Oh Dear

•14 November, 2016 • Leave a Comment

A few years ago, I took it into my head to start going to professional wrestling shows. Local shows. Indie shows. My first proper experience of pro wrestling had been at a caravan site near Scarborough, and I think I always enjoyed it more live than I did on TV. Certainly, I was eyeing up posters for local shows while I was at university, a good three years before I started watching TNA Impact on Bravo (as it was when I became a wrestling fan again). I went to a show or two alone before I started finding that I could drag friends along with me – initially Shaz and Ian. And then a guy called Matt Bayliss (Indy Corner Podcast listeners may remember him) became my boss and suddenly my wrestling posse became a rotating cast of characters including friends of friends, work mates, and old university mates.

Nearly two years ago, Tom Pratt, who I’d known from my master’s degree course, introduced me to an internet friend of his, Niko Adilypour. We three rapidly became partners in crime at wrestling shows, drinking before and after cards, often with Shaz and others in tow. Bad jokes, twisted humour and intellectual discussion made (and continue to make) these pub sessions a lot of fun. And one day we decided to share the love.

Everyone thinks they can make a podcast. Everyone with two pennyworth thinks they should make a podcast. Tom and Niko had once had the “let’s make a podcast” discussion. And if you’ve got a mad-bastard plan, I’ve got the will to carry it through. Heck, if I could cat-herd a rock band through three-plus line-ups, I could get three guys into a room with a voice recorder. And, essentially, that’s how Oh Dear was born. The title came from our responses to each other’s worst jokes (and we find ourselves saying it a lot during recording), and the subject matter became wrestling because it was the only sphere of knowledge all three of us had (general comedy being a saturated market in the podcast world).

We made two pilots (which will probably never see the light of day) so as to settle on a format and get our heads around technical issues. I had aimed for our tone to be similar to The Last Leg, but we soon found that our analytic/journalistic instincts started to come out so much that we seem to be closer to Top Gear. More serious content, but still fun – I could live with that.

So here we are. Six episodes in. Success is not a high bar – we just want it to pay for itself. We’ll see if that happens in a year. If it doesn’t take off enough, no biggie. My life in wrestling’s been a hell of a ride so far, and I don’t think it’s going to stop being that just because of a podcast. Somehow, I think the maddest part of the ride’s still to come…

On the Dole Again

•7 November, 2016 • Leave a Comment

So I may have mentioned a couple of weeks back that I’m on the dole again. Furthermore, I’m on the much-heralded Universal Credit system, Iain Duncan-Smith’s brainchild that has been at the centre of controversy for early technical difficulties and IT botches. In fact, if you were at a bad Jobcentre, being on benefits could be hellish under the coalition. I got lucky last time, insofar as the manager there wasn’t one of the ones hell-bent on a sanction regime.

The thing is, of course, (and this point may have been lost while social media commentators were busy bashing the Tories for anything rather than making actual analyses) this sanctions nonsense was happening to people on Job Seekers’ Allowance, not the UC pilot cases. Which leads me to present an alternative conspiracy theory, because although I may have been a card-carrying Conservative on and off, I’m still very much a cynic.

Universal Credit is meant to be flexible. If you’ve got a job, you still get money up to a point. The housing side is paid with the rest of your allowance, so you don’t run into the situation where doing 16 hours of work in a week cuts off your JSA and sweeps your housing benefit out from under your feet with it. You also continue to be on the system for 6 months after you get a job that dries your Universal Credit up, so that if it’s temporary you don’t end up with a lag when you finish because a rapid reclaim (as they used to have with JSA) still takes time. And UC is tracked with your PAYE taxes while you’re working in that six month period, reducing paperwork. Furthermore, the system is amenable to moving appointments to sign on. I never had a bad experience of JSA, but Universal Credit feels like a relief.

