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Steve Rotheram raises seven kinds of hell in the House of Commons with an extraordinary speech on the Hillsborough disaster:

I am proud to be a Liverpudlian. In the 22 years for which the families have fought their dignified campaign, I and the rest of Britain have watched as my great city has come together on this issue. Out of the darkness of the Hillsborough tragedy, an eternal flame of unity has emerged and means that Liverpool is now synonymous with a unique kind of solidarity. Whether red or blue, we are Scousers all.

To those who attempt to perpetrate the myth that it was the fault of the fans, I say that I will never tire of reminding them that the ordinary fans were the real heroes on the day, not the villains. They reacted while those in authority froze.

My granddad used to regale me with vivid accounts of the two world wars that he fought in, and while he never glorified in war itself he would explain to us children his sense of loss for fallen comrades, nearly half a century later. I did not really understand that when I was growing up, but I do now. It does not matter how long it takes, we will never stop fighting for justice for the 96.


Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance:

2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.
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No idea* how this took SIX MONTHS for the few hours' actual work it took to go from spur-of-the-moment Sunday afternoon purchase to final sealing and labelling, but here:

Who's coming round for a drink?

[label courtesy of the peerless [ profile] maga_dogg]

*An obvious lie; I have every idea. Lazy-bastardry.
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I suspect you see a perfect circle. I see a downward spiral. I see a cascade of shit pirouetting from your penthouse office, caking each layer of management, splattering all in between.
You may have heard the phrase, "The flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas." Well, try this: "The lies of a newspaper in London can get a bloke's head caved in down an alley in Bradford."

From this resignation letter, an instant classic of the genre.
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So there's been this big row going on while I was away from the interwebs over Christmas (happy Christmas, everyone!) over the student protests and whether they're self-organising and the old left (whatever that is) should just curl up and die quietly. I have nothing insightful to say on the matter but I did like this bit of wisdom:

It is a minor sociological irony that those movements which think of themselves most readily as counter-cultural are least likely to be significantly counter-cultural. It is, in the conditions of late capitalism, far more counter-cultural to demand a quiet life with a steady income than to have every accessible fold of skin pierced whilst listening to professedly alternative music.

Certainly "a quiet life with a steady income" looks about as unobtainable to me and half my generation as a full-blown socialist paradise with stuffing and sprouts and all the trimmings.


Jul. 21st, 2010 12:27 pm
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The day I get to pen a news story which begins "A gay man, who took a huge dose of LSD and injured his roommate by hitting him over the head with a 12-inch glass penis after setting his house on fire while nude...", I can retire from journalism in the knowledge I'll never write a better intro par.
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since every other pundit got it spectacularly wrong already and I'm unlikely to be any wronger: Clegg realises his own party won't wear a coalition with the Tories, so he, Cable and Huhne will defect to Cameron's mob along with just enough of the other Orange Book lunatics to provide a majority. They may succeed in getting ID cards dropped but electoral reform will not happen, and the fallout will send the Lib Dems back into the oblivion they've mostly enjoyed since the foundation of the Labour Party. And everyone will have learned a valuable lesson about ruthlessly ambitious upper-class careerists pretending to be progressive.
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At least, I can't recall Britain having any nationalised theme parks. The appalling Dreamland Margate got an ineffectual government bailout, if I remember aright, but as ever the proud red ranks of the American proletariat show us Limey pinkos the way.
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"The "straight passage" is a crucial moment, I believe. For those missing pieces here and there, it grounds the Eusa story in something concrete, and though we've known it all along, quite plainly puts forward the severity of the gap between our world and theirs. This moment both pulled me closer to Riddley's world in terms of pathos, and firmly planted me outside of that world. Without the magic of Riddley's language, the passage seemed almost naked to me, sad in its matter-of-factness. Oh, I thought, I'm one of them, and so far away."

Passages like this make the manifold idiocies of the Onion AV Club's discussion series on Riddley Walker much easier to bear. (No, fans have not come up with some inventive notions of where the book's places *might* go in modern England, you fool, those *are* the damn places, as Hoban makes entirely sodding clear). Still, there's enough insight to make the series worth keeping an eye on, and the idiocies have damn near stirred me into action on a long-threatened plan to scribble down some thoughts in this yere LJ...
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A GreaseMonkey script that turns the gruntings and ravings of YouTube users into Richard Feynman quotes (the gap between me discovering it and installing it was small enough that scientists are inventing a new SI unit to measure it at this very femtosecond);

A guitarist talented enough to make you weep:

I think I need to practise more.
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"Guitar bands head NME nominations".

In other news, Catholics head Pontiff's to-beatify list.
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I'm not nearly as familiar with the McGarrigles' stuff as I should be, but this is purely gorgeous. Frail, frail my heart apart and play me a little Shady Grove, ring the Bells of Rhymney till they ring inside my head forever...

This, too.
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(on Twitter, re Haiti): "Screw logistics. Get these people help NOW."

