The Sneer at Non-Celebrities Show

Graham Norton Show - London

I don’t really like doing negative posts but I have to register my hatred of The Graham Norton Show (BBC1 Friday nights). The celebrities all trudge on at the start and sit on the cheap set together. You will never see any group of people more pleased with themselves anywhere ever. The celebs fawn over each other to the point of vomit but that’s not why I loathe the show.

What really really really irks me is the sneeriness. The shower of nervous celebs take Graham’s lead and begin parading ‘ordinary’ members of the public before them in order to mock, ridicule and belittle. Initially it’s quite gentle with hilarious Mr Norton showing various YouTube clips of silly people looking stupid or getting things wrong with their moronic un-celebrity-like ways and then inviting the celebs to snigger. But the entire thing reaches an excruciating climax when the ‘beautiful people’ watch some random member of the public attempt to tell a funny story before they are unceremoniously tipped from their seat by one of the celebrities. It’s very strange that Graham Norton should be instigating this because he has no discernible talent of any kind; he’s not a comedian nor a journalist nor an actor or anything. He’s just there, like some simpering court jester. But he really likes making fun of people; that’s his one talent. Ordinary people that is, not celebrities; (he is so deferential to celebrities he may as well lie face down on the floor at their feet). As you can imagine, it’s all hilarious beyond belief.

This show is an endangered species. It is the precise opposite of all those celebrity talent shows in which celebrities make fools of themselves in a pathetic attempt to re-start their careers or to simply make a few quid (God forbid any of them has to get an actual job). I’m no great fan of those shows either but at least they have a refreshing feeling of just desserts about them. The Graham Norton Show has a weird, old-fashioned elitist feel about it that makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

I thought a lot before I wrote this because clearly I wouldn’t want to add one single viewer to the ratings through publicity. Then I thought, yes I want people to see it. I want people to see it, and to see it for what it is.

Dead Leg

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This week I saw this (above). It’s not some horrific DIY accident, it’s actually a sculpture by Robert Gober on display in the Tate Gallery in Liverpool. It’s a cast of the artist’s own leg, embedded with human hairs and dressed with a man’s shoe, sock, and trouser-leg. The hairs on the leg are so realistic it’s eerie.

The body fragment is meant to speak of absence, detachment and loss. The leg is installed as if emerging from the gallery wall, portraying an uneasy balance between interior and exterior. Apparently, Gober’s disembodied limbs and appendages imply a psychological fracture.

His work is related to domestic and familiar objects such as doors, sinks, and body parts, and has themes of nature, religion, and politics. The sculptures are meticulously hand-crafted, even when they appear to just be a recreation of a common sink. He has also made photographs, prints, and drawings. I read somewhere that the leg is difficult and unsettling because it’s difficult to figure out whether the object as alive or dead.

Me with a Liver Bird

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Those iconic birds on top of the Liver Building on Liverpool’s waterfront look quite small from ground level. I climbed onto the roof to find out exactly what size they really are. It was a tricky climb; my suction boots were certainly put to the test. So now we all know how big the Liver Birds are compared to me. Wait, though…. You don’t know how big I am!

Cars Are Killing Us

carYears ago there were communities. There was a shop on the corner of every other street, a post office down the road, a pharmacy five minutes walk away, a cafe in the next street… There was no way for people to travel quickly to larger towns or cities so everything had to be located in the neighbourhood. Then came the car.

From the moment that cars came within the reach of the average family, communities have faded away. It was possible now to get to places so much quicker. Global companies could build vast supermarkets on the edges of cities and everyone could reach them in less than ten minutes. There was no need for the corner shop anymore, no need for the local post office or pharmacy, and so they gradually disappeared. At the gigantic superstores you could get everything under the same roof and there was easy, free parking.

