Saturday, October 29, 2022


Coming up, I take advantage of the eternal popularity of Halloween to stitch together slow-motion footage of the bats circling the back garden.

Thank you for watching, if you would like to see more videos like this, please like, comment and subscribe, and as ever the nostalgia culture crisis continues at, the home of dancing with the gatekeepers.

Monday, October 24, 2022


Official photo issued during Johnson campaign

The problem with writing about politics is that events often travel at break-neck speed, so I am not surprised at having eschewed politics as a subject for discussion at all. Give me postmodernism, pens and cars any day, along with any subject that remains evergreen, or slow-moving enough to pin down.

What rendered my previous article about the latest Conservative Party leadership election having been rendered out of date later the same day [link] was the announcement by one candidate that they were withdrawing from a race they never actually said they were standing in, like they had shown up to run the London Marathon with a hand-drawn number, withdrawing after realising whatever time they placed would never be counted.

The assumption made by Boris Johnson, returning from his holiday in the Dominican Republic to pick up from the point he had left in July, speaks of a man who hasn’t been in the country much at all in the intervening time. That he could ask the other two candidates, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, to stand aside for him, is spectacularly arrogant – Sunak’s meeting with Johnson ended without agreement, while Mordaunt perhaps won some respect by asking Johnson to step aside for her. It also didn't help that the two photographs taken and issued on Twitter by supporter Lee Anderson MP, of Johnson calling MPs on the phone to secure their support, shows him looking like he is lacking sleep, visibly jet-lagged, or having been hit in the face by a football.

Then the statement he made on Sunday night – the first and last time during the weekend that someone did not speak for him – was delusional: “I have been attracted because I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago - and I believe I am therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now... I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 - and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations... and I could put my nomination in tomorrow... There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members - and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.”

Once he had placed himself on a pedestal, Johnson paints the portrait: “But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can't govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament. And though I have reached out to both Rishi [Sunak] and Penny [Mordaunt] - because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest - we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this. Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds. I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”

The other official photo issued

What we have now is a way for Johnson to say, further down the line, “don’t say I didn’t warn you, I’m afraid”, while also still saying he is the only person that can unite the country, based on the General Election result of 2019, before so many other things happened. 

Marina Hyde, writing for “The Guardian”, had pointed out that Cincinnatus, the Roman emperor referenced by Johnson in his resignation speech who returned to his plough, and referenced because he came back and governed again, had only ruled for three more weeks before stepping down, once a plot to usurp power in Rome had been dealt with – his rule being a dictatorship is a fact that will just have to sit there.

Still, the situation means that the spectre of Boris Johnson hangs over the Conservative Party like a bad smell. Rishi Sunak was elected leader on Monday 24th October, after Penny Mordaunt withdrew her candidacy at the last minute, leaving Sunak as the last one standing, and as someone who had only sent out two messages on Twitter during the race, both in reference to Johnson dropping out.

Now that we have the fifth Prime Minister in the last six years, they have to pull their party together before they can hope to pull the country together, and whether the Conservative Party can do the first one, or is they are even willing by this point, is the next question. Popularity polls suggest that calling a General Election would currently be a death wish for the Conservative Party, but it has two years left before one has to be declared anyway. 

I resolve to myself that the General Election, whenever that may be, will be the next time I talk about politics.

Sunday, October 23, 2022


My mother said I shouldn’t write about politics, for fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention. But what if politics is all anyone is talking about, again, because it is all we are given to talk about, again?

The extremely short version of the last week is this: Liz Truss, the fourth Prime Minister since this website began in May 2016, resigned on Thursday 20th October, having only become leader on Tuesday 6th September. In that time, her free-market, low-tax, high-growth economic policy was trashed both by the world markets, leading to higher interest rates, a weaker Pound and higher government borrowing costs, and by the replacement Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed by Truss, the rejection of her policy making her position untenable.

I had already decided I had written enough about Liz Truss by the time she became Prime Minister, like that matters much now: when she mischaracterised postmodernist philosophy as having no space for evidence [link]; when that speech began my own series on postmodernism’s continued relevance [link], how another speech railed against “ludicrous debates about language, statues and pronouns” [link]; and questioning what the “post-Elizabethan age” will be under King Charles III and a Prime Minister Truss [link].

I am tired of being told we are living in unprecedented times. Boris Johnson was still Prime Minister as late as July, when anxiety already running high over the cost of living and energy prices, but the Conservative Party since then appear to have expended more energy on keeping itself together. Even if the current week-long leadership contest is a recognition that two months was too long for the last one, especially when it didn’t produce a satisfactory result, the course of events are still up in the air: either one person gets more than one hundred MPs supporting them to be a candidate by 14:00 on Monday 24th October, making them Prime minister immediately, or we could have as many as three candidates, who then need to be voted on by the same Party members that elected Liz Truss.

This doesn’t reduce the outrage at having to go through the process again. In order just to follow the news, which feels like it is changing with every moment, you are reduced to the “doomscrolling” of live news feeds reporting every event as it breaks, watching the government being contradicted in real time on Thursday 21st October: everything is fine; Truss has called a meeting; no speech is planned; they’ve got the lectern out....

I had already reduced the amount of news I watch on television by the time Boris Johnson resigned as Prime minister in July 2022, although that was easy in the week of this event as my TV had broken [link], but the continued rumbling of unease about, well, the national situation, has not subsided despite trying not to take as much notice of it. I don’t know how long it can go on, or when it will end.

The Conservative Party assume they can keep thinking they can fix their own mistakes, and Boris Johnson, having flown back from his third holiday since being thrown out, appears to think his old job is his for the taking again, without acknowledging that he is Boris Johnson, and that name comes with baggage.