So what’s my conspiracy theory? Well, nobody likes change. People get up in arms about upheaval, however well-meaning. Universal Credit does seem to hit the 2010 manifesto pledge of removing the situation where one can’t take a job because one would be worse off in work. So if it’s the Department of Work and Pensions’ aim to beat job seekers with sticks, why is UC so cuddly? Actually, I think the draconian JSA regime as UC was being rolled out wasn’t just the Tories trying to reduce the benefits bill (although I’m sure that aspect pleased George Osborne no end). I’m willing to bet that the real reason was to make damn sure that everyone claiming Universal Credit was as relived as I am to be on the new system, thus avoiding horror-story publicity for the scheme from the likes of the Mirror.

Seeing the system from the inside, it does make me wonder, therefore, whether Duncan-Smith was Captain Hook all along, or whether he was a well-meaning Mr. Smee, made to do the Chancellor’s dirty work as he claimed.

(The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in the middle.)

The Changing of the Guard

•31 October, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Last week, I promised to dish the dirt a little on what happened to the last Harlequin’s Kiss line-up. There isn’t really any ‘dirt’ per se to dish, but as this is my personal blog, I can at least go into more depth than was seemly for the announcements I made on the Official Harlequin’s Kiss News Blog.

Chris Parry, our previous drummer, was a metal musician by trade. An insanely talented guy, he was a very good guitarist with an excellent ear. And we discovered during the recording sessions for Playing Rough that he could sing, too. Bastard. He’d been with us for about a year, when he dropped a quiet bombshell on us in the aftermath of a gig we played in June.

Really, rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t his thing. I’d questioned that he was satisfied playing with us, given that rock drumming is a lot simpler than he’d like, but his personality meshed well with us and he seemed happy. Until the day that he stopped being happy. What he said to us was that he just felt out of it because he wasn’t as into the music he was playing as the rest of us clearly were. Furthermore, he wasn’t entirely happy about the musical directions we were taking. Very professionally, he agreed to stick around for as long as it took us to find a new drummer. Most other musicians would have just left on the spot and their band in the lurch.

Drummers can be hard to come by. Good drummers even more so. It can take months to find a drummer at all, and Chris was apparently gearing to that. We were expecting a situation where we spent our practise sessions auditioning drummers while pulling Chris in for any session preceding a gig. As it happened, we had a rare stroke of luck.

As we were loading the gear for our July show at the Gunmakers Arms, Ed the bassist spotted an ad in Robannas Studios by a drummer looking for a band. We sent him a text and arranged an audition in short order. Giulio Tarantino (for it was he) met me at the pub while we had a chat about expectations before we took him though a couple of songs that we’d asked him to prepare, then threw some other material his way to see how he coped.

Giulio wasn’t as experienced as Chris, and I had a few reservations going in, but he picked up our material very quickly. He was away for August, leaving us to do one last gig with Chris before we took a live hiatus in September while we trained Giulio up. I’m pleased to say that he fell in so quickly that we’ve been able to do two gigs with him across October. Losing a drummer could have been a devastating blow, but instead we’ve had a good chance to set ourselves going again and build momentum. Harlequin’s Kiss live and you’ll see us soon.

Out of the Darkness

•24 October, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Oh dear. I haven’t written a word on here since July. Well, I’m alive, so there’s that, I suppose.

Given that I do blog about my depression anyway, I may as well admit to some of the things that have prevented me from fulfilling my old aim of five hundred words per week. My last job, at a company whose name and industry shall be given no mention, was difficult. The work itself was fine and dandy, maybe even easy, but there were some truly awful human beings on my team and they made life hellish for me. I never really recovered from the nervous breakdown I had back in 2011, and my current home life is not conducive to my mental health at the best of times. And now there are further tangible problems there that I am not at liberty to discuss. I didn’t claim that newfangled Universal Credit thing immediately after I finished my last job as I needed some time to put my head back on straight. And, of course, I refuse to put Harlequin’s Kiss on hiatus over my mental health.

