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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why Tracey Ulmann, Blackpool and I Ruined Utopia

 This is an article I composed originally as a piece for Ungagged.  The podcast it is part of is this one (details and timings are on the website)

Utopias we want to build are always, of course, something much better than what we are part of at present. And part of is the key. Not marching in time with. Not a cog. But an active participant. Alive. Human.

When I was a child, my utopia was Blackpool. We went there for our holidays for quite a few years in a row. I anticipated and spoke about Blackpool months in advance of going, like I did Christmas when I arrived home. Blackpool was a break from school, a break from the streets, a chance to do stuff with my English cousin. I loved the journey to get there, Larne, Stranraer, and a bone shaking drive in our VW beetle through Dumfriesshire and then a couple of nights in the lake district, the beach, the tower, the piers and the pleasure beach. The confusion of it all. The crowds, all out for good times. Families together, not trying to fit in a life around must do and routines.

All innocent, 1970’s pre-Thatcherite fun. A childhood utopia, something away from the mundane, for 10 days every year.

I was full of imagination. I made up worlds, written, drawn and with my mates on riverbanks, in fields, around the housing estates and at the top and bottom of trees, and hills, and wasteland. We were lucky, we lived on the edge of the countryside, within view of the magical world of Narnia – well, the place that inspired CS Lewis Narnia – the Mourne Mountains. And we visited Narnia and its coast – the county down coast - regularly. And I still do. A utopia of natural beauty.

And most of the people of Narnia and its surrounds are wonderful… but to borrow a phrase , wherever you go, hell is other people. Utopia is always ruined by others interacting within it in a way you feel you don’t- and some never seem to appreciate the utopia you see.


And then some upset the utopia, ever so slightly, with their want to exploit what draws people there. And you judge, so you are in that room Sartre created. You are part of the torture.

So, what is utopia? Is it just these personal places we yearn for? These places we can be happy?

As political beings, we are always searching for it. And as social beings, utopias are not solitary things, so I suggest, we can only really find utopia in our lifetimes, as somewhere we like to be with people we trust and want to be with.

Build any physical utopia, and it will be undermined and exploited by people with different reactions and interactions with your creation. A political utopia in my opinion, is not a bright summer day watching the ocean for the rest of our lives.

I started writing this piece with the video of They Don’t Know About Us, by Tracy Ullman in my mind.

Weird when I’m supposed to be talking about utopias. But the video is about the utopia that the character who Tracy plays is aiming for in her working class, 1970’s disco night out, teenaged world. It makes me cry every time I watch the bloody thing! Her utopia isn’t realised, only in her dream. I remember my aunt Jean loved the video – she and others in my family laughed in recognition of Tracy’s reality versus her dream. Working class people did these things – and still do. Because they live in their hope, or disappointment at the reality of our proto-utopia, and Tracy’s character ends up exactly where lots of people they knew, did. And still do. In the reality of walking down that supermarket aisle in your fluffy slippers, not caring about your appearance, your whole being about others, and feeling you are failing because of the system you live in isn’t anyone’s idea of utopia – and certainly does not support you.

Well, this world is utopia for a small percentage of people who control all its resources and political narratives. They don’t understand us. They don’t know about us.

Why that song? Why that video? Well, it sits well with four other songs I love that kind of explain my idea that the golden citadel we all think we are struggling for is a hard struggle against ourselves, and not just “them. “ At least those of us struggling with this capitalist rat race. Three songs enhanced by their videos, one not at all.

Three of the song videos are by the Manic Street Preachers. A band I put up there in my top ten. And a band I have never seen live because of the bloody awful capitalist ticket system we endure every time tickets are released…

Video 1:

The first one to watch, Show me wonder… The utopia of the dance, the young woman putting on her late seventies/ early eighties make up to go to the club and the young guy with his mates all going to the same place (a miners welfare somewhere in Wales), the whole atmosphere of the dance, which I remember really well, as it would have been part of the mix of the types of places I week ended in.

Live music, a hooley and a coort (what young people did at the end of the night with someone they had fallen deeply in love with during the dancing). That’s what was a successful night in those days, and I’m sure for many a teenager nowadays it isn’t THAT different. Different destinations and drugs, but largely the same night. The utopia of the weekend after a week’s graft. Increasingly in our world, the weekend is becoming a minorities luxury yet again.

And the working men’s club (not being sexist here – that’s what they were called!) as the centre of the community. It’s a joyous place, a joyous, beautifully executed video with a wonderful story.

Video 2:

The second video, Anthem for a lost cause then starts in the early eighties, with the beginning of the end of what was a sort of utopia for many of us. A world in which we marched together, we struck for a better world. We weekended together. We learned and loved together. There was equality in the UK like there had never been seen in the history of the country, ever. And we see Thatcher’s destruction beginning with the miners’ strike. We hear a woman’s voice say, “no one in this country is going to be starved back to work.” Defiant. Strong. And we watch as the woman in the story from the previous video finds her voice and stands and fights. I won’t spoil the story. That’s not the whole thing. Watch it.

And then we forgot. We had forgotten the pre-war conditions – and the equality we first found in death, destruction, and grief in World War One, that led to our welfare state and National Health Service-free and accessed easily by all.

Video 3:

And we were defeated. And the third Manics video, Rewind the Film, sung by Richards Hawley, shows the same miners welfare social club as it stands now, almost deserted. Tatty. Almost without hope. A place out of time in our increasingly gentrified town centres. A place for those who had dreams to still come together, amongst the decay of what Thatcher and her successors forced on us, though the weaknesses the Tories recognised. Through the cracks in our solidarity. And through their forgetting again that those with less than them are people too. The video shows a community, not without hope. But weak, old.

The forth song is one whose lyrics are remembered in Show Me Wonder, the first Manics video I asked you to watch. “Heaven is a place, were nothing ever happens…”

The Talking Heads song, “Heaven.”

A song that is designed and written to express that being trapped in a utopia can be hell. A song that recalls Sartres words in context. Hell is other people trapped in the same room you are. I really love that Talking Heads song. As a lover of dystopian fiction, books like, This perfect Day by Ira Levin, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Machine Stops by EM Forster, and of course, Huxley’s Brave New World, that song sums them all up.

