Advent Song for December 12: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die

Yes, you’re quite right; that’s an actual quote from the actual Bible (Isiah 22:13). I will be exercising my democratic right later this evening, after which I will go to bed with a Christmas ghost story and ignore everything until tomorrow. Who was it who said that happiness is a journey, not a destination? Whoever it was, they were right, and if Christmas isn’t a reminder that even when things that are at their coldest and darkest we can still eat and sing and love each other then I don’t know what is. Tomorrow might be awful (I hold out hopes that it won’t be, but having deliberately skipped most of the election coverage I don’t feel qualified to pronounce beyond that), but today there is still mulled wine and the best bad Christmas song ever, the Darkness’s Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End).

(An aside on voting: I was undecided when the election was announced, having flitted between Labour and Green over the last few years without ever having been quite satisfied with either. But the climate crisis has convinced me to vote Labour –  in my safe Labour seat – on the basis that unless we stop Brexit we won’t have enough time or money left to fight climate change in time to avoid its most catastophic effects, which means that the responsible thing to do is whatever it takes to prevent a Tory majority – which, in my case, means voting red. So that’s what I’ll be doing, even though I think my MP is pretty awful.)

To the good news! You already know this,  but I can’t not include Greta Thunberg being named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019,  which is just the most visible sign (today) of a generation of young people, women and girls especially, who care enough about things to stand up and be counted (and care about tomorrow, even when some of the rest of us are trying not to think about it). The kids, at least, are alright.

Advent Song for December 9: Driving Home For Christmas

Coincidentally we are on our way to R’s ancestral home, though we’re on a train and it’s for a birthday, so it’s not an exact match for today’s song. We’re speeding our way through a whirlwind of Caledonia-based family and friends and getting a go at the Christmas markets while we’re at it, and although it’s minus one hundred and twenty degrees outside it’s all very twinkly and lovely. And tonight we’re staying at a hotel on a golf course! Although last night’s hotel gave us free mulled wine and mince pies, so it’ll have to outdo itself in more ways than one to measure up.

This is a ridiculous song but it’s one of my favourites, mainly because I like doing the voice (I’m better at it after a glass of mulled wine).

Today’s good news is a bit unusual because it’s not the kind of thing you get as an “and finally” on the news, but I read it in the small hours of this morning (all these Christmas parties are throwing me off-kilter, sleepwise) courtesy of my friend Jonathan, who shared it on Twitter, and – as I said to him – it’s SUCH an extraordinary relief to find that in the morass of uninformed and bad-faith opinions on the Labour party and antisemitism, there are people who think and feel the same way I do and are able to articulate it (which, despite trying, I haven’t really been). So do me a favour and read this article and don’t let’s speak again until you have. I’ll even let you skip the Chris Rea.

“Boy, I hate how it looks”

I’m going to be writing MostlyFilm’s Oscars Predictions again* this year and although I will do it under my own name and so can be as partisan and opinionated as I like, I just need to get the following rant out of my system beforehand. Feel free to look away now. There be spoilers ahead for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, so you may prefer to look away for that reason. Whatever, just don’t read what follows, under any circumstances!

*If you look carefully, you’ll notice that I got all the important ones right last time.

On Sunday night, Three Billboards won Best Picture, Best British Picture (it isn’t, but the rules are weird), Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell. It was a veritable sweep, only spoiled by losses to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape Of Water in Director, which everyone knew would happen, Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 in Cinematography, which everyone hoped would happen, and Jonathan Amos for Baby Driver in Editing, which just goes to show that Edgar Wright could plop out a big poo on the red carpet and people would still defend him. (I haven’t seen Baby Driver.)

Anyway, I saw Three Billboards at its LFF premiere, in October. I’d been excited about it for months and as I settled into my seat I was prepared to laugh, to cry, to be thrilled and to be shocked.

No, wait. Actually, I was hoping for all those things, but I was prepared to be disappointed:

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 11.20.44

What I mostly remember was that Frances McDormand was amazing, that the plot made no sense and that there was a scene where McDormand’s and Rockwell’s characters throw the n-word around which made me feel uncomfortable. I did laugh and I did cry and I seem to have come out happy enough:

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 11.20.58

By the next day, I wasn’t so sure:

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 11.21.19

I know it’s weird and self-indulgent of me to retrospectively analyse my tweets, but the thing is, Three Billboards doesn’t deserve three of its five BAFTA wins because it is a bad, badly-intentioned film that treats race horribly, and there is an argument circulating that people only started to view it that way once “activists” began complaining about it, and that the rest of us are lily-livered liberals who can’t bear to be thought of as on the wrong side, and so we’re all jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe we are, but I didn’t need to read Ira Madison to have a problem with it from the get-go, and if it’s true that the longer I think about it the worse I think it is, that’s just because I’ve had more time to think about it. In a world where black people are regularly murdered by the police, where Donald Trump is president, and where white kids can shoot a dozen people dead and be excused as “bullied” and “misunderstood”, you don’t get to make a film that uses racism as a subject for glib, wisecracking, slapstick. You earn the right to write about a difficult subject by making an effort to understand it, and McDonagh big fat didn’t bother. It’s the only bad thing about the film (if you ignore the plot), but it’s BAD ENOUGH BY ITSELF that the rest of it doesn’t matter. And no, adding a couple of peripheral black characters who do and say nothing that isn’t the barest “will this do?” version of screenwriting doesn’t solve the problem.