Even as I write, I am sure this won’t be the end of it. We can’t guarantee at this point that whoever is elected as the next Prime Minister can hold their party together, only because that questions was not answered by the last PM.

My objections to the Conservative Party right now are moral, not ideological, resulting from the situation they have created. These people are not my betters, and they do not command my respect. This isn’t even about wanting another party in charge, this is just about wanting stability, and if they cannot do that, then they need to give the people the chance to decide who can.

Saturday, October 15, 2022


The Ford Escort was the biggest-selling car of the 1980s, a statement that applies both the United Kingdom and the United States.


Whether that statement applies to one car is another question. Created as a “world car” between Ford’s American and European divisions, ostensibly to share both expertise and production costs, the Escort on sale in North American showrooms from 1980 shared little more than its engine with its European counterpart, and its design is different enough to call the effort of sharing its development into question.


I had not heard of there being a separate Ford Escort until a couple of weeks ago, but looking at pictures of it brings a sort of an “Uncanny Valley” effect – the European version was so prevalent on British roads, seeing something that purports to be the same thing, while looking almost like it, but not quite, produces an unwarranted feeling of unease.


Reading the 1982 brochure for the North American Escort reveals the difference in approach with Ford of Europe: placing emphasis on its “world car” status, and on having outsold every imported car in the US in 1981, Ford introduced the Escort to replace both the Pinto, a “subcompact” coupé-looking car with a poor safety record, and the Fiesta, Ford’s first attempt at a “world car” that was too small for the United States (and which I have talked about here: link). Both the targets and the stakes were set high, but this situation was only found in North America, and its half of the plan must have inevitably diverged to meet them.


The European Version

Meanwhile, the focus of the European Escort was squarely on aerodynamics, fuel economy and simplicity of design, having launched in the UK with the slogan “Simple is Efficient”. Unlike Ford of America, which attached a globe logo to every Escort sold there in its first year, Ford of Europe make no mention of having developed the car with anyone else. The European Escort’s straight line design was by Uwe Bahlsen and Patrick Le Quément, following it with the futuristic, for the time, Ford Sierra (also discussed previously: link).


The North American Escort could serve to indicate the main differences between American and European cars in general. It has the same wheelbase as the European model, but is nine inches longer, two inches wider, and one inch shorter in height, with a more sloped nose, and chrome trimmings on even the base L model. Only a 1.6 litre engine was offered initially in America, the largest of the engines offered in Europe, and the interior was entirely redesigned, with black, fawn and blue colour combinations joined by an all-interior blood-like colour known as “Medium Red”. The “Squire Option” of faux wood panelling was available on the estate car.


Contributing to the design changes to the North American Escort may have been differing safety standards. Many European manufacturers in the 1970s seen their sleek designs essentially ruined through the process of “federalisation” to meet US safety regulations, often through the addition of thick black shock-absorbing bumpers to protect the headlights and engine in a 5 mph collission – Ford would do this with the Capri coupé when it was sold as the Mercury Capri in the US. This led British Leyland to redesign the MGB and MG Midget to suit, but because the US was their main market, it had to be done.


The Escort would become more of a “world car” through the 1980s, adding production at Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela to the factories in the UK, West Germany, Spain and the United States. However, the Escort produced in South America was the European version – the North American version was only sold in North America, and was only made there too. When Ford of America updated their Escort in 1990, it opted to rebrand the Ford Laser, a car sold mostly in Asia and Australasia, and based on the Mazda 323. Meanwhile, successive updates of the European Escort continued until the Focus began replacing it 1998, the Escort name disappearing in 2002... until it reappeared in 2015, on a redesigned Focus saloon car sold in China and the Middle East. Perhaps the name travels further than the car.

"Medium Red"

Sunday, October 9, 2022


Most of what I write will start as half-thoughts recorded on a scrap of paper, or even a couple of words scrawled on my right hand. This is borne from a belief, made many years ago, that I had forgotten more good ideas than I had written down, so therefore all ideas must be caught, with a paper and pen – the finished work can then be typed up later.

To that end, when I write – when I am actually in the headspace of writing – I use a felt-tip pen, specifically the Paper Mate Flair, introduced in 1966. Their current advertising makes big mention of fun and expression, selling in a range of bold and expressive colours of ink that won’t smear or bleed through the page. I don’t really doodle or draw, or write bullet journals, so the appeal is purely functional: I avoid the mess I always end in when using a fountain pen, and I avoid the extra force required to write with a ballpoint pen. Instead, it is just me, and essentially a very stiff brush soaked in ink, and I love how that looks on the page.

There is no accounting for how people wind up with what they need to work. Pinned up at my workspace is a copy of David Bowie’s handwritten lyrics to “Fashion”, because it showed the process where he attempted to rewrite the end of the line “we are the goon squad and we’re coming to town, beep beep”, proving that sometimes the first idea you have is the best one. Like other Bowie lyrics I have seen, these were written with a felt-tip pen, red on this occasion, on squared paper. I did wonder if he also used the Flair pen, and the recent biopic “Moonage Daydream” confirmed it for me in a photograph of Bowie writing, the distinctive Flair shape blown up to fifteen feet long on a cinema screen. It was a happy coincidence for me.

With felt-tip pens most often found in packs for children, and adults, to colour between the lines, I forgot that felt-tip pens became popular enough for Parker, maker of higher-end fountain pens, made a felt-tip version of their Big Red pen in 1970, itself a copy of the Duofold pen that dated back to the 1930s, and oddly marketed as “a glorious handful of solid pