the people who died in them. Courageous, patriotic men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate price for what they believed in. That’s what we are respecting, people who adhered to the old Zapata quote, it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. Job done.


What about the people on the other side who were exactly the same? If we’re respecting people solely on the grounds of their bravery, doesn’t that apply to all soldiers, whatever their nationality or belief system? What about the three men who attacked Borough Market when my eldest was working there in the summer? They knew they were going to die, but they did what they did anyway in the name of what they believed. Am I supposed to respect them? I’d rather not, if I’m honest, but that’s where the logic takes me. Just because I disagree profoundly with their motivation, shouldn’t I acknowledge their courage?

So, like the snowflake libtard that apparently I am, I ended up standing in a silence full of confusion. I spent my minute reflecting on the futility of nationalist expansionism and religious dogma, of conflicts in which passionate, committed young men and women are exploited and sent to their deaths by jaundiced leaders, with little or no regard for the lives they will ruin with their politicking.

I’m sorry if this seems controversial. I would genuinely love to be a Daily Mail reader and labour under the simplistic delusion that everything is black and white. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

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England are going to win the World Cup! (In 2026.)

The cause for such optimism?

Possibly the only good thing for me personally about the hideous lurch to the right this country has taken in the last couple of years is that it’s made me realise how much I love multiculturalism. There’s been a lot of rhetoric hinting at the idea that at root we’re all innately tribal, and all that’s happening is a return to our natural state. And I’ll admit, it’s made me wonder, have my protestations of liberalism been a merely intellectual exercise, formed because my brain knows it should think this way while my heart is craving the freedom to come out and say how it really feels?

No, it turns out. Every time I see something like the above it fills me with genuine joy. I love that the final goal in this highlights reel of England against Chile was scored by Angel Gomes. You know, the Englishman. Adilson Angel Abreu de Almeida Gomes, to give him his full, glorious name, who was born in London to an Angolan father. And it’s not a racial thing, it’s not imperial guilt, in spite of the fact that I’m aware we’ve got a thousand years of history to (broadly) make up for. It’s just a gut response to the reality that the world is getting smaller and smaller and people are mixing more and more, that people can come here and feel at peace and at home, and there’s nothing any wall-building, Europe-exiting reactionaries can do about it. That will never stop happening. You hear me, Sun readers and UKIP voters? That will never stop happening. There are too many of us who are happy to open our arms to people who are different and exotic and desperate and who just want to be here for whatever the hell reason they feel this is the country for them. I’d take a dozen of them for every one of you peddling the lie that we don’t want them. This country was built on immigration, going back to the Romans and the Germans and the Vikings, and it will continue to be. Every Angel Gomes goal is a crashing wave against your attempts to Canute this country into homogeneity.

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Go South West, life is very, very peaceful there

About six weeks ago I was delayed at Winnersh Triangle railway station. I call it a station, it’s basically a long wooden walkway with no amenities whatsoever, other than a couple of benches. I was there for 78 minutes, on the hottest day of the year, waiting for a train to Reading.

When I got to work the next day, just for something to do really, I went to the South West Trains website to see if I could get a refund. It would be pennies, I realised that – the full return fare had only been £11.30 – but it was the principle of it. I found an online form and filled out all the relevant information. I realised a couple of days later that I hadn’t received an email acknowledgment of the request, and presumed I’d completed the form incorrectly. I shrugged and forgot about it.

22 days after my initial complaint I got a reply from a Customer Service woman named Victoria, who for all I know might be a real person, asking me to provide a photo of my ticket. Needless to say, I had chucked it out. I sent the following, rather churlish reply:

That ticket, as you no doubt would expect after 22 days, has long gone. I gave up on ever hearing anything back ages ago. Excellent tactics by South West Trains – delay even acknowledging the email for weeks and weeks, by which time people will have assumed they were never going to get a reply and conceded defeat. End result – no refund! Job done! Well played South West Trains.

A mere 18 days after that email, I have today received another reply from Victoria. To be fair to her, she’s been very reasonable. I mean, I wouldn’t even have replied to the above.

On this occasion, I will be happy to accept some other proof of travel, for example a receipt or a copy of a bank statement, so long as the transaction is clear. Any compensation due will then be paid as a gesture of goodwill, in National Rail Vouchers.

So I went and had a look at my online bank statement. For reasons that will become apparent below, I realised it’s unlikely I’m going to get my refund:

Hi Victoria

The best I can do is a screen grab from my online banking, showing the two payments I made that week. I definitely worked on the Tuesday at Winnersh, which is how I got to spend 78 minutes on the Winnersh Triangle platform on the hottest day of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that, since the two card payments I made came out on the Wednesday and Thursday. Maybe they were processed a day late; maybe I paid by cash on the Tuesday. Who knows? It was 40 days ago, and I can barely remember what I was doing 40 minutes ago.

The payments are also showing up as GWR, even though I was sure it was a South West service I was on. Does that make sense? Goodness knows. As a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the shambles of national rail services ever since Margaret Thatcher and her band of corrupt cronies decided to rip us all off by privatising the network, thereby making sure that shareholders get to profit from taxpayer subsidies, this takes some beating. Massively delayed trains, slow customer service (nothing personal, I’m sure you’re going as fast as you can and management should employ some more Customer Service people, but three weeks per email isn’t great), and utter confusion about which company is doing what.

Of all the malevolent, socially unjust policies with which the appalling Thatcher blighted the nation, the farce of rail privatisation might just take the biscuit. I realise that you, Victoria, were probably not even born when she was ripping the social fabric of the country to pieces, so I’m not blaming you, but take my word for it. There was a golden age when the state just provided services which everyone needed, without any dodgy, tax-haven using billionaire oligarchs getting rich off the back of it. Ah the 1970s, you weren’t all bad.

Given that you presumably will not now have to spend any time processing my refund, I’d ask that you spend the saved minutes taking a look at The Four Big Myths of UK Rail Privatisation – Action For Rail. If it hasn’t been blocked by your employer, that is.

OK, so I won’t get my refund, but at least it made me feel better.

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Carry on carrying on

I don’t often write in the aftermath of seismic events in current affairs, such as the London attacks. It’s generally just because, if I’m completely honest, I don’t know where to start. Expressions of rage feel pointless and futile, not least because these days hyperbole of that type has been co-opted by attention-seeking shock jocks and Twitterati, often over relatively trivial matters. And unless you’re a truly brilliant writer or orator, you’ll have nothing to say that doesn’t trivialise the event (such as when Donald Trump called the perpetrators of the Manchester bombing ‘evil losers’ – thanks Mr President, your erudition is inspiring.)

Likewise, despair and empathy have been hijacked by the Facebook-profile-picture-altering, my-thoughts-are-with-their-loved-ones brigade, always ready with a token gesture. It’s an understandable impulse, but as brutal as it is to say it, it’s specious and superficial. I’ve written before, in the context of Whitney Houston’s death, about the modern vogue for wallowing in ersatz grief, and social media could have been designed to facilitate it.

Partly it’s because – and here’s something nobody will admit, understandably – unless we’re personally affected, most of us have become inured to incidents like this. Especially those of us old enough to remember things like Omagh. Been there, been horrified, cauterised that part of me which can be overwhelmed by man’s inhumanity to man.

So why now? Because my eldest son was there. He was working in Borough Market as the van went across London Bridge, he saw people running for cover and heard gunshots, he evacuated the bar where he works. Friends of his who worked in The Wheatsheaf were stabbed. He was very, very close to being a victim himself. Even typing those words three days later makes me somewhat tearful, makes me anxious that I’m tempting fate admitting it. Logic becomes elusive at times like this.

In the past I’ve often wondered how differently I would feel if someone I cared about were directly involved in an incident of this type. Would all my burnished, liberal credentials vanish overnight? Would I suddenly start thinking that maybe racial profiling and internment aren’t so bad? Or would I redouble my insistence that we need to be open and welcoming to all to counter the acts of a few individuals?

Neither, it turns out. What I did was just carry on. By coincidence I had to travel to London on Sunday, so that’s what I did. I met the boy at Waterloo, where he was also just carrying on. Of course he was nervous, and concerned for his injured friends, and of course as a parent I felt every bit as overprotective as I did when he was a baby in my arms, but there he was, living his life. I’d love to say that us being there was an act of defiance or bravery or something else it wasn’t, but I can’t. You carry on because, what else are you going to do? It’s the only viable option. It doesn’t really have anything to do with not letting terrorists win, much as the media love to play it that way. It’s much more mundane than that. It’s just how life works. You trundle about, stuff happens, you rationalise it and make it part of the fabric of what made you who you are, then you carry on.

So, er, take that Islamic State! Nothing you can do will stop me maintaining my humdrum existence!

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A high new low

Each of my three elder children has, at one time or another, come to me with a piece of Big News. It doesn’t really matter what, the relevant part is that they were all things which might have made a weaker man falter. I took them all in my stride. However, I have for some time wondered what my youngest child had in store for his Dramatic Moment. And now I know.

We’d cycled home from playing table tennis this morning, I’d just locked up the garage, and he nonchalantly announced – as if it was the most normal thing in the world – “I went to the school basketball club yesterday”.

Basketball. Basketball. The most worthless, idiotic and plain boring of all sports. I’d have been less upset if he’d told me he was joining the young Conservatives, or that he was a fan of heavy metal, or even that he’d gone to the school rugby club (yes, really, that’s how bad basketball truly is – it’s worse than rugby).

I was literally speechless, which doesn’t happen to me very often. After fully ten seconds of me looking at him aghast, he said – seemingly unaware or uncaring as to how he was making matters worse – “There’s nothing wrong with playing basketball”. I covered my ears. I couldn’t bear to hear any more.

Basketball. I keep saying to myself that it’s probably just a phase, it’s probably just a phase… Who knew fatherhood could be this challenging?

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Like an illiterate, writing for the very first time

I am giving away some Madonna postcards, which recently came to light in a clear-out, via the recycling site Freegle. They were included with a CD single I must have bought to sell at some point, and somehow the cards got separated from the single. Like all rational people of discernment I loathe Madonna, but as much as I would have enjoyed symbolically burning them or getting a cat to wee on them, I figured someone might want them – it’s just give give give with me, even to Madonna fans, for whom I have understandable contempt.

Here is the exchange I have had with the person who replied saying she wanted them:

plez can I have

You can. Let me know when you want to come and get them.

thanxs can i collect later today plez bout 3

That’s fine. See you then.


It is lovely, is it not, to have irrational and unwarranted disdain for a particular group of people, and then to have one of them give you justification for your bigoted position? Thanxs!

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