So what have I done since July? Chris Parry, the drummer, quit the band and we spent time training up his replacement, Giulio Tarantino. Somehow we still managed a couple of final gigs with Chris and a couple of shows in October with Giulio. I’ll tell you about all that in a separate post. I’ll also be telling you over the next few weeks about my new project, a pro wrestling podcast called Oh Dear. It’s into its third episode and we’re learning every week. I’ve also bought a new laptop, which has given me the chance to play with Fedora 24. If you’re mad enough to enjoy my superficial tech blogging, I’m sure you’ll enjoy that, too. And, I suppose, I may as well tell you about my experiences with the Universal Credit system.

A friend of mine once told me that I seemed to blog when I’m in a good place. I’m not, but the fact that I’m in front of a keyboard right now should perhaps be taken as a small sign of improvement. If nothing else, I know that one or two of my readers are friends who use this as a way of keeping in deeper touch than facebook. And I’d hope that the rest of you are at the very least well-wishers. I hope that my reappearance is reassuring, whoever you are. And if you’ve only just stumbled across this blog, please do try the “Breakdown” categories links on the right – I’m not normally this self-absorbed.

So here I am, open for business once again. I can never promise that I’ll manage to keep a long run going (and making that promise always seems to be a guarantee that I’ll disappear sooner rather than later), but I can at least catch you up to today before sinking back into my pit of despair. Probably in time for Christmas…

Whither Democracy

•11 July, 2016 • Leave a Comment

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” – attributed to Winston Churchill (but probably apocryphal)

I’m going to drop a bombshell. And the thing that really surprised me about this is that it’s going to be a bombshell to most of you.

What if I told you that we have never, ever, in the history of ever, elected a Prime Minister?

Apparently even people who think of themselves as politically aware, perhaps even savvy, don’t seem to appreciate this. So here is British parliamentary democracy 101:

When you put a cross in the little box on the ballot paper, you may have noticed that there is a person’s name next to it. That person is the person that you are voting for, out of a list of people that are volunteering to represent your views to Parliament. Your vote counts only for an election of a representative in your constituency. When all the constituencies have returned a representative to Parliament, a group of them will get together and their nominated leader will ask Her Majesty the Queen if they can form a government. You do not, and never did, get a say as to whom the leader of the political party is.

I appreciate that this probably doesn’t make you feel any better about the Tory leadership turning into a no-contest. I also appreciate that, if you’re a Labour supporter (official or not), this won’t make you feel any better about the Parliamentary Labour Party’s attempt to oust Corbyn. What I’m about to say here will not provide comfort either.

If you have used the phrase “unelected” over these last few days in relation to Mrs May possibly becoming Prime Minister, you are part of the problem. You are the reason that the parties get away with parachuting preferred candidates (i.e. the ones who have played internal politics the best) into safe seats. Constituents blindly voting for Labour without consideration of who the candidate actually is have certainly created the Labour Party’s current mess. They wanted a socialist Prime Minister, so they voted for any dickhead in a red tie in their constituency. As a Labour voter, unless your MP (or failed candidate from 2015) is an open Corbyn supporter, you personally have made this mess. The Scots got it right: Labour needed a damn good drubbing at the last election so that they could purge, reform and rethink. If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and expecting different results, then the Parliamentary Labour Party are mad. Infighting lost them the last election, and it looks set to lose them the next one.

As a cold comfort, I can give advice for 2020: vote local. Actually look at who your preferred party’s candidate is. And if they don’t represent your views, vote for somebody else. When the division bell rings, you’re better off with a rebel from the other bench than a toady from your own. And when Parliament is full of members who truly represent their constituencies, maybe then they’ll choose the Prime Minister you would have elected.

Further Thoughts

•26 June, 2016 • 1 Comment

In these days of social media we are bombarded with our friends’ opinions. Many people succeed in making sure that those opinions match their own and delude themselves that everybody believes the same thing they do. Somehow, I’ve managed not to create an echo chamber. What I have succeeded in doing is surrounding myself on facebook with people that can argue civilly, for the most part.