Screw petrol! Start this car now!
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London snow February 2010

London's beautiful in the snow.

It's rarely a beautiful city. Exhilarating, depressing, awe-inspiring, terrifying, yes, but rarely beautiful. It is tonight, though.

Tonight, like last year, the snow came in hard and suddenly late on a weeknight and tonight like last year I dropped what I was doing to go out and savour it. Snow's rare enough down here and so little bother to me personally that it's still magical as far as I'm concerned. And who anyway could worry about blocked driveways and frozen points when London's transformed like this?

London snow February 2010

Well gone midnight, with a soft shower still coming down, the dirt and noise and bustle of this grubby corner of east London are smothered below the night's still barely disturbed fall. There's only a faint hissing from the high road a couple of blocks away, traffic foolhardy enough to venture out on unsalted streets, and if you're determined to screen out reality you can imagine it's the sound of the snow itself piling gently up on branches and rooftops.

London snow February 2010

Only that and the crunch of my own footsteps, quickly swallowed up; I don't hear the other late-night walker until he's almost past me, and a fox scampering along in search of who knows what is surprised when I turn a corner practically nose to nose with him. He's quicker on his heels than I am with my camera, though, and I follow his tracks but they don't lead anywhere I can go.

London snow February 2010

That's the other thing to love, though. Millions of people bustling and scurrying through this city and putting not a dent on the world to show they were ever there; but tonight everyone leaves a trail. Those little steps slithering together into one long zigzag are surely a child charging along giggling, too young to realise that not every winter will be like this; the big measured strides alongside perhaps his father ready to scoop him up and brush him down every time his flailing limbs get the better of him. Over there, blurred and uncertain, are the prints of someone who realised too late their smooth-soled shoes were smart but impractical; over here someone else could doubtless trace where a late-night wanderer ambled aimlessly through the back streets, stopping every now and then to rest his camera on a wall or toss a snowball at nothing in particular, before circling back around and home.

London snow February 2010

The snow was melting a little by the time I got back, though. The last few days' cold clear air warmed up as soon as the snow clouds rolled over, and already dark tarmac circles are poking through the white. Maybe tomorrow it'll be gone altogether, or reduced to grimy black slush. Or maybe it'll thaw and refreeze into treacherous glassy ice sheets that cover nothing, transform nothing, and register no imprint of anything at all.
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I'm not by nature much of a joiner; Amnesty, CND, Liberty and NO2ID are merely a few of the many worthy organisations that should, but don't, see any of my cash, plus I'm not a member of any political party (and here on the left, it's not like we're short of variations to choose from, either). But this shit has just inspired me to go off and sling a bunch of money at the Open Rights Group. I'm not sure I can afford to, but then I am sure I can't afford not to.
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That was... very English, and very American, and completely wonderful.

Very English: the previous week's blazing sunshine giving way to a steady and insistent drizzle which necessitated umbrellas all round:

or Stetsons, for those so inclined:

(this has drawn comparisons with Terry Pratchett and Garth Brooks. I'll take Pterry, please)

and the cancellation of the planned post-wedding football match. Although we did still manage a quick drunken kickaround in which the (barefoot, gowned) American women ran rings round us more sensibly attired (and, we would have hoped, more competent) English men:

Very American: the bride's brother-in-law (prison officer, ex-Marine, bigger muscles than any three of us put together) firing his shotgun in the air and lobbing flash-bang grenades around.

Very English: an impromptu London Loves set afterwards, with obligatory "join in a circle and bellow along to Don't Look Back in Anger" action:

Very American: the fact that this was taking place beside a swimming pool:

and followed an impromptu hoedown:

Very wonderful: the air of joyful chaos that kept threatening to break out and play havoc with the carefully and lavishly planned arrangements - tears:

and laughter:

a near-tumble or two on the muddy grass, the aforementioned cat deciding all these people must be here to see him and marching cockily between the happy couple right at the vital moment of the service; the service itself, which had been drawn from a sort of choose-your-own-wedding-adventure book* and ended with an entreaty to "be excellent to one another".

And, most of all, these two. Together. Happy. Long may this last.

*"If you want to spend the rest of your life with your true love, turn to p119. If you want to run screaming into the hills pursued by the shotgun-toting father of the bride, turn to p87"
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By way of killing time between here and Cincinnati airport, we are doing a bit of tourism. At Big Bone Lick state park. On Beaver Road. Near the town of Beaver Lick.

*falls about giggling hopelessly*

Ahem. In other news, James and Morgan are totally married. More on that to follow when I'm back in London (by which time, hopefully, this hangover will have cleared. Ouch).
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Out of the hostel, Greyhound, cigarette, car, cigarette, Richmond KY, with just enough time to drop my stuff off before the rehearsal dinner, featuring a bunch more Brits a long way from home,

some gorgeous views,

and a well-fed cat convinced he's in charge of the whole thing:

(he may not be wrong).