So why is that such a bad trend? If supermarkets are cheap and convenient, why is that a negative thing? Maybe because, along with the cheapness and the convenience comes de-humanisation. When the shops, cafes, butchers and pharmacies were located in our local communities, we knew the people who worked and shopped there because they were our neighbours. When we’re shopping at the superstore we rarely see anyone we know because they’ve travelled from a much wider region to shop there. We’re no longer amongst our neighbours. So we don’t say hello, we don’t pause for a chat, most often we don’t speak at all. We even start to get irritated if someone does try to have a conversation especially if they are in front of us in the queue at the checkout. Tutting and sighing is the nearest we get to an interaction. The superstores get bigger as the local communities shrivel out of existence. It’s not really the fault of the supermarkets; they’re just responding to our demands. The really dangerous factor is the availability of the car.

So there’s no hope? We’re doomed to see the destruction of local communities because we can all jump in the car and nip to the supermarket? Not necessarily. The car has become so popular that it’s becoming a victim of its own success. We’re starting to find that we can’t nip to Asda quite so quickly because there’s a traffic jam on the ring road, we can’t pop down to Tesco because there’s tailbacks all the way back to the motorway. So maybe the car is starting to fail to provide the wonderful freedom and mobility that it used to. When it becomes the norm to sit in a queue for half and hour to get to Sainsbury’s, perhaps we’ll start to think that walking to a corner shop would be a better option. Maybe the corner shops will start to reappear along with all the other local amenities. A feeling of community could start to return. The car will have driven us round in a great big circle.

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Being a Team Player can be Bad. Very Bad.

bad-appleI’m unusual, I think, in that I have never supported a team. I’m talking about football teams, of course. I can’t say I feel any particular loyalty to my home town either (it’s a dump). Neither am I strongly allied to a political party. I don’t feel much of a kinship with a country (I’m British but I don’t claim that Britain is superior to any other country). The awful truth is; I’m just not a team player. At job interviews you’ll always get asked ‘are you a team player?’ as though team playing is always a good thing. But it’s not. Not convinced? How about I name some powerful and effective teams? Al Qaeda. British National Party. Boko Haram. Irish Republican Army. Ku Klux Klan.

At work I’m a member of a team and it works really well (mostly). Teams can be good. People work in teams every day of the year in hospitals, hotels, governments, hairdressers, shops and factories and achieve wonderful things. Competition between teams can drive people to achieve excellence such as when the Russians and Americans were locked in a bitter battle to be the first to land on the moon in the 1960s. But our need to belong to a team or ‘tribe’ can become toxic.

Seemingly, there exists a need for humans to feel a sense of belonging. These days that can be hard to find (just like a ‘good heart’). When we feel a strong allegiance to a family, a football team, a political cause, a nationality, a religion… we feel empowered, energised, protected and strengthened. The problem arises when we feel we need to defend that allegiance, no matter what. Allegiance can lead us make skewed decisions.

For example, I know rational people who refuse to dress their children in colours worn by football teams which rival their own. My own grandparents refused to attend the wedding of their only son if if it took place in the church of any other religion apart from their own. Maybe it’s part of our ancient, tribal drive to survive. When humans lived in tribes it must have been essential to prevent competing tribes from taking the food. Back in primitive times it must have been a matter of life and death. Maybe we’re still more primitive than we like to think.

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It’s a weird impulse in us. Think about this; I say my favourite colour is orange, you say your favourite colour is purple. I say why I think orange is so good and immediately the person who likes purple is on the defensive. Purple person feels the need to tell me why his decision to love purple is a better decision than my decision to love orange. ‘Join us’ the purple people call to the orange supporters and if the orange people are feeling disaffected or abandoned or failed by the orange cause then they may consider switching to the purple gang. And if they do switch, they will defend their new cause with the same vigour used to defend the previous one. When you’re a member of a team, you defend that team, no matter what. For me, being a team player means accepting the team’s actions without question. And the most important thing of all is to always always always always always ask questions.

