There are no space hoppers in football

When I arrived back from India a few weeks ago, I hadn't even got as far as leaving the airport before I was welcomed home by the oh-for-fuck's-sake cortex of my brain being prodded awake for the first time in weeks. "Oh yeah, this again," it said, as my shoulders slumped.

It was the Daily Mail's fault. I caught a glimpse of the front page in Smiths after coming through customs. That day, it was angry that some representatives of a religion that preaches charity and helping poor people had criticised government proposals to reduce the amount of help given to poor people. Apparently, a better representative was fine with the not helping poor people so much thing, so all the rest should just shut up. A bit like Ecclesiastical Top Trumps.

Lots of things had been keeping me from blogging or paying much attention to the press or politics or anything else for a while before I went to India. Coming back to see that shouty headline was just part of a culture shock that lasted a few days. Or weeks.

You know what was really ridiculous when I got home? Masterchef. I mean, I was only giving it half my attention while I was reading Captain America, but I looked up to see the totally banal non action of whether or not some bloke's sponge was going to rise accompanied by the same sort of soundtrack as a Bourne movie action sequence. The show was trying to provoke the same emotional response from whether or not a cake was going to be nice as a scene where you're wondering whether a man armed only with a biro can survive an attack against a trained assassin in a kung fu fight to the death. There wasn't even deadly poison in the bloody cake. I felt cheated.

I tried to get back into the swing of things with the news and the politics and the internet and the blah blah blah, but I have to say my heart wasn't in it. Good old Steven Baxter covered the feeling in 'It doesn't matter that much' over at the Enemies of Reason. I'm going to quote him:
Things seem much more important than they really are, when you're sitting in a world surrounded by tweets and blogposts and articles and people linking to stuff disagreeing with other people disagreeing about stuff. So much disagreement, so much energy, so much anger and resentment and bitterness and pettiness. And really, when you take a step back, as I've been forced to due to lack of energy and lack of motivation, you realise, for Christ's sake, this isn't all as big and massive and important as it seemed.
To ironically quote an ironic quote like some sort of meta hipster - word.

For me, it's this and more besides. All the blogposts and articles and spats aren't that important in the grand scheme of things, but there are important things that need to be engaged with and challenged and worked out - it's just that we might be going about it in the wrong way.

I'm not just talking about blogging and criticising things and the back and forth of the internet, I'm talking about political discourse in this country at its very core. If you're interested in trying to work out what the best things to do to improve people's lives and help everyone get along are, and then go and make those things happen (which I always sort of naively thought was the point of politics), there's precious little you can do. People in and around politics generally aren't doing that.

Here's a laboured analogy. Imagine you want to play football in the park. You go, you pick your teams and you kick off.

Then, some numpty bounces past on a space-hopper, scoops up the ball, throws it in a tree and shouts in your face "ONE NIL! ONE NIL!" The opposing team all start running about cheering and hugging each other.

So you get the ball back, put it down, explain there are no space-hoppers in football, the tree's not the goal and you can't pick up the ball so it's not one nil and kick off again.

A fat bloke dressed in luminous lycra and a bum-bag like Mister Motivator boings up next to you on a pogo stick, goes sprawling on his big arse and shouts, "Ten jumps! I done ten jumps! Two nil! TWO NIL!" The rest of the team start cheering and chanting again and you try to ask what the bloody hell's going on and explain that you want to play football, not jump on a fucking pogo stick, but you're drowned out by baying morons.

As you pick the ball up to go home because you've had enough, the big arsed Mister Motivator calls, "There you go. Typical of your lot. Just because I done ten jumps. Always shutting down the game and playing the 'that's not football' card when you're losing."

So you're faced with a choice. Try to do more pogo stick bounces than some ridiculous buffoon whose willy outline is showing through his shorts and pretend that's football, or go home and allow the team with the spacehoppers and pogo sticks and hats with propellers go on to win the FA Cup.

That's politics in the UK that is.

Okay. It's an imperfect analogy. Really, both teams would have their share of people in football boots and shinpads looking on bemused as some of their team mates bounce up and down on things while wearing hats with propellors on (and there'd be more than two teams), but that's what it feels like to me when I watch Question Time or read the papers or listen to some droning knobhole farting on about this or that measure on the news.

Take the Health Service.  Call me crazy, but I think that any discussion or policy to do with it should be centred around what the best way is to keep as many people as possible in good health and to alleviate as much suffering as we can for the others.

Or the welfare system. We should be trying to decide the best way of helping people into work where they can and preventing them from falling into poverty, homelessness and crime and all the rest of it where we can't. These aren't complex concepts.