Then it was on to the boozer, a fun Irish pub* which appears to be Richmond's only bar worth a damn, meaning it's got the full gamut of Southern stereotypes†. Plus a thankfully permissive attitude to an idiot Englishman who'd left his ID at home. I was briefly impressed by their savvy when I spotted that one wall had a huge display of An Phoblact front pages from the height of the Troubles - finally, an American Irish bar that actually has some clue about Ireland! - until I looked in the other direction:

Yep, um. That'd be the Red Hand of Ulster. Not sure how that goes down with whatever Irish clientele they have.

Anyway, that was all yesterday. Now it is today and in a couple of hours we'll have to drag ourselves away from the flagwaving-fest on TV** and head off for the WEDDING. Which is to be held outdoors. On a day when the forecast is for thunderstorms. How perfectly English it would be to have rain stop play.

*whose main concessions to Irishness beerwise were, um, London Pride and Newcastle Brown. Might want to work on that, guys

†and both kinds of music: country and western

**happy July 4th to such American readers as may care about such things!
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This country never lets you forget you're an alien.

Every time I come here it seems like I pick up some new aspect of this whole strange bundle of quirks and assumptions and linguistic tics* that's called "being American", to the point where I just about think I'm getting a handle on it all†. And then you get something like tonight, at the Ryman Auditorium with Ricky Skaggs and his Kentucky Thunder**, which reminds you that no matter how well you think you speak the language, you're still a stranger in a very strange land.

It wasn't the show itself, which was predictably awesome - I'd seen Skaggs at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and blazin' picking and tight harmonies are assured. It's how he acts in front of a home crowd. He was personable enough at Cambridge; jaunty, telling the odd story, geeing up the crowd for the obligatory drunken audience participation bit. But tonight was something else altogether. Quotations from scripture to back up his idea that bluegrass needs to blend old and new; a near-to-tears appeal for prayers for Ralph Stanley's grandson (badly injured in a car crash, apparently); down-home tales of mother's fried chicken rubbing shoulders with assertions that no-one need fear these hard times, because the Lord will provide for everybody. Not a hint of irony from Skaggs, not a hint of scepticism from the crowd. He was right at his ease, chatty, friendly, knowing full well he and his crowd had the same rapport as decades-old friends. And there was me, sitting front and centre, never feeling so far from home.

But still. Fantastic show, which fully made up for my serial failure to see any damn bluegrass while I've been here††, and I came away with a baby American flag*** and ruing a near-miss at winning a couple of tickets to a bluegrass festival here in the fall autumn (they went to the lady in the seat next to me, who was very excited indeed). And it's a perfect signoff from Nashville, which I leave tomorrow morning for Richmond KY via a (probably awful) Greyhound journey and a brief halt in Louisville.

A freight train precisely like the one I will not be hopping tomorrow morning

I've been in this city too long and not long enough - two days is plenty for tourism, but two months wouldn't be enough for the music scene. There's clearly a massive depth of talent here, beyond the hordes of bands in the Broadway tourist bars (although a few of them ain't bad). The Station Inn seems like the kind of place you could go every night for a year and not see a bad act, and the hostel alone has four or five guys who are here to play the open mic nights and work the A&R men, hoping for a headline gig or a record deal (a hell of a lot of the American music industry does its business out of Nashville). I've lacked the energy or the money to join the hostel party animals on their nightly jaunts hopping from bar to bar and band to band since dawn, alas. Next time. I am resolved there will be a next time.

Nashville in numbers:

Confederate flags spotted: 2! South may rise after all†††

Number of times I've bought the Tennessean: 2****

Number of times killed crossing the road due to instinctively looking the wrong way: still a big fat 0. I might make it out of here alive...

Hours 'til my Greyhound out of here: 11

Hours 'til the wedding: 36

Days left 'til I leave America: not damn enough

*I've been merrily "have a good fourth of July, y'all"-ing with the best of them today

†I've even, at the third time of asking, just about got to grips with the stupid shitty coinage

**none of whom are from Kentucky. False advertising! I demand my money back

††turned up 10 minutes after showtime at the highly-spoken-of Station Inn last night, was told it was full, stuck around for a bit then gave up and went to drink beer at the hostel. Another guy from here turned up 10 minutes after I did and waltzed right in for what was apparently a "fantastic gig", damn him

***some charity was handing them out to all and sundry for July 4. I asked if I was allowed to wave one and was told "Sure! if it wasn't for you there'd be no us!"

†††Admittedly, they were both ratty antiques framed in a second-hand bookshop run by a guy who seems to be fighting the good fight for the Confederacy single-handed - shelves full of Civil War books, dumb liberal-bashing jokes pinned up everywhere, general vibe of "right-wing racist asshole" overlaid on the standard "cranky old misanthrope" template for bookshop owners. Great place, though, and I came perilously close to spending $150 I don't have on a full set of the fabulous Foxfire books

****I know I said I'd never buy it again, but I gave it another go after learning it has a reputation as a liberal bastion. It, um, isn't. Although it was heartening to read an impassioned defence of gay marriage in the letters page
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