One result of this is that my Brexiteer friends have been mostly silent. I’ve heard reports from other quarters that people of the racist/xenophobe type have become emboldened by the referendum result and are now really happy to sling their vile views about Johnny Foreigner around, but I’m lucky enough to have seen none of that. The majority of people I know have voted for thought-out reasons and have been classy enough not to crow. In fact, they’ve been mostly classy enough to stand back while the Remainers let out their collective wails of despair as the economy started tanking as a result of the turmoil.

Why am I writing this? Well, a lot has now been said by Remainers and Leavers on my Timeline over the last couple of days, and I’ve responded to it. So I’d like to gather together some of the things I’ve said to various parties in one place. Much of what I’ve said has been clarification of procedure and predictions of the future. If nothing else, it will be interesting to look back in two to five years and see whether or not I’ve been right.

There is one key thing to remember: the vote is advisory, not binding. In practical terms, what that means is that it’s up to the government whether and when they invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which is the EU legislation for a country’s exit.

As for predictions: the first item is the economy. One Leaver has said to me that Friday’s complete tanking of the pound (where it hit its lowest against the US dollar in 30 years) was something we’ll recover from. Well, put simply: we won’t. The evidence is already in as I write on Saturday night. There was a bounce back from the early Friday trough and it looked like things might swing back up quickly. However, things have settled and the pound has still firmly lost ground. It’s evened out at about $1.37 to the pound for now. Moody’s (one of three international banks that set countries’ borrowing rates) is suggesting that our credit rating is likely to go down, increasing the cost of national borrowing. And this is all down to uncertainty. An uncertainty that has been prolonged by Cameron resigning. We’ve got 3 months before we even know who’s running the country. After that, we don’t even know if or when the incoming leader of the Conservatives will trigger exit. According to Aticle 50, there is a two year timetable of exit negotiations even after that. And that can still be extended by any given other EU member state putting blocks in the process. And even after that, we won’t have the EU’s international trade deals and will have to renegotiate everything. This could take years – and we will be in an economic depression for that whole period, I have no doubt. No wonder the EU is demanding that we begin negotiations as soon as possible – we’re a big economy and our status will create uncertainty for the entire common market.

Are we leaving? We’re certainly acting like it. There’s an exit committee. Bizarrely, Nigel Farage feels snubbed that he’s not part of it. He’s not an MP and his party has one seat in the Commons. He’s an irrelevance to the process. He may try to throw his weight around the European Parliament, but I’m not convinced he’s got enough political weight to actually throw around. But really the decision rests with the government. And we haven’t technically got one.

Now that Cameron has resigned, a lot of things are up in the air. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 means that it’s very unlikely that an election will be called. It would need the agreement of two thirds of the Commons. So we’re getting whoever the Conservatives decide as Prime Minister. Clearly, judging by who jumped ship to the Leave campaign around Johnson, Boris is a serious contender with support within the party. But the party don’t necessarily choose the most logical candidate. The Conservatives live in a bubble and only their internal machinations matter. Given that he’s been the policy driver for some years, Osborne could be in a good position to take over the reins. Osborne and Johnson may even make an alliance (although my biggest fear right now is Osborne continuing as Chancellor, so I bloody hope not). The by-elections triggered by the electoral finance investigations (which I believe are ongoing) could leave the Conservatives as a minority government. This could cause legislative floundering for the next three years, and an actual exit from the EU would be defined by that context.

If Johnson does end up as PM, he indicated right at the beginning that his plan in leading the Leave campaign was to try to renegotiate with the EU, then go back to the British public with what’s on offer. He’s a Europhile and always has been, so it’s entirely possible that he’s intending to back out of an actual exit at the eleventh hour. It will be difficult. It will potentially alienate British voters. And it will irk EU leaders that we’ve caused an economic convulsion for nothing.