The government, though, wants to do neither of these things. The government wants to trick you into thinking that's what it wants to do when really all it's interested in is getting one of those big mops with the hinge in it you see in train stations and sweep vast drifts of cash into the laps of its mates and other people it wants to suck up to because they might give some of that cash back. Which is difficult to do when you're bouncing on a pogo stick.

It wouldn't be much more obvious that Lansley and Cameron don't give a monkey's raas about patient care with their ridiculous Bill if they had 'SHOW ME THE MONEY' emblazoned accross their bouncing, lycra clad arses, but to engage you either have to pretend they do care or waste your time pointing out that you know they're lying - at which point they can attack you and draw attention away from their obvious scheming with some sort of stupid arsery. Probably another lie, or pretending you've said something you haven't, or calling you names. Remember when Lansley sneered at that woman who said she didn't trust him on Question Time? That.

It's the same with workfare. Point out that the government shouldn't be subsidising corporations who earn multi-million pound profits by supplying them with free labour, or that people who do a job ought to get paid at least the minimum they're legally entitled to and apparently you're a job snob. You're not, of course. Iain Duncan-Smith and Chris Grayling are just jumping on pogo sticks and telling you it's football.

It's not a party political thing either. Labour would be doing the same if they were in power - the only consolation we'd have is that they might be using a smaller broom. Pogo sticks and space hoppers would still abound.

One level down from that, the media love joining in with the pogo stick space hopper game. Today's Daily Mail headline is nothing but an attempt to discredit and attack a group of people who have vocally opposed the government's Health and Social Care Bill. I don't have the energy or inclination to check, but the likelihood of it being wrong or distorted or taken out of context is pretty high. The thing is, what's the point of expending the energy pointing out the motives when a) it's nakedly obvious and b) all that'll happen is that people of a particular political persuasion will go boinging off in their lycra and their twirly propellor hats, licking their big comedy lollies and shouting "ONE NIL!" anyway? The twats.

And below that we're really into Steven Baxter's 'it really doesn't matter' territory. James Delingpole? Toby Young? Harry Cole? Iain Dale? Harry's Place? Shit off.

I'm below even them, so where does that leave me then?

I've come skidding up to a bit of a chasm. I still think it's important to point out when the papers are lying and where politicians are trying to hoodwink everyone, but I'm not sure I want to be one of the people that does it anymore. There are loads of other good people that do it better than me, and I've been kicking about for months and months feeling pretty much the same way I did when I read Littlejohn's books and when I read the Sun for a week. That slow realisation that this is all just shit has robbed me of any motivation to do anything about it.

There are things I've always been meaning to do while I've been writing this blog, and one of those is write stuff that I actually like about things that are important to me and write it as well as I can. Instead, I've spent a lot of time procrastinating, answering the same sort of nonsense over and over again and banging out first draft stuff without even thinking. Sometimes I write half decent things here, a lot of the time I wince when I read it back to myself. Whatever the quality or lack thereof, it's been less and less fun recently and I've been doing it out of a sense of duty rather than because of any passion for it, except for the odd post here and there. The bullshit awards were fun until they felt like a chore, but that's what they ended up feeling like.

Recently though, I read Patton Oswalt's 'Zombie Spaceship Wasteland'*, and thought, "this is the stuff".  It's been staring me right in the face all along. Why don't I use the blog, you know, like a blog? It's crazy, but it just might work.

So, if it all goes to plan, expect a wider mix of stuff that cares less about what you people who come here might want.  Some of it will be personal, some of it will be stupid, some of it will be rubbish. There might even be drawings. But there'll be less trying to crowbar bum jokes into moaning about newspapers, or struggling to find the enthusiasm to point out yet again that the foreign people the tabloids are talking about might not actually be foreign and what they're saying are jobs aren't jobs (although there might still be a bit of that now and again).  My last post was the first stab at it, and there'll be more to come. Sorry if you hated that by the way.

Hope I can keep it up, and hope you like it.

*Worth it if only for the Erik Blevins script treatments and Neil Cumpston film reviews, but there's way more than that.

**UPDATE** The Tories have been pogoing about to help me make my point today.


Dazzla said...

I've been on two long trips to Asia in the last five years and that's exactly how I felt. I came back, looked at the newspapers, looked at the TV (especially the ads) and felt like grabbing people by the lapels and bellowing "But surely you can see how fucking ridiculous this is? Look! It is the very definition pf insanity."

That was the first time, when I'd been in India and SE Asia for a year. I'd come to regard as - if not normal then certainly unremarkable - temples dedicated to rats; bars with opium, weed and mushrooms for sale; cities at three times the elevation of Ben Nevis and people who'll actually kill you if you insist too hard that the damage to the moped wasn't caused by you.

I spent five months in India, and I've been back for another three recently. I can't surely say that I'll ever leave the country alone.

But you do see home differently when you come back. A facsimile of how you remember it. It becomes transparent.

It made me think of Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities". But it's probably less cynical. England, to me, is like cricket: it only makes sense if you accept its preposterous and arbitrary nature. As a newcomer, it's ridiculous. When immersed in it for long enough, other possibilities fade into irrelevant improbability.

Dandly said...

Five minutes watching the ads on Indian television should be enough to convince anyone that they are busy making the same mistakes we have already made.

Ads on Chinese television for skin lightener, racks (as in ways to stretch you and make you taller) and cosmetics to make girls' eyes look rounder, suggest there are more wrong ways of doing things we have never thought of.

Discuss politics with any Indian citizen and you will soon discover that India has its very own space-hoppers, pogo-sticks and hinged mops.

But at least in democratic India people will discuss these things freely. In China I was once - very quietly - asked 'is it true that in the west you are allowed to criticise your government?' The questioner seemed incredulous when I said it was. I did not tell her that for members of the opposition party it is compulsory - even when the government is right.

Yes, there is a sourness in the political discourse in this country, but sadly we are in no way unusual.

I am sorry you are feeling jaded, but I can understand why. You have done good work, particularly with the bullshit awards. I will continue to read the blog, though I suspect that despite our politics being similar our tastes in books and films differs widely. I hope in time you will feel refreshed and be able to return to the fray.

Matt said...

Whilst on the one hand I am sad that I won't be able to read you tearing apart those absurdities in the wonderful way you have done in the past, on the other I appreciate it must be numbing.

Whatever you write, you're a good writer, and so I shall still come to the site.

I too don't comprehend how people I know that appear outwardly quite sensible and reasonable fail to appreciate the enormous damage that the politics and press is doing to this country.

Look at America. It's politics is wandering into the arena that allowed the likes of Hitler and Mussolini to do what they did (I know, Godwin and all that, but it is true). And we are slowly following suit. When people make comments about atrocities such as the ethnic cleansing of Nazism or even more reently in the former Yugoslavia along the lines of "How could the people have let that happen?" they need only look at themselves. It's in them. And it's not buried that deep either.

Wow, that was depressing. Sorry. I'll lighten the mood. Boobies! There you go.

Dazzla said...

"But at least in democratic India people will discuss these things freely"

India is democratic in theory, and only in theory. Votes are bought from employers and community leaders who then ensure that their subordinates vote 'the right way' on a regular basis and I know of at least two districts whose current representatives are actually in prison for corruption.

India is currently demanding real-time monitoring on Gmail and Yahoo accounts and have submitted many content removal demands to Facebook.


India is better than China in this respect, yes, but we should be wary of complacency. I think India has a long way to go. It needs to work on its wealth gap. True democracy will follow.

But then, you could say that about the US and about many European countries too.

Dazzla said...

I know it's your prerogative and everything, but please could you explain why my comment didn't pass moderation?

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Dazzla - I think it did. It should be the first one in the thread here.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Oh - and thanks Dazzla! Good point well made - although I don't think this sort of nonsense is restricted to the UK.

And it's odd, feeling cultire shock in your own country.

Dazzla said...

Oh, that's weird. Thought I'd submitted another one.

I mentioned that democracy in India is a bit of an illusion, because many votes are bought from employers and community leaders who then ensure that their subordinates vote the 'right' way. Also, I know of at least two current, serving politicians who are actually in prison for corruption.

India has a long way to go to erase its inequities, but then you could say the same about the US and many European countries.

It's still better than China in that sense, but India is now demanding real-time monitoring of Yahoo and Gmail accounts


and is demanding that Google and Facebook remove content:


And don't even get me started on Thailand...while I was there in 2007, it was impossible to access Hotmail and Youtube, although that didn't last very long.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Five Chinese Crackers,
Please do not be despondent but I do understand. I’m an old man and whilst walking the dog I meet plenty of old people who do believe the absurdities they read in the rags but mainly the Mail and I have great difficulty in remaining polite. I want to say I have been mightily cheered over the years reading the work of yourself and others who have systematically exposed the lies and perversions in our popular press. I believe it was these sites that so informed a section of the public of what was going on that it created the atmosphere of acceptance of the stories in the Guardian and subsequently forced our craven politicians to set up The Levenson Inquiry. When I listen to Mr. Jay questioning ‘the suspects’ I do get the impression he has read your work.
I’m no writer but love reading you. Many thanks again for all your work.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog and similar ones for a while, and I certainly see where you're coming from because I am getting pretty jaded about tabloids. They're all awful aren't they aren't going to change any time soon. It's depressing to read, so it must be doubly depressing to write!

Good luck with the change of direction.