We almost achieved an equality. But then came along punk, coinciding with the dissatisfaction theThatcherite media threw at us. We were young, and told we could be different. We didn’t have to be our boring parents. We yearned from a utopia away from working class sameness.

Rebellion from sameness.

A sameness, a golden age, we all as working class people, hark back to. A golden era we fondly remember, even through the propagandised the Winter of Discontent tries to stamp on. A discontent the working class mostly only felt as the aristocratic empire failed us.

A breakout from the room of the working class certainties. Away from the working mans clubs, away from the doing the same job your forefather did all their lives. And we the working class, loved punk. Punk became post punk and yuppies and dayglo and Blair and Cameron and now May and Boris and Brexit. Back then, our rebellion was sitting with Mohicans on St Pauls Cathedral steps, and squatting and dressing differently in our grandads long coats with lacquered hair with no other way to rebel until Thatcherism kicked in and kicked the working class out of our certainties…

Now my generations new, tory driven rebellion is fucking with their children and grandchildrens future. More bloody tories and brexit. Boris’s carefully constructed messy hair, I’m sure, harks back to the days we took hours to make our hair look different.

The present revisiting of the 1980’s is almost laughable. People pick out records of hope – most of which are made up of bland, meaningless lyrics, don dayglo and legwarmers and tell us “this is the eighties.”

The eighties for me was the busting of a kind of utopia. A place and time when jobs were jobs for life. When taxes meant that we had real affordable homes, decent reasonably priced communications, gas, electricity, travel etc and surpluses that went back into the creation of jobs, and better things. I worked in a factory on the eighties, and every few months, we saw more of our union power eroded, and our pay and conditions chipped away.

My eighties were the discordant post punk era. An era when people wrote, moaned and whined about the dystopian nature of every day being like Sunday, and Huxley was pushed aside and Orwell was waved in our face as Thatcher and her mob along with the left, told us that that is where our social democracy would lead to.

Our proto-Huxleyan state began to crack when some were told they were better than others, and looking around them they began to wonder why their taxes were paying for things for their neighbours, they didn’t yet or never would need.

They moved from the council estate after buying their council home and selling it for a big profit, and went on to vote tory in their misguided individualist, mortgaged, Pimms soaked, Lady Di hairstyle, big shoulder pad, Dynasty anger.

How to dismantle a welfare state. Convince the middle class they are being ripped off by helping those in need.

And we the young helped Thatcher dismantle what had taken 200 hundred years to create… a state in which working class and poor people experienced an equality never before or since seen on these islands. We huffed and puffed about bringing the state down.

And Thatcher loved us for it.

We created our Thatcherite indie music labels, most perversely anti-Thatcherite in the art they produced, but financially living in her handbag. But perhaps the music some of them left gives us cause for a pause to think over the philosophies the singing pseuds poured over to write their lyrics. And the working class fightback lyrics of others. And the increased beats per minute in the real indie scene in secret fields and hangars, not the AEIOU’s and D I S C O’s of the selling of plastic to people seeking their utopia in new designer lagers and nightclubs.

We railed against her, in our comedy – some of those who made their money on anti-thatch humour are now the supporters of the Eddie Izzard Blairite bunch who will chip away at the left that the labour party and British politics need so badly.

I could speak, ashamed, for hours about how the utopia, the golden citadel that the pre-1945 generations fought for was destroyed by my generation. I could speak for hours on how many who listen to this will deny they were part of it, but we were very much part of it whether we knew it or not.

But that’s for another time.

But lets say, Utopia was betrayed by the 1980’s before it was allowed to take shape properly. Not to say that in lots of respects, the proto-utopia social democratic UK was not hugely flawed-and beginning to fail just as equality was being reached. It was. In many ways – including the fact it was still reliant on the labours of the empire… the poverty of most of the rest of the world, a desperate world others were baring arms to try to destroy in Cuba, Angola, Bolivia and many other places.

And our destruction was reliant on the discovery of Scottish oil, now a commodity that like coal, will become much too expensive to take out of the ground.

So. What is utopia?

Well, as a reader of science fiction, dystopian nightmares and utopian dreams I have a few favourites, including those I listed before. I love Edward Bellamy’s 19th century book, Looking Backward. A book that spawned more socialist societies across the world than Marx ever did. A novel so hopeful that socialism was going to be a middle class utopia, it seems quaint nowadays. But a novel that predicted much that has happened, like the supermarket, the debit card, radio, and much more. If middle class lefties nowadays wrote a novel set in a utopian left-wing world a hundred years hence, I know it would be full of the horrors Bellamy described in his present day Boston, because the levels of poverty and homelessness, as always when Tories are in control, is shameful. The book would, like Bellamy‘s, be full of their middle-class presumptions of what utopia would be like and THEIR wants.

So, back to Tracy and Blackpool. Ullmans video has her dreaming of her utopia at the end of the video, a utopia that is based in her characters working class world, inside a small car with Paul McCartney. A dream far from her character’s reality.

I revisited Blackpool in recent years, and it is far from the 1970’s utopia of my childhood where we could be set free by our parents amongst the flashing lights and sounds of screams of laughter.

The reality of our new world, summed up by these videos and by way of these novelists don’t perhaps offer much hope.

Maybe. But they all have one thing in common. They all seek something better for more than the person in the video or book (with the exception of Tracy’s character, who is trapped, but still dreaming for her own Paul).

And my dream? My dream is that I live to see a time when we have a society not far from the imperfect, perfect society envisaged by Iain M Banks. A Culture exploring ourselves and the stars, in which we have individual care, and long productive interesting lives. And the ability to become Tamara Bunke, Tanya the spy, inserting ourselves into worlds yet to change, with the exciting danger that that brings.

Utopias should be exciting.

And Utopians should never forget.

Our utopia shouldn’t let us forget that we are all equal and we should all be looking out for each other, or they’ll still be building statues to Thatcher while people freeze to death on our streets and children starve.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Politics Beyond Satire...

As those of you who read my ramblings know, I am a Producer on Unagged.  This is the latest episode.  Go to Leftungagged.org to listen to others.

Also available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Dear English Labour Party...

Dear English Labour Party,

I just wanted to drop a note asking you for a favour.