Also not an excuse: that he didn’t mean it, it’s not central to the movie, he’s British and they don’t really have racism there (I have genuinely heard this). You don’t have to be racist on purpose to be racist! It’s like nobody’s even SEEN Get Out.

Talking of which, I will be sooooooo angry if this film beats Get Out to Best Picture. But don’t worry, it won’t. I won’t spoil you for the official predictions post (which I think is happening on Oscars weekend itself), but even if I thought Three Billboards would win I wouldn’t predict it, because I still believe in a world where good things happen to good people, and last year it totally worked, apart from the whole envelope thing.

A change to the advertised schedule

I didn’t think I could chirrup away about Christmas music hours after Nelson Mandela had died, so there wasn’t going to be a White Christmas today. There still isn’t, but instead here is a Mandela-inspired Spotify playlist tweeted by the folks over at playlists.net, which is a site you should make room for in your life. Listen and drink a Friday night toast to the man so big he filled the whole world.

http://open.spotify.com/user/russg22/playlist/6JO2DsbknoFM7rssrFxK9p

Bad all over

A few years ago, someone published a book called Is It Just Me, Or Is Everything Shit?. At the time I instinctively recoiled from such an ungenerous assessment, and I was pleased a short while later when in response someone else published a book called It Is Just You, Everything’s Not Shit.

(I have never read either book; I think this must all have happened during my bookshop years, which is how I knew about them. I am not wildly into novelty books, apart from One Hundred Great Books in Haiku, which is totally worth the £9.99 even though it only lasts eleven minutes.)

But I am generally in favour of being in favour of things. After all, everything’s not shit. There’s this, for example. And this. I called this blog Glad All Over not only because it’s the Palace anthem, but because I like the sentiment. I even used to have a rule about only posting cheerful things, though that went by the wayside some time ago. You have to be able to rant sometimes, after all.

But today is different. Today I don’t have anything to rant about, specifically. Today I’m just baffled and weary: at the rioters who swarmed and set fire to my city; at what seems to be wilful misunderstanding of the causes of the riots by members of the commentariat of all political persuasions; at the rage and hate that spilled out of Twitter over the ensuing days; at the undignified spat now bubbling away between the government and the Met police; at the sensibility that says we don’t force companies to pay their taxes but we should put a student in jail for six months for stealing a bottle of water; at the endorsement of genuine lunatic Michelle Bachman by the voters of Iowa; at the fact that my season ticket has stopped working for the second time in a week and the man at Charing Cross won’t replace it because it was issued by Southern and he works for Southeastern, and, today, at the fact that I used week-old ingredients to make the salad that I had for lunch, and it was exactly as horrible as you’d expect. It’s all just exhausting.

But there are spots of light in the darkness, even if lunch wasn’t one of them.  For every closed-minded bigot railing against The Youth Of Today there was someone giving a thoughtful and balanced response. There was the father of one of the men killed in Birmingham last week, who has now spoken publicly twice and been extraordinarily measured, dignified and wise both times. There were the people who gave their time to clean up after the riots, and the companies who offered rebuilding and glazing services for free to people whose houses and shops had been damaged. There’s the campaign that raised £35,000 to help Aaron Biber, the 89-year-old whose Tottenham barber’s shop was wrecked on the first night of the riots, and the £22,000 that was donated to Ashraf Rossli, the student whose mugging was caught on camera. For all the horror and the violence of the riots and for all the ugliness of the political reaction, there have been some shining moments of humanity over the last week.

So there you go. It is just me, and everything’s not shit. But I’ll tell you what: I am treating myself to a proper lunch tomorrow.

Confused of Herne Hill

As far as I can make out, the UK is either about to start or has already started bombing Libya. This seems to have happened almost overnight with very little discussion or preparation, and I am reminded of 2003 and the weeks of protest (ours) and handwringing (theirs) that preceded the invasion of Iraq. The main difference this time around seems to be that the French are joining in, but that doesn’t seem a good enough reason to go ahead and do it without debate.

It’s easy to cry “oil”; so easy that I’m never sure it’s true. But if it’s not about oil, I have literally no idea why we get involved in the internal conflicts of some countries but not others. Gaddafi may be mad and dangerous, but so is Mugabe and so, no doubt, are lots of other people that we’re not interested in at all. But if it is about oil we can’t say so, which means we need other justification, except I haven’t heard any, so maybe we don’t even need justification any more. Maybe we just need France to say yes. I have no idea. All I know is that the effects of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan were devastating, and that nobody is safer because of them. So unless it’s specifically about getting rid of a particular regime without much caring about what happens next, which seems short-sighted even for politicians, I’m stumped.

But then, I am easily stumped. I don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s OK for the countries with nuclear weapons to dictate which other countries should be allowed to have them, as though there’s some kind of ineffable hierarchy which says that the richest countries are allowed to decide what happens in the others. I thought we had stopped equating moral superiority with privilege around the time we stopped believing in the divine right of monarchs, but apparently not.

And I don’t understand why one o’clock clubs and play schemes and libraries are being closed while companies like Vodafone and Boots avoid paying billions of pounds in taxes, as though they and the government think nobody will notice, or that if we do, we can’t do anything about it. But one thing we know from watching Libya and Egypt and everywhere else that’s seen grass-roots dissent this year is that if there are enough of us, we can do something about it, which is why I will be joining the TUC’s March for the Alternative this Saturday, March 26th, in London. Because when I stop to think about it I’m not so much confused as angry, and there are some people I’d like to know about it.

Plants: easier to love than people

I am pleased that the coalition is about to announce that they’re shelving their plans to sell off the UK’s national forests. Of course I am. It’s good news that they will remain in public ownership, protected (one assumes) from the more unconstrained vagaries of the market, and hopefully allowed to continue quietly growing and peacefully sheltering what remains of our wildlife.

But, well, forests aren’t people, nor are they vital public services, and if I were to be given the choice I can’t help thinking that I’d rather save NHS jobs, education funding and, yes, libraries, over woodlands. It’s doubtful that the forests would have been immediately chopped down to make way for motorways had they been sold off: as I understand it this wasn’t a question of saving the trees themselves, but of preserving the woodlands’ status as public property. It’s absolutely worth doing and I’m glad the proposal has been reversed, but I’d still prefer to divert the money into, to take an example from this morning’s news, midwifery services in the West Midlands, which are so underfunded that it’s been suggested that one third of perinatal deaths last year could have been prevented had community midwives not been working at 150% of their recommended caseload. By all means let’s look after the trees, but if we have to decide where to make cuts, it would be nice if we could look after the people first.

On the Today programme this morning it was announced that the proposal to sell off the forests had come under attack from public figures “including several actors and the Archbishop of Canterbury”. Forgive me, but if we ever reach the time when we take our political cues from actors and the Archbishop of Canterbury, we’ll be in straits so dire we may never make it back again.

(Incidentally, that Guardian piece contains an account of a debate on the subject between Ed Miliband and David Cameron which, if it’s accurate, suggests that not only are we all going to hell, we’re being led there by a cabal of schoolboy bullies:

Yesterday Miliband mocked Cameron over the plans. The Labour leader said: “Even he must appreciate the irony: the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative party flogging them off round this country. He says they are consulting on this policy. They are actually consulting on how to flog off the forests, not whether to sell off the forests. Is the prime minister now saying that he might drop the policy completely?”

Cameron replied: “I would have thought the whole point about a consultation is that you put forward some proposals, you listen to the answer and then you make a decision. I know it is a totally alien concept but what is so complicated about that?”

Miliband said: “Everybody knows you have to drop this ludicrous policy. Let me give him the chance to do it. Nobody voted for this policy; 500,000 people have signed a petition against the policy. Why doesn’t he, when he gets up at the dispatch box, say not say he is postponing the sale but say he is cancelling it?”

Cameron replied: “Once again, he read the question before he listened to the answer. I think the bandwagon has just hit a bit of a tree.”

I mean, really. Heaven help us all.)

Battlespace: Unrealities of War

I’ve got lots of posts lined up which I’m intending to write sometime soon, but real life keeps getting in the way and now I’m in bed with flu and barely lucid enough to open up the laptop, let alone post. However, this one is time-specific so I’m doing it now before I forget: if you’re in or near London, this exhibition of war photos from Iraq and Afghanistan is full of startling pictures that you won’t see anywhere else, and is well worth paying a visit to.

Some of the photos are quite gory – but then, so is war. More distressing to me, though, were the ones showing the fear in the faces of civilians suddenly confronted by British or American soldiers. We’ll never see photos like these in our mainstream media, because they make it clear that the relationships between ordinary people of the countries involved and our armed forces are difficult and painful, which makes it much harder to argue that we’re anywhere near winning “the battle for hearts and minds”. In fact, in these snippets from daily life we look more like a hostile invading force, which one might argue is exactly what we are. Chilling, heartbreaking and not for the squeamish, but absolutely worth seeing.

