Monday, 26 July 2010

Shame, I could have made it as a Burka model

Written for Don't Panic

But Sarkozy finally got his way and managed to outlaw the Burka from French streets this week. It’s amazing how banning a controversial item of clothing has been spun as an act of libertarianism. French Justice Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie said it was a victory for "Values of freedom against all the oppressions which try to humiliate individuals; values of equality between men and women". Oh, so presumably this redresses the balance for male bank-robbers who have been forbidden to wear balaclavas and facemasks into Santander for decades... Pah! A largely male National Assembly tells women what they can and can’t wear, oh, the irony!

Feminists must be so confused. Is it a blow to oppressive husbands, or a blow to women who don’t want to be perceived as sex objects? Defiant, fully veiled Muslims could be about to become the bra burners of the 21st century. Which is even more ironic. What a mess. It’s a lethal cocktail of all three dinner table taboos: religion, politics and sex.

This bodes well for the newspapers because finding these taboos mixed together is the secret of a great news story (Religion + sex = Catholic Priest sex abuse scandal, sex + politics = David Laws scandal, religion + politics = Obama’s fundamentalist preacher scandal), but it’s pretty boring for the rest of us. A few veiled religious fundamentalists obscuring their sexuality from prying eyes in Harrods isn’t going to stop truck drivers reading Nuts magazine, just as Jordan flashing her silicon in the jungle isn’t going to free Saudi Arabian women from the tyranny and oppression of the patriarchy. Western and Arabic expectations of women are obviously vastly different but equally un-feminist in that both are essentially based on the woman’s role as an object of sexual desire. So frankly both can get down from their high horses. Something Sarkozy will never do so long as he has to stand next to Carla Bruni.

Spies from Stoke Newington!!??!

Written For Don't Panic:

Who’d have thought sleepy old Stoke Newington would be the implicated in a spying ring? Well, Anna Chapman, one of the 11 Russians accused of being deep cover spies by the US government this week, lived there before heading off to the states to get the real work done. So do organic food shops, yoga studios and homeopathic clinics provide the perfect cover for honing ninja skills and committing daring espionage, or are spies just getting soft now the cold war is over?

Another two of the spies were eavesdropped by the authorities asking for money to buy their New Jersey pad because the US is a ‘society that values home ownership’ and ‘when in Rome’ do as the Romans do. When Moscow wouldn’t stump the cash they protested impetuously that they had never ‘deviated’ from their mission. Another cell managed to rack up a whopping £42,500 worth of expenses. Presumably there will be a job for them in Whitehall when they get out of jail.

Not one of the eleven even managed to get charged with espionage, merely ‘failing to register as an agent of a foreign government’. In other words they were rubbish spooks. No blood on their hands, no Aston Martins with rocket launchers for headlights, no missions into space to build satellite ray guns capable of vaporising entire cities, I doubt they could even deliver a box of Milk Tray. Not like our James Bond at all. We Brits cracked the Enigma code; we do this whole spying thing better than anyone else.

Except that it wasn’t that long ago that two blundering British agents got caught talking to a stone in a public square in Moscow. 2006 it was, and it turned out they had filled a rock with electronic equipment to pass on Russian official secrets to London. Apparently London had failed to brief them on cellular telephones and the World Wide Web, the spying equivalent of Japanese guerrilla cells still fighting in the Philippines 29 years after the end of World War 2.

Sure, it’s all starting to feel a little quaint now, in these days of international terror networks like Al Qaeda, but we shouldn’t be surprised that the old enemies still try to spy on one another. We might all meet up to discuss quantitative easing over a round of golf every year at the G20, but don’t think that means we all trust each other now. Would you trust a man like Silvio Berlusconi for example? Not as far as you could throw his wife’s heavy heart. It’s just nice to see a bit of conspiracy in the mainstream media for a change. Since the cold war ended we’ve all had to visit David Icke’s website and read about reptilian humanoids bent on influencing the creation of human history through their secret campaign of Bilderberg meetings, 9/11 inside-jobs and Illuminati, to get our fix. At least now conspiracy has returned to broadsheets fit for the coffee tables of Stoke Newington.

Written for Dont Panic

Football, the last true meritocracy?

Cuts. The word on everyone’s lips. For the past six months it seems that every stream of media has been fixated on how and where the axe will fall. Before the election it was all about who was going to do it. Now we have chosen our executioners it’s all about exactly what we are going to have to do without. State pensions? Child trust funds? Winter fuel? If you are thinking of splashing out on a second home for romantic trysts with your secret homosexual lover you’d best wait, Cameron says we will all feel the pinch. How uncle David? Put us out of our misery, we’re a nation frozen in the guillotine! In the latest twist we are actually being asked to decide for ourselves over the summer. It’s called a ‘public engagement exercise’ apparently, but it really means that George Osbourne thinks he’s a clever boy and can get the turkeys to vote for Christmas. He’s wrong though, because come summer no one will care about politics any more, we’ll all be watching the football.