First let me explain who I am. I'm a teacher. I live in Scotland. I've never, knowingly, voted Tory. In fact, what the Tories stand for; what they arrogantly lie about and how they profit from fear and misery, is totally abhorrent to me.

Now, I'm originally from Northern Ireland, and when I came over to Scotland in 1993, placing my X beside the box that said "Labour Party," is an event I will never forget. At last I was able to vote for a party NOT tied up in sectarian religious shite. I was able to vote for a party which, at that time, had a huge amount of socialists in its ranks- and a party I believed was one that stood up for people in poverty; people looking for work; the disenfranchised; minorities and workers.

Now, I see that down there in England, socialists have been fighting back against the centre left liberals who pulled the party away from its socialist roots. Its bedrock. Its rudder. I hope you win that fight and I hope you can build support for sensible, progressive policies that move England towards an equitable society.

Meanwhile, the Tories are wrecking all that Labour built post war. The post war settlement; welfare, an NHS, free comprehensive education, publically run public transport, a manufacturing base that ensured skilled, well paid jobs etc -all has been dismantled and sold off and is stored in money form in bank accounts on the Cayman Islands, and other tax havens. Those who caused the impoverishment and abuse of once proud working class communities roam the world in massive yachts and personal jets, while here in Glasgow, 1 in 3 children live in desperate poverty. That's 38000 children who are hungry, cold, and unsafe. That to me is a statistic so disgusting, I really don't think I need to quote another one. Scotlands biggest city has 38000 children who are scared, malnourished and unsure of having enough food. One city.

Now, I know that isn't your fault. Capitalism and huge income disparities add to that.

But even with our centre left Government, that sits to the left of the current Scottish Blairite Labour, who are mitigating a lot of the appalling destruction the Tory Party Government are causing (eg the Bedroom tax; the welfare "reforms," the selling off of the NHS etc), Scotland is unable to help those 38000 children. We can TRY to use the money we are given via the Barnett Formulae, but in reality, we are bailing out water from a leaky boat.

Some of you have said it is unfair of us to leave you to the Tories, if we vote Yes in the upcoming referendum.

I say, if you help us get to the source of the flood, by helping us achieve independence, then rather than trying to cope with 38000 hungry, unsafe Glaswegian children by bailing out the boat, we can move upstream, and stop the flood. What a legacy for Labour!

Giving us our democracy will ensure we, a left leaning country; a social democratic-left country, can help the 1 in 4 Scottish children out of poverty- and when we do that, you, the English Labour Party, will have somewhere to point to close to home to say, "look- it can be done." And you know what? I'll go down there and help you campaign on that basis. I promise.

Scottish Labour; mostly disaffected Blairites; don't see it that way. And their Blairism and alliance with Tory Unionists at the last independence referendum all but destroyed them. They are continuing in that path- destroying a once great party  as they go. And I haven't voted for a labour candidate since I witnessed Labour Party members, officials and representatives hugging representatives of the most vicious Tory government in history. In Glasgow. After they stopped us from escaping a generation of Tory Governments. While 38000 children starve.

Please help us achieve independence, English Labour Party. And can you please chat to your Scottish comrades?


Yours in solidarity,

Neil Scott

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Track of my years: Just Send My Heart...

19 -a time when you think all might be possible; you test stuff; you embrace friendships, are open to new experiences and people, and fall in love. And everything is confusing - but no way will you admit that. At least, that is what  in and around Banbridge was for me. I fell in love; I loved being with my friends; I loved drinking beer- Summer 1985 was about all of those things. But it was also about music- gorgeous, haunting, uplifting, kick-ass, defining pop music. And confusing feelings, relationships and politics.

One piece of shimmering pop stands out- and it'll be one few of you will have heard of. The Northern Irish Troubles were raging all around us – me and my friends and wee town - in the news, bomb scares, bombings, shootings, friendships, bigotry and in communities coming together, over beer; dancing; singing the same songs (sometimes) and kissing girls.

I met a girl, a girl in a white dress; but this isn't about her. Well, it's about longing for her. Missing her; but it is also about discovery - knowing the community I was part of went further than the box the media and some of those in my troubled province wanted to put me in.

The girl in the white dress was a class apart. Literally. She was from a family of millionaires- but to borrow a Mrs Merton phrase, that was not what attracted me to her. She was beautiful and a bit wild - her wealth, education and life experience placed her on a level with me - someone who wanted to break out of the drab mid-Ulster working class expectations placed upon me by all of the restrictions around me. A culture I couldn't belong to. A culture that didn't, to me in my teenaged snobbish way, feel that cultured. And the girl in the white dress brought that to me - her culture, which, ultimately couldn't be mine... in short bursts, as she went to public school in England.

Our love affair was through letters and on her school holidays and then later, when she went to Lucy Clayton finishing school; and then on financially crippling and financially educating journeys to London.

But this isn't about her and how we split up and got together – and split up and got together and - three years later, in my burgeoning realisation we were world's apart; a class apart, calling it a day- wrecking my young head in the drunken process. No- it's not about her. It's about longing and it's about the search for a culture beyond the drums and the Britishness I didn't understand. That I felt outside of.

This week a song kept going through my head. A song from an album that barely scratched the charts, but an album so beautiful, in my mind and memory and emotions, that I was afraid to buy the follow up three years later. And the fact that both albums bracket the girl in the White dress is interesting- but only interesting in that I couldn't buy that follow up.

The song from the album that suddenly entered my head this week is a beautiful track called "Always." But the song that brought this Belfast group to my attention back in the beautiful summer of 1985 – the summer of Live Aid and barbecues and being caught in showers walking through Belfast windsurfing and pernod and black currant, was the song, "Send my Heart."

Every Friday night I got myself ready- showering the stress of the boxed in workplace from my head, and changing clothes; changing skin; spraying smells onto my body, wearing my collar up and meeting the lads in the Coach Bar. And when the weather was good, the sun would stream through the front bar doors and that first pint as we all met would feel freeing; a gateway into a world away from the need to work.

And the girl with the White dress wouldn't be there; she'd be in her very English world and every song on the video juke box would either remind me of her; make me cry inside for her or be something new I'd want her to hear.

The song began with four strums of a silver guitar. That took my attention. And then this video, that made me sad; a song that made me choke with loneliness; chords that played out a story of someone from my country leaving for a life that took him away from the girl he once loved; a bitter end to love.

The video showed places I'd recently discovered with the girl in the White dress. Dublin. Dublin buses. And they were dressed in the mid eighties fashions of Dublin - a city that just seemed stylish- a city pumping out coolness and oozing confidence and a city that seemed like everyone in the world had discovered at the same time as me.

And then the chorus, "Just send my Heart..." The name of the song- and the name of the group. The Adventures. And they weren't from cool Dublin. They were from battered Belfast- and from part of Belfast that I was led to believe was not part of my culture. And I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand why my “culture” didn't produce songs that made your heart rise into your throat.

So I bought the album- Theodore and Friends. Her mum thought it was beautiful- I remember her saying that. And it is. The songs are beautiful. Part of the foundations of what became Celtic Rock. Songs that were produced in a way that made them almost timeless because they weren’t Erasure or Depeche Mode or Heaven 17 or the likes. Beautifully crafted pop songs, with lyrics that made me want to embrace the other part of the culture that was split- wrenched- exploded apart. Soaring choruses and melodies that lifted your eyes as the trust around us was being shot to pieces.

The beauty of my town and the protections it had, was that some of us – most of us young people – the future – a generation that could perhaps end the shite around us - were able to mix across the sectarian divide. We had interfaces such as the local technical college; before that, "Summer School," a "club" run by teachers - from, if I recall rightly, the local catholic High School and from the technical college, during the summer holidays. Catholics and prods came together and played and went on trips together. And we had nightclubs- The Coach being the biggest (the biggest in Europe at one time) and the one people came to from across the province. So I had my prod friends- but I also had Catholic friends. But interfaces or not, some harboured hate and killed in our names and hated for us.

Theodore and Friends was such a beautiful album of discovery for me and from a time I never wanted to end- but had to- and did- that I couldn't buy the next album. But it was a song from the next album, "The Sea of Love," that sums up what was happening all over the North at the time- including in the lives of the members of the band- Terry Sharpe’s friend, Thomas Reilly was shot by a young soldier in Belfast. Another statistic in the awful, illogical story of the world around me. Sharpe’s girlfriend, Sara Dallin of Bananarama, wrote a song about the dreadful murder – Rough Justice - and the music industry mourned, recalling the dreadful Miami Showband killings.

Our land, our community, was indeed a Broken Land.

I remember seeing the Adventures in concert in The Mandela Hall in Queens University, and Terry Sharpe, the lead singer, using the pay phone as I was led to an office to have my camera confiscated -yet again- until after the concert. A claim to fame that means nothing – as people have forgotten this beautiful group.

And I never listened to that second album until today. That album that bracketed the love I had for the girl in the White dress; but was the beginning of a new struggle for me- the struggle to piece together me; to find my part in all of this and to break out of the walled in, frozen piece of a culture I couldn't be satisfied in.

I've listened to "The Sea of Love" a few times today. A forgotten album from the eighties, along with Theodore and Friends- but as beautiful -if not moreso than The Adventures first. An album of beauty and heartache that sounds like the broken community it came from-a community wanting to reach out and discover each other, to embrace, to stop being apart – a community longing to hold hands and walk together. Songs of longing, love and of the girl in the White dress- across the sea; in a letter of love; but ultimately a love lost.

Other Tracks of my years here-

Joy Division - a track of my years...

Sinead O'Connor - My Danny Boy...

Jim Morrison... The City of Lights; Newry, Paris, Budapest, Stuttgart... 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Scexit, Independence and Augmented Realities: Fighting Fake Peace...

A podcast I help produce.  Click play and have a listen!

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this pod we have Red Raiph talking about fake news, Eric Joyce on pacifism and nukes and giving his view on ideas discussed by Tommy Sheppard MP at the Independence Convention, including ideas on currency, Victoria Pearson discussing an Independent Scotland within the EU, Amber Daniels talking about the importance of collective unity against the contemporary uprising of bullies, Steve McAuliffe with his poem False Dichotomies Hold Back Our Dreams of Peace, Debra Torrance discussing War by Numbers - taking a look at major and minor conflicts across the globe, and George Collins discussing the global rise of right wing nationalism, and how that's tied to the global economic system and we hear from our regular contributers Neil Scott and Chuck Hamilton. With music from music Roy Møller, Guttfull, Argonaut, Kes's Conscience, Pilgrims, Huskytones.


Monday, 30 January 2017

Murder Free...

To truly understand a system, you need to be able to stand outside it.

That is damned difficult with capitalism – it is a system that pervades all aspects of our lives – and increasingly so – leading us all to stress, mental health problems, physical health problems, family problems, division, conflict and death.

Dramatic? Aye – living in today's world, fully engaged as a working class person, at any part of that class spectrum is a dramatic, unhealthy thing. But how to escape? With great difficulty as an individual in the UK/ the West/ the developed and developing world.

I’m going to start this blogpiece with a recipe. I'm asked – what does a vegan eat in a hurry? Well tonight, we were on a budget – well – no-one could be arsed doing the shopping – so we “made do” with what was in the cupboard. This is what I made.

Neil’s Dahl - serves two...

200 grams of red lentils
50 grams of split peas
800 ml of water (and a wee bit more if needed)
Teaspoon of turmeric
Teaspoon of savoury yeast extract
teaspoon salt

For the flat bread

Pizza dough recipe for breadmaker, substituting sugar with maple syrup and butter with olive oil
“Easy Garlic”


Use a breadmaker to make dough.  Or make dough by hand. Or buy a couple of ready made nan breads or other flatbreads.  

Measure 200 grams of red lentils and 50 grams of split peas.  If you only have lentils - 250 grams of lentils.

add 800 ml of water,

a teaspoon of turmeric, 

a teaspoon of yeast extract 

and a teaspoon of salt; 

simmer until the water is absorbed.  Add a bit more water if needed.

Roll out the dough quite thinly.

Fry cumin seeds and onions. 

Add the onions and some of the cumin seeds to the dahl

Fry the dough on both sides (almost dry) and add oil to the bread and some quick garlic.

Serve.. eat... feel stuffed.