In a way, even a family is a team. We all feel loyalty to our family (even me), In fact, personally, that is the only team I can honestly say I feel a part of. I know that I would defend my family to the death, no matter what. If me and my wife and kids were on the Titanic and there were spaces for my family but no other on the lifeboat, I know that I would do anything in my power to make sure that it was my family getting saved, even at the expense of others. I would even kill to save them.

So maybe I’m more of a team player than I thought.

Why Can’t I Make Decisions?

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The hardest thing for me is making decisions. I don’t know why that should be so difficult, though, because I don’t have free will. Nobody does. Do you feel like you have free will? Do you feel like you can choose A or choose B? So do I. I feel like I have the power to choose, the power of free will… but it’s an illusion.

WARNING: THIS BLOG POST COULD CAUSE HEADACHES

A lot of people would disagree with me about this, I know. Their ‘decision’ to disagree with me will have been reached as a product of their genetic make-up and their life experience. They can’t just decide to act against what those factors dictate.

Imagine we’re all balls on a snooker table. A ball is defined by a combination of its physical features (ie- shape, smoothness etc) and its encounters with things in the environment (for a snooker ball this is mainly going to be other snooker balls and snooker cue tips). The ball can’t suddenly decide ‘I’m not going to bounce of the cushion the way all these other bastards expect me to! I’m going to leap off the table and chat up that pretty girl in the audience (for one thing, there’s no pretty girls in the audience at snooker matches). Similarly, humans can’t simply decide to act against the factors by which they are controlled.

STICK WITH ME. IT’S A BUMPY ROAD BUT IT’S WORTH IT

But people are not snooker balls, you might say. How can you compare a complex, sentient, living, conscious, feeling creature to a simple, inanimate object? I agree that living creatures are certainly more complex than inanimate objects such as snooker balls, but what else makes us different? We are alive, yes. We are conscious, maybe. But we don’t even really know what we mean by those terms. The only thing that leads us to class ourselves as alive is the presence of energy; we don’t know where our energy comes from. Snooker balls have energy for a short time after they are struck by the cue; we know exactly where that energy comes from. So what else differentiates us from objects and why do we think that objects are constrained by their physical and environmental attributes but that we are not?

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As far as we know, things in the universe are caused. Nothing ever happens unless it has been caused. The cause may be enormously complicated, it may be beyond our understanding but it must exist. Therefore, every decision you ever make has been caused by a massive chain of events which began at the creation of the universe. The moment the universe began, each and every one of our destinies was determined and unavoidable. There is no such thing as free will.

On the other hand…. what if there are some concepts our puny brains are just incapable of understanding? Infinity, for example. Or…. un-caused events? Free will. Oh. Bugger!

The Truth About My Library Book

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I’m a supporter of libraries and my local library is brilliant but they made a faux pas with this signed first edition of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. Look where they stuck their label; right over the signature.

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Doesn’t really matter: Joel Dicker’s bestseller is a good book signed or not. And without the library I would never have read it anyway.

Do New Years Resolutions Ever Work?

Change-Ahead-sign

In previous years I’ve made New Year resolutions and they’ve not even lasted a week. Each time it has happened though I’ve used the experience to hone my resolution-making skills for the following year. For example, the first resolutions I ever made included 1. Irrigate the desert, 2 Solve the Middle East problem and 3.Moisturise every morning. I now realise that those resolutions were far too ambitious; there’s no way I was ever going to moisturise, for God’s sake!

The next year I tried to make my resolutions more achievable; 1. Eat a bit healthier, 2. Get a bit fitter, 3. Moisturise once a month. By February, I had plummeted into a deep pit of stinking, vomit-inducing, shit-smearing depression. I sat in front of the TV from March until November; didn’t even switch it on till August. This had happened because the resolutions had been too vague, mundane and uninspiring this time round.