The most soul-suckingly football-jaded housewife mother of four boys, who lives close enough to Old Trafford that she can’t park outside her own house when there’s a big game, is going to be glued to Sky Sports like the rest of us. Under the St. Georges Cross the black civil rights activists are going to forget years of slavery and oppression and wail ‘Eng-er-lund’ as one voice with skinhead BNP hooligans from Millwall. The odd Scotsman might even cheer on our Rooney, hell, the Gallagher brothers will probably watch at least one game together. Football unites us, politics divides us.

I can’t see anything wrong with that. Forget the oligarch club owners with mafia ties and the wife swapping players, football is about the closest thing to a true meritocracy we can manage. Sure, Ronaldo and Beckham get all the Gucci campaigns but they wouldn’t get a cap for their country if they couldn’t kick a ball between two posts well, or whatever it is they do. Players are on the team because they deliver on the pitch, regardless of age, race or religion. Which is more than can be said for Westminster.

Meanwhile, our new government is doing little to persuade us that it isn’t closer to that other great democratic summer distraction, Big Brother, and full of self-serving talent-less fame-seekers. Mere weeks with them and we have a new expenses scandal (I can just imagine the gleeful expressions in broadsheet offices in London as the David Laws news broke. A story so good you couldn’t make it up, and one of those rare occasions where they get to behave like tabloids). What is it about politics that attracts this weasely sort? Can’t be a footballer? Fine, sleep with one. No? OK, go on Big Brother. You’re too dull? Well there is always a career in politics.

For Don't Panic:

London Killing Fields

Another 'piece' for don't panic -

If you go out on the streets tonight you’d better be beware.
Kids in gangs with knives and guns are lurking everywhere.
They’ll stab you up and bottle your head,
Nick your phone and leave you for dead.
Nowadays the kiddies take their pick what they nick.

When I have toddlers, that’s what I’ll sing to them at bedtime. We’ll be living in some ├╝ber trendy nook of Bethnal Green in a gentrified shoe-box of an apartment, the type the estate agent would market as ‘cosy’, but it’s the best you can afford on your ‘creative’ salary and at least it’s a rung on the ever-tricky property ladder. I probably wont spare a thought for the family of Sudanese immigrants who used to live there, squeezed out to the other side of Hackney Marshes by genuine poverty, increasing rents and a creeping alienation as one by one their friends and peers were replaced by men with beards and Barbers and ladies with floral Onesies, and toddlers, like mine, dressed in Osh Kosh.

I’ll avoid eye contact as I pass groups of young men consisting of their teenage kids and those like them, late on a weekend. They could have knives. Now they probably have guns too. Best not to get involved (picking up an occasional eighth bag is ok, that’s like an armistice). We all hear the warnings: gun crime is on the increase, but it’s just the gangs isn’t it? Sure, every few years you might have to cede an iPhone or two and a wallet full of 20s to someone in a tracksuit, but you won’t get knifed and definitely not shot. Right?


When it was just knives, the potential for collateral damage from gang warfare was limited to say, a few meters. Now as the arms race accelerates, it seems we’re all at risk from a stray bullet. After all, flack jackets and bulletproof vests make you look fat. They are unlikely to catch on in Broadway Market.

You might say something was bound to happen here, where the vegetarian restaurants, gastro pubs and warehouse conversions full of affluent young bohemians, rub up against grim council estates and a post-code dubbed with the nick name 'murder mile', which can boast close to 200 shootings a year. It’s like putting a hedgehog sanctuary next to a motorway, or an MP’s husband in a motel with a porn channel and an expenses credit card. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

Last weekend’s shooting on London Fields was a wormhole between two parallel universes, a reminder of what and who gets swept beneath the carpet in Britain by gentlemen such as Jules Pipe, The Mayor of Hackney, who told the BBC with Boris-like myopia, “Despite this very worrying incident, hundreds of people were able to enjoy the event ('Parks for Life' festival - organised by Hackney Council) in London Fields safely and without interruption.” What a knob.

I can’t imagine the mayor’s views were representative on this occasion. I’m sure everyone cared enough to show at least a little concern. It’s a sorry place where hundreds of people are able to ignore their fellow man being shot through the stomach only meters away. A sorry place like Hackney, 199 times a year.

On the Radio 4 Today Show

It's taken me a long time to upload this because I have been very busy fighting crime and saving the planet from an evil troupe of lizard zombies lead by Tony Hayward, but I've done it now.

On the day Gordon brown resigned they played me on the today show on radio 4, I've gone high brow....

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