Anyway, some have tried the “moneyless” thing as individuals or communities – but when it comes down to it, those who do, are still reliant on the system- its cast of off’s etc.

I’ve no answer to this – I don't have a solution for you to escape. I don't have a recipe for you to take yourself out of the system in which to survive you must consume – you must compete – you must offer yourself as a machine.

But I have taken myself out of aspect of the system – and in doing so, it has laid the system bare in front of me – easy to see; obvious in its workings, collusions and manipulations.

When I was younger, I was aware of Nestle and what it did. But being wrapped up in the system, I really couldn't see how avoiding a product or two could help make change. But, after reading about it in more detail, I stopped buying Nestle products – and I haven't bought them knowingly for at least half my life now (I’m 50). But this didn't take me outside a system. It just made me swap products. I killed and exploited through other chocolate bars and ice lollies. But not babies, I hope.

I was still being exploited by employers and manipulated by corporations.

To take yourself out of a system, truly, it has to be something you enjoy. I think those religious festivals in which you give things up – whether it be Ramadan, lent or whatever – originate in spiritual discovery. Ways to really appreciate what is going on around you – where things come from. What your bodily needs really are. Appreciation.

Giving something up must be something you will make excuses for. Something you will say, “But I need some pleasure in life,” or “its the whole system that needs changed...” when confronted about your exploitation of poor workers. Giving up Snickers when you can substitute that bar for something else is really not giving anything up. Go to the source. Give up the ingredients. Give up the culture around that 10am fag/e cigarette break. Really give something up.

And this is where my giving stuff up comes in.

I always experimented with myself. From physical stuff like testing freezing sea water swimming in midwinter, to parachuting (im petrified of heights), twice, to hill walking, to travelling though countries on my own etc...

But these experiments only effect me. They make no changes in the world I live in. So then I tried experiments where I gave stuff up – a year at a time. Alcohol – a great love of mine, went for a year. Then sugar. Then meat. Just for a year.

And these years were finite – I could look forward to the end of them – the drinking session that would bring the booze ban to an end. The dessert in a restaurant that signalled the end of the sugar famine and the leg of lamb that brought the meat free year to a full stop.

They were experiments with myself. Personal, and did nothing only give me something to start a conversation with – write a Facebook update or blog about. They changed nothing in the world only something in me.

Yet, during all of those years, I began to see something of the system. I began to see the resources used – billions of pounds; physical space and lives devoted to promoting those three products.

And then it happened. About five ears ago, I realised I could no longer justify something dying – its life prematurely ended – its only time conscious brought to a bloody, often painful, stressful – frightened – end for my palette. I saw the joy animals had in life – the same joy children and adult humans had. The love they had for their herd, family or children. And I couldn't eat them.

The thing is – I loved meat – the texture, taste and the amazing recipes you could create using different cuts and animals.

But I really couldn't justify in any way, eating them. And the evidence I saw all around me showed eating them wasn't that good for me either.

I saw row after row of shelves in supermarkets of tinned, packaged, dried, marinated dead bodies. All of these things, made to look distant from the reality of where they came from – sentient beings – clever, communicative, loving beings. Corporations wrapping up death, ecological disaster, murder as cultural and “cruelty free.” And we tell ourselves – we repeat their mantra -of “if it had a free, happy life, its ok to eat it.”

Anyway – I'm not writing this to persuade you to stop eating meat.

Alcohol and sugar – two other products that are pushed by corporations – products that are literally everywhere. Sugar in almost every processed piece of food. Alcohol on screens, on billboards and dressed up with cultural references to suit all. And it is an incapacitator and a killer. And Ive seen it incapacitate and kill – and see that continuously. And I loved it. I loved the image of it – and I loved the effect of it – and I loved the cultural links – drinking mojitos in Cuba; Whiskey/Whisky in the Celtic colonies; real ale from casks and real lager in Pilsner. And getting wrecked on hot afternoons, at gigs, or because the love of my life at that point and I were not getting on.

I remember discovering the craic, the beer with friends and thinking as a 17 year old “society has conspired to keep this great thing away from me.”

And the wine on a Friday; the beers on a Saturday; the BBQ, the wedding, the Christmas Glühwein…

The truth is, I didn't want to be manipulated by the Bernays of the alcohol business any longer. I didn't want to be doped; hungover, subdued any longer. I realised society had conspired to insert me into the culture of buying alcohol (and meat and sugar).

I’m meat, alcohol and mostly sugar free. I avoid them all. Further – I’m vegan as much as I can be – that is in my everyday life – but have been known to eat an After Eight or two if someone has bought them for me at Christmas. They are made by Nestle, by the way.

And the other night, we went for a meal in an Indian restaurant and by mistake the barman gave me a lager with alcohol – instead of the alcohol free version. Its lucky I am not an alcoholic. I was more than halfway down the pint before I realised – but when I did I finished it. The first alcohol in five years. It didn’t tempt me to go back on it.

I miss none of these things now. I crave none of them. I don't feel holier than thou – I’m guilty of many things in life I see others avoiding – but I feel better. I'm not better than anyone for giving these things up – just a slightly happier me. Healthier. Happier – less guilty and less part of the huge corporate machinery that processes us daily. Our shopping bills are much less without meat and wine (though not everyone in the house is meat or sugar free).

And I don't feel I made up – or took someone else’s - principles – I wasn't influenced by a pop idol or someone who guilted me into giving up things I enjoyed. No – I came to my own logical decisions based on he effects on the world and on me these products have. I wanted to have less of a “footprint” on the world – and a lot less dead animals and people on my conscience, I wanted to be healthier and I wanted to be manipulated, pulled, twisted ground up and spat out a lot less than I had been.

And standing on the outside of those huge, three corporative interests – untouchable by their promotions and spokes people and product placements and invidious poisoning of my food; I can see the full horror and how culture and lives are claimed by these monolithic manipulators who care not a fiddlers fuck about your well being – or the workers they exploit – or the animals they rare cheaply and slaughter.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Little Ungagged and the Massive Movement

I have had the pleasure and privilege of being part of a small, but growing media organisation in Scotland that is reaching out across the world.

Ungagged! Can be found HERE

Its also Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

As someone once said, the tide goes out before a tsunami. The tide has been going out for many years now. The left have had few victories (and when I say the left, I mean those of us- the majority of the world, who understand that the ever expanding pursuit of profit is a recipe for the end of humanity).

I think the world is very different from the 60's-  in how we interact, how we access knowledge, how we are able to process that knowledge. The 1960's showed the first HOME response, in my opinion, to the globalisation if American Capitalism. It was only the beginning, really- the early days, of building global resistance and a future overwhelming network for change.

Change is happening. Social change- the kinds of change that effects us all across classes - change in legislative responses to gender, sexuality and race, are in revolution at last.

Economic and class revolution has not yet managed to snap its organisation into the new networks- but that is in its early days and is happening. The speed of the inclusion of equity in the new movements is beginning to gain some momentum.

Yesterday showed important things that many are missing.

One- political engagement has gone up, not down- how we measure that has to change. We know now that the mantra of "the poor and the working class have disengaged from politics," is false. They disengaged from the limited menu the establishment presented-that's all. Six people turning up for the latest "big" swp front meeting is no measure of the left. How many watch it on livestream, or how many people challenge their analysis is ONE new measure. How many people who don't join their front, but are talking about the issue on social media across groups and networks adds to that.

Two- there was no need for one big leader yesterday. Yesterday happened across networks. It included, but largely bypassed "branch meetings" and calls from the next big lefty "thing."

Three- yesterday was across class. Like stop the war in 2002 and G8 2005 in the UK, this global march united groups across the classes- but for something very clear- equity and equality. And against something very clear- against misogyny and the "alt-right/proto-Nazi's/Neo-fascists," and the programme of the extreme right of the establishment.

Four- the most obvious of the less obvious things people are missing is that the right are now pissing off the free press. Expect a HUGE fight and polarisation of journalists who will stop taking orders from Murdoch etc. Real journalism will again, like Watergate, come to the fore.

Unlike bringing the left together in 1968, yesterday was organised without the having to get past the physical fighting of the egotistic leadership's of factions (and unlike g8 2005, no Geldoff/Bono/Love Actually folk were able to hi-Jack it!)

Seattle 1999 was in my opinion, the kickstart of the new left organising across new networks and communications delivery systems. We've spent the last 20 years learning how to talk to each other across borders/ different experiences and political foundations using new platforms... Political Groups meeting virtually was unheard of until the late 90's -and has lost the suspicion it was viewed with as more and more people see it as a real life necessity and natural inclusion in their every day routine.

I don't think change happens in the way (and I don't mean this to patronise) 1917 happened in Russia. Not entirely anyway. Networks in those days were only physical. Networks came together via rail travel etc- slow change. And centrally organised. Networks nowadays are by far, digital, and NOT centrally controlled. If a small group begins to dictate in your network in a way you disapprove of, you walk- you create or join another one. Yesterday's march shows that. A digital call to march went out a few weeks ago- and spread across the world and was relayed by individuals in loose digital networks.

What I would say would be a huge failure would be us not learning from Stop The War Coalition, (and here in Scotland, Hope Over Fear) etc's failures. Call outs to demos -repeatedly- will put people off, especially as numbers drop off. What needs to happen now is for networks online and in the real, to plan real world work. Standing with strikers; Blocking corporations tearing down trees; blockading trident etc etc- and joining across these organisation's-talking to each other and coordinating. Expanding real networks, linking up on issues across networks etc, creates support, confidence and change.

And even more so- action in our workplaces that meets the right wing ideology head on and pushes it back into its dark corner.

Anyway- where Ungagged fits in to this is as an umbrella for networks and individuals who don't always agree (on the left), but whose networks can, occasionally link, collaborate and promote change.

Change comes through dialogue (and in the case of 1968, even physical fighting during organising!). We may not always agree- and see red when another lefty disagrees with us- but the bigger picture is the links we can make.

Keep talking, keep bickering, keep using your skills, digital, verbal, physical etc and let's be a small part of the change that will come!

Friday, 20 January 2017


“...This American carnage stops right here and stops right now… America First, America First...”

He stood shrivelled and wet, shivering on the cotton tufted bathroom mat gazing into the hole in the condensation he had wiped in the large, round mirror. The past few years had been kind to him in some ways, he thought. But not in his looks. Hard work had its rewards, yes, but the bruises and scars throbbed red and hot.

He bent forward, taking a closer look at the bags under his eyes; signs of ageing that took him by surprise. Three years and he had changed so much. Even when he was living on the old welfare system, he had not felt so physically laden. So battered and so damn old!

But, he thought, in those days he had no pride. He had no sense of achievement in signing for welfare. He had no pride in begging for menial work that he never got. And now he had debt, yes – but it was manageable debt. Debt that was creating wealth and jobs and investments. And he knew that that was making America great again.

He pulled the towel around himself and lifted his toiletry bag and opened the door.

“About fucking time you fat jerk!”

If looks could kill, Romanian Tanya had just cut him in half with a blunt pair of nail clippers while he, so, so tired, had no time to move while she hacked.

He smiled and moved past the queue to the dorm and his shared floor.

He pulled on his pants and his laundered shirt and sat on the edge of his low, thin bed to tie the laces of his shined leather shoes. Things only a few years ago he could not have afforded. But in those days, no debt company would allow him to live so far below zero. He knew this was temporary. Because the work he had secured – one of the new jobs the President’s closure of the corrupt Unions had secured (boy did everyone appreciate that one when they were able to stand on their own two feet!), was a job with a future. He was in contact everyday with people who could help his future. He was learning from them, banking knowledge, banking how to act when he became a middle manager and then a boss, because he knew that his hard graft would pay off and one day he would be driven from his huge house in a limousine. Opportunities.

That was everyone’s dream. But like the bloggers blogging across the internet, all hoping to be discovered as some great commentator or writer or poet, he realised there were more bloggers and poets than those interested in reading them. There were more people scrambling at the bottom than enough spaces at the top of the pyramid. More people than jobs of any value. But he wasn't on the streets and he wasn't Asian, black, or gay. Luckily the President was Scottish, and even though the Scottish in Scotland seemed not to like the guy, he seemed to like the Scots. And most of the white European race, except for, he supposed, Hispanics. Which was good for him with his Scottish name. He had one rung he couldn't fall off. There would always be a class below the good, wholesome American people.

“America Is Truly Great Again!” The special edition of the New York Times, printed for the new workers villages seemed to have one headline every day, or variations on the theme. “America The Great.” “America is Unbeatable!” “The People, not the Swamp, Rule America!”

He never read it for news. Because there rarely was anything new in it. It was mind chewing gum. A past-time. Something to keep him away from Fox News, because at least he could set this down and let his mind wander. He had a few minutes before the breakfast room was opened, and he savoured it. His working hours were long. This was time to relax and dream of future opportunities. Of the freedom that work and money and the laws passed to protect people like him would bring him in the future.

“Hey, Gil!”

He wanted to ignore the shrill, nasal voice.

“Gil! Wanna play a game?”

“Not really, Joe. Wanna relax.”

“Aw, come on, Gil, just one game.”

He knew he wouldn’t be allowed to relax. Joe would whine and shout. There was something not quite right about the guy. Back in the days when all of that tax money was wasted on kids being diagnosed as being on one spectrum or another, money would have been thrown at Joe, to accommodate his weirdness. But Gil knew that this way, Joe, like everyone who could lift a hand, could contribute to the world and earn his debt too. But he was weak...

He folded the newspaper and crossed the dorm to Joes bed. On it was a checker board. He knew he could beat Joe in a few minutes, but that that would be like playing football with a four year old to win, so he made it that Joe beat him. It took a long time. Joe was not strategic in any way, and Gil could have won a number of times, but he held back.

“Jeez Joe, you are a great checkers player!”

“Ya know, Gil, before we made America Great again, I didn't even have a checkers board? At least not my own. Our house had stuff, yeah, but it was all subsidised by the swamp. My mom had no pride. We do now!”

The “Making America Great Again” classes were paying off on Joe. He could barely read, but he could cite the propaganda word for word and it was present in most of his sentences.

In fact it was present in most sentences if you wanted to hold on to your job. And the great and the good, when they spoke through the TV’s and in the special editions of the magazines and newspapers he read, told everyone how their efforts were creating American jobs, walls, cars and wealth all of the time.

And he knew it was true, because he was a great example of it. Lifted from the projects, cleaned up, and given a place in the new world. New jobs, where there hadn't been jobs before.

And in the dorms there were many people like him, who were grateful. When that Philippine President had come over to share with their President how he had drained his country of drug addicts like him and the rest, no-one thought our President would be so brave as to enact it. Who needed new gun laws when the citizens could be empowered to clean up the streets!

Another brave step for our President to take. Of course the rest of the world cried and shouted, but what did they know? They were harbouring terrorists and drug addicts...

“You going for breakfast, Gil?”

“Aye, Joe. Lets go.”

He stood up, and straightened his pants, stretched and lifted his blue jacket – the jacket of his profession, and pulled it on.

They walked down the long dorm, past twisted, skeletal remains of people, who had the President to thank for the end of their addictions. All of them had seen friends gunned down, and rightfully so, because unlike them, their friends were just not strong enough to make America Great again.

The breakfast rarely changed. But he didn't mind. This was kinder than what had went before. Before, he didn't eat. Now, yes, he banked debt, which created new money, but he ate. One day his breakfasts would be more fruit and fresh stuff rather than the cardboard cereal and cheap maple syrup substitute. But the coffee wasn't too bad. Every new thing in the world, if it was an advance, had a sacrifice. And this new, fair system meant not only work for all, but permanent work for all, and opportunities until you die. And some; the weak; sacrificed themselves by not embracing the stronger America.

His latest opportunity was a bigger bed in perhaps a few months when one of the older, frailer workers died. He knew what he had done, the crime he had reported, had moved him further up the queue. He thought to himself, would I once have thought that cruel? He laughed. It was no crueller than the innovations from before America was great again. Things like the internet. That was a sham. Yes, it meant more communication, but at the sacrifice of our safety and our children's moral fibre. The car – another sham; those foreign car manufacturers over-charging for their foreign built dangerous crap. And certain freedoms… the freedom to travel Route 66… something he had always wanted to do… but not something he should do as a poor person. The bum he had been. Too dangerous. Highways – built without barriers – and suicidal and stoned liberals were sure to meet their end wandering across them. No longer, what with the new safety laws. And the new jobs, and the new arrangements to ensure we never missed a day. Well, we couldn't miss a payment, and that was only fair for the food and shelter they were providing for them. Those Gods and their tax dollars...

Joe noisily sucked the rice cereal through the milk but Gil didn't care. Joe didn't bother him. Some of the recently cured addicts did. Some of the ungrateful workers bothered him. The ones who talked about rebellion under their breath. The ones who would stab him if they knew he was pigeoning on them and their dangerous ideas. Why would they want to bring America to its knees again? American values should prevail… and America was surely becoming great again…

The men marched in and stood at the front of the brightly lit canteen. The room went silent and everything went still.

“José Garcia-Martinez step forward.”

Joe stopped slurping and looked at Gil. Gil smiled at him, comfortingly. He stood up and raised his hand.

“That's my old name. I’m an American now… I’m Joe...” he stuttered.

They raised their rifles. “Come forward!”

“I don't understand... I...”

He looked at Gil again. “It’s OK Joe. Do as they ask. It’s for the good.”

He thought, ‘Every new innovation has a sacrifice. And jobs for all mean Mexicans cant stay, regardless of how long they've been here. The Asians are going and the blacks and native Americans are back in their ghettos shouting about their oppression while they have no work. Some people are just lazy.’ 

At least there was one class below… impossible for him to fall into.

He looked around the room. This was testament to the new world the President had created. Clean. No drugs. Workers. Food. Opportunity. Always opportunity. He had created opportunity.

Joe wasn't lazy, but he was taking an American’s job. Gil had to tell them. ‘He’ll be happier on the other side of the wall anyway’, Gil thought, ‘fighting against the rebellion there. Its their war, not ours. Even though our President is being kind in sending their new Government money to keep the communists and terrorists at bay, I really think he should consider just building that wall higher and manning it with machine gun nests.

Yep, the new America is on its feet. Standing tall, making money, and we all prosper. We all have opportunity and worth.’

The men escorted a protesting Joe out of the canteen and everyone went back to their morning routine.