Year 3; I deliberately made my resolutions much more lofty and inspiring. 1. Say one nice thing to everyone you meet every day, 2. Smiling makes you feel better and everyone around you feel better so smile, smile, smile, 3. Moisturise!  I still struggled however. Saying something nice to everyone I met proved to be tricky as I regularly associate with daleks, Dracula Prince of Darkness and Nigel Farage. Also, I found it a strain to have to smile whilst unconscious (ie- while asleep or at work).

Consequently, the year after, I tried to be a lot more realistic and down to earth when setting resolutions. My list read; 1. Use cockney rhyming slang whilst simultaneously replicating the voice of Ray Winstone, 2. Pronounce ‘th..’ as ‘ff..’ as in ‘I ffort you ffort I was ffinking I ffort you was ffick!’ 3. Ffarcking moisturise you ffarking nonce!

None of these resolutions worked and maybe we have to face the notion that the whole idea of just deciding to change something about yourself on some arbitrary day of the year is always going to be doomed to failure. Changing habits is one of the hardest things we can ever aspire to do. It takes planning, persistence, repetition and support. Even the simplest of habits can be so ingrained that it takes a lot of shifting. You can’t just decide to change it and then expect it to automatically change overnight. The real danger in making New Year resolutions is that the inevitable failure to stick to them can make you feel inadequate, hopeless and depressed. Then, change is even less likely than ever. So what should we do instead of making resolutions? Ah… well… haven’t figured that out yet. Definitely going to figure it out this year though. It’s one of my resolutions.

Why Money Doesn’t Matter. Much.

ghostMost of this post is a joke, remember. Most of it. This first bit is not a joke, though. For a limited time only my book Ghost Road is available to download on Kindle for £0.77 (or for absolutely nothing if you have Kindle Unlimited apparently. What is Kindle Unlimited anyway? Is it anything like The Milk Man Unlimited ? I subscribed to that and he now brings me Muller Fruit Corners any time of the day or night. Sorry but can’t figure out how to do those two little dots over the ‘u’ in ‘Muller’).

Even though this post is mostly a joke, the book isn’t. It’s more scary than funny (I hope so anyway!). Have a look at the description at Amazon.

 

Now, I must draw to your attention the blood, sweat and tears that were spilled in the creation of this masterpiece of fear (my book Ghost Road, I mean, not this post). Four hundred pages and God knows how many thousand words…  they don’t just write themselves, you know. All those days when you were out there running through fields of flowers, cavorting on sun-kissed beaches or laughing as you prance naked through a Cumbrian mountain stream with Lord Melvyn Bragg… all that time, I was crouched, unshaven and clad only in string underpants, punching words into a moist keyboard.

All that effort and the bloody thing ends up selling for 77 pence!! Even the Pound Shop specifies a minimum quid charge for the (auto) biographies of Robbie Williams and Joe Pasquale (sorry but can’t figure out how to do an accent over the ‘e’ of Pasquale)

This is pretty much all a joke, remember. Actually, if someone wants to pay 77 pence for anything that’s emerged from the fevered brain of yours truly, aka me, then I’m happy. To be honest I’m happy if anyone reads anything I’ve written even if they haven’t paid a penny. Maybe it’s better if people haven’t paid to read my stuff because that means they can give an honest opinion, untainted by the exchange of filthy, stinking cash which was probably obtained through drugs or blackmailing minor members of the Royal family.

So feel free to help yourself to an almost free copy of my book Ghost Road from Kindle any time you like and don’t worry a bit about the ridiculously low pricing. I needed to draw my horns in a little anyway; cut down on all that food for the kids, forget about repairing that hole in the roof of our meagre dwelling… And just so you can do that, here’s where you can get it;

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Road-Jon-Kenna-ebook/dp/B00OL13GU0/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1420241756&sr=1-1&keywords=jon+kenna

Of course the other alternative would be to pay a valiant £10.99 for a beautiful paper copy. It’s sold quite a few at that price so I really don’t mind about the 77 pence thing. No really. NO REALLY. You know this post was mostly a joke, don’t you? It really was JoKe.