As for Scotland? That was a close referendum, too. One of the tipping points for them staying in the UK was that they would have to ask to come back in to the EU. Regionally, Scotland voted Remain this time round. The previous question of Scottish independence was framed in terms of a status quo that has now drastically changed. I think a second Scottish referendum is not only inevitable but reasonable. At least it would give them an opportunity to return to the common market. But much depends on further negotiations with a Westminster government that doesn’t currently exist.

The Count: Some Thoughts

•24 June, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve started writing this at 3.10 am, as the votes are being counted. Leave is running at 50.8% of the vote, according to the BBC News website. I’ve got Radio 4 on as background noise. At this stage, I have a few thoughts and I want to get them down (if only to say, “I told you so” later).

Right now, it’s too close to call. I have friends on social media panicking that we’re going to leave, but it has to be borne in mind that, unlike a general election, it really is one “man” one vote. But these areas that have declared already are the easiest to count. The high population density areas are the ones that have the most EU immigrants, and therefore the ones that actually fear them least, haven’t declared yet. With its Polish population, I’ll be interested to see which way Wolverhampton jumps. Also, the high population density areas are the cosmopolitan areas and the student areas. They have a very different socio-economic make-up from the areas that have declared already. 50.8% could certainly swing the other way. I could be wrong: it’s now 51.2% leave.

One way or another, this will be seen as a vote of confidence/non-confidence in the government. Cameron will live or die on this. If we vote to leave, I expect a Conservative coup internally. The way certain Cabinet figures have jumped ship after Johnson declared for Leave makes me expect that coup to be spearheaded by Johnson with firm support. There could be a new Prime Minister within a fortnight. If we remain, Cameron and Osborne will milk it for all it’s worth. Bear in mind, however, that Osborne can make a play for leadership if Cameron steps down, and that he could still be in a position of power if Cameron steps down, depending on his internal support.

Of course, we still have the results of the electoral fraud enquiry looming. For international readers (I have a few): there have been accusations that there were false declarations of campaign spending in several constituencies by the winning Conservatives in the last general election. This could force a series of by-elections that could lose the government their slim majority. In combination with a Leave vote, this could force an actual vote of no confidence in the government and a snap election. Labour aren’t prepared to fight that election in reality, but Corbyn is no tactician and therefore might be hubristic enough to force that vote.

That said, a Leave vote might force a coup in the Labour party. Leave votes are coming in thick and fast in Labour heartlands and there will be recriminations. Already the accusation of a lack of passion is being laid at Corbyn’s door. In reality he has refused to share a platform with Cameron, which means that his media presence has been reduced. The result is that Labour’s less politically aware voters (i.e. the majority of them) have not necessarily received Labour’s pro-EU message. It would be just for Corbyn to shoulder the blame for that.

The time is 3.43 am. Leave is at 51.2%.

One thing that has always concerned me is voter apathy. In a world where we create echo chambers of our own opinions on social media (actually, I don’t. I have very politically varied friends. But I’m told that this is a thing) it’s very easy to take a back seat and not vote, thinking that the country as a whole will vote your way anyway. Given that the Remainers are generally leftist, and that the Left tend to have a smug sense of their own self-righteousness, it would not surprise me if the missing voters were mostly Remainers. We had a high turnout, but that was still only around 69% when only about 13% of the country (according to recent polls) were still undecided. Somebody with an opinion stayed home. Whoever you are, if you disagree with the result, you only have yourself to blame.

So what happens next? It has to be remembered that this vote is not binding. This is just a count of public opinion. Boris Johnson has declared right from the start that his hope is that a demonstration of our intention to leave will allow a harder renegotiation with Europe and a binding re-run in two years’ time. EU President Jean-Claude Juncker is having none of it. But, hey, the Stirling is spiralling downwards even as I type. Knowing that the mere anxiety is causing this kind of chaos in the markets, would any given government actually commit the genuine economic suicide of Brexit, regardless of the mood of the people?

The time is 3.57 am. 51.4% to Leave. May you live in interesting times.