Gil looked at the time. It was his time. His bus would be here.

After a quick smoke outside, and a crowded bus journey to the hotel, he was there. Ready for his long shift.

He boarded the elevator to Penthouse 4, his station. On arrival he was met by the outgoing shift. They looked exhausted, battered, bloodied. They didn’t look near him as they passed him into the service elevator. Obviously the family were having an early start.

He took his place in the marbled, gilded hallway, standing, facing the entrance to the suite. This was the best part of his job. The standing, watching, learning how the Gods of America lived; how they conducted themselves. Because they were success personified. They were rich for the very reason they knew how to be. They knew things he didn't.

The young God’s played in their room; he could hear them, playing some sort of shooting game. And the Great God himself walked into the hall. Gil lowered his gaze. In this job, you were only part of the furniture. An unthinking object. An ungrateful scrounger, leeching off these hard working people.

He could tell the God was agitated. He was looking for something.


The kids played on.

“What is it honey?”

His beautiful Goddess called after him.

“I’ve left that book I was reading on the fucking plane...”

Gil knew his purpose was about to be fulfilled. He was about to earn his debt.

“Honey, ask someone to get you another copy! There are still book stores all over this city!”

The God came closer to Gil. This was it.

“Yea, I’ll do that...”

Gil felt the blow on the side of his jaw. This God worked out, unlike the one who had stayed in the suite for the previous week. All he had wanted to to was fuck Gil. This God needed to let off steam. And it was a privilege for Gil to allow him to use him to do that. A stress free God meant a better economy, a happier society and more jobs for the likes of Gil.

The next blow floored Gil, and he felt the stamp of the boot on his face. Like he would the next day after a clean up in the pharmacy; and the next day and the day after that…

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Les Propheties...

What would you do if you found out a lot of our news and a lot of the real and fake news you supposedly get, comes from the future? Or a lot of your political earthquakes are just tremors, because people from the future are involved, talking madmen and women down?

You wouldn't believe it, right? 

You see, its like this. Time travel for people is impossible – shifting people through time is never going to happen, unless people learn how to move at light speed and beyond.

But, time travel by sub-atomic particles happens all of the time. It has happened throughout the history of the universe. Particles disappearing from a reality, only to turn up in another or another time. And it was this discovery that eventually led us to influencing your world from the future. Every transaction your world makes being on your internet makes it easy. We painstakingly set up bank accounts in your time, hacking banks -and then set up websites, news sites, culture sites and even virtual shops, ordering goods and selling them – employing people in your time through virtual companies and eventually corporations.


Well. We wanted to influence the timeline. And have fun to be honest.

Let me introduce myself.

I live 350 years in your future. Imagine you speaking to someone from Shakespeare’s time. What would you say? How would you say it? Language is very different, but translatable.

Nostradamus, a man who could move his brain particles through time, warned you about many of the things that happened… but you didn't understand, because he could not translate his 1560’s french into twentieth and twenty-first century French. I have no such problem.

The world is very different, but as we are changing the timeline – we are cleaning up our world and trying to ensure the Great Disaster is minimised. Bit by bit, nature returns. Extinctions are halted. The only one we are not allowed to meddle with – and this is a Galaxy wide agreement – is the mass extinctions brought about in your century of… people.

The great thing about our time is, well, we don't actually have to be physically in your world to be there. We use drones to interact. These drones can be human form, some of them can be as small as flies; some of the best ones are birds, dogs, cat, cows all sorts. And people here visit through these drones to see what the world used to be like. With implants and uploads, we can feel as if we are there in person, talking to you. And we do often. And we all manipulate as much as we can without killing ourselves to try to minimise the effects of the Great Disaster.

We also look to our future. Moving into the future was much more difficult, especially as we found earth hadn't got much of a future. But we have changed that slightly. We’ve slowed down the death of terran humanity.

Why are we not on other planets?

We are. We are across the Galaxy. But some of us are still on Earth. Some call us fetishists, trying to hold on to an object; a dream of a golden past that never existed. Why move when you can be everywhere from where you are?

And they tell us we are probably placing the whole of the Galaxy at risk.

What would happen if the Great Disaster did not happen? Well, they say, people may not leave the solar system in search of a new life. Humanity would not seed the stars. So we wont avert. Just minimise.

Other humans, tall, small and manipulated by the planet surfaces and nature they have embraced across the galaxy, tell us we are odd. Odd to want to stay on a dying planet, not fit for purpose.

But oh, they’ve never felt the amazing feeling of driving a petrol car around cliff hugging roads, or bungee jumping into a fjord or standing in the middle of an explosion in an Iraqi town.  Or walking with a pride of lions, or a New York City Gang.

Thrill seekers, yes, but most of the time we are trying to find a solution to the death of the planet.

When you have spent a week or two submerged in the political life of the United States circa 2017-21, and then move outside and find a new patch of green that could not have existed before, or you receive a bite from a hitherto extinct bug, it is worthwhile. When we reanimate some mammals or crustaceans or more flying bugs, we will celebrate. Probably in a bar in twentieth century Dublin, or atop a Cuban Hotel, arranging a Marlin hunt with with Ernest Hemingway in 1960 (yes, we can go back that far… it was difficult, given the primitive nature of military computers, but we managed it. We are working on ways to get back to World War Two – the birth of some of the great early computers. But that is proving difficult).

Now, if you are reading this piece of writing, you wont believe it. You will, of course, think it is a piece of badly written Sci-Fi. It may be badly written, but it is not Sci-Fi.

And I have posted this on the day of the inauguration of the beginning of the end. And in doing so, I am changing the world, a tiny bit. Some of you will read this and think, “I wonder if this is true?”

Should I say something about the future in order to prove what is happening? How we are visiting you? How we control a huge corporation from the future? How we influence the tech you will be buying in the coming years?

I wont. Sorry. But I want to say one thing to you.

You, if you are reading this, may be the one person that changes the world from the disastrous road it is taking in your time.

In fact I know one of you can. How?

Well, that child you live with – be kind to her. Encourage her and praise her for her mistakes. Help her learn. Help her become the kindest leader the world has ever known. And maybe, the Great Disaster will be minimised and the fauna and flora of Old Earth will again flourish, 350 years into the future.

Though it is too late for most of you.