More details and info from Great Western Studios.

Further ramblings

Eight hours after that last post, it looks as though there’s going to be a Lib-Con coalition after all. I think it’s the best option, really: the Tories have more of a mandate to govern than anyone else at this stage, and they get to fuck it up and have to fight another election within a shorter time than a usual parliamentary term, after which the Labour party should find it much easier to get back in, having shed Brown and with a shiny new leader at the helm. Let’s hope they give Vince Cable the reins at the Treasury and just let George think he’s chancellor.

Post-election ramblings

After Labour and the Lib Dems failed to win enough seats between them to form a coalition government with an outright majority, which was what I was hoping for (because although I like Labour best, I was hoping that the Lib Dem influence would be brought to bear in areas in which they have policies I like, like electoral reform and immigration), I was reluctantly ready to accept a Tory-Lib Dem coalition or even a minority Tory government, in the hope that the Tories would get the blame for the cuts to public services which we’re assured are inevitably coming over the next few months, whilst Labour would remain relatively unsullied and hopefully in a stronger position from which to fight another election in the autumn or winter.

(The problem with this scenario is that neither Labour or the Lib Dems have any money left with which to fight another election, whilst the Tories can readily command millions at any minute, on account of – do you see? – rich people vote Conservative. A few weeks ago, just as it all started to go wrong for Call Me Dave, a group of “business leaders” wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph condemning Labour’s plans to increase National Insurance. This was reported as a blow to the Labour party, but really: is anyone surprised that some of the richest men (yes, they were all men) in the country, whose interests have always been served at the expense of the less well-off by Conservative policies, should publicly endorse those policies? Admittedly, I don’t believe they really think George Osborne would make a plausible chancellor, but that aside there was nothing unexpected in what they said. Anyway, despite the lack of funds faced by the other parties I was hoping that whatever faltering Tory administration we ended up with would shortly be succeeded by a centre-left coalition with a stronger mandate to govern.)

And then Gordon resigned, and everything changed. I like Gordon Brown and I always have done. I think he is a man of integrity and principle who has tried to do what he thought was right. He hasn’t always got that right, but who does? I’d rather an honest politician who admits mistakes than one who doesn’t think he’s capable of getting it wrong, just as I’d rather have a serious one who means what he says than one who smiles and lies his way through everything. Yes, Tony, I’m looking at you.

The sad truth, though, is that whatever I think of him, there are lots of people who don’t like Gordon. And before the election, while Nick Clegg was riding high on the surge in the polls that the televised leadership debates had brought him, he very explicitly said that he would not be willing to do any kind of a deal with a Labour party that retained Gordon Brown as its leader. So if what the Labour party wants now is a Lib-Lab pact (which would still need to be propped up by some of the smaller parties in order to pass any legislation), then Gordon did the right thing. His stepping down last night opened a door to negotiations that weren’t possible before, and the buzz in the (almost exclusively Tory-supporting) papers and online this morning suggests that the most likely outcome might now be a coalition government of the left, rather than of the right.

I’m not sure this is a good thing in the long term. The coalition would be weak, and would also be responsible for introducing whatever cuts are necessary to tackle the nation’s debts, which is something we must apparently do immediately (don’t ask me; the economy is not my strong point). So it would be weak and unpopular, and the path would be paved for another election within a year, which the Tories would almost certainly win outright.

I am also slightly squeamish about the idea of an administration which excludes the party that won the most votes, however much I might dislike them. It’s all very well to say that Labour and the Lib Dems have more in common than either does with the Tories, but you can’t extrapolate from that to say that everyone who voted for one party would be happy with the other. Whereas you can say that everyone who voted Tory would be happy with a Conservative administration. So it doesn’t feel quite right, somehow.

On the other hand, if the Tories don’t take power now, someone will demand scalps. Six months ago, they were a dead cert to win this election. Hilariously, the rumour is that party grandees are furious with Cameron for agreeing to the televised debates, which they see as the point at which the campaign began to lose momentum. That’s right: it all went wrong for the Tories when they had to actually talk about their policies. Poor old that.

Anyway, the likely public victims of this screw-up are either Cameron, whose appeal evidently eluded voters when it came down to it, or George Osborne, who is wildly unpopular and who was officially the campaign manager, so can be forced to take the blame if necessary. If Osborne goes now, he will never be chancellor, and that can only be a good thing. But it would be even funnier if Cameron goes and the Tories’ Eton and Oxbridge great white hope ends up never being prime minister at all. Is that mean? It probably is, a bit, but although Cameron seems perfectly pleasant as a person, he represents a party who are all about being mean, when it comes down to it. So I shan’t feel too bad about it.

Anyway, I think Gordon has played a blinder since Friday, and along with the rest of the country, I await developments with bated breath. It’s nice to see politics be interesting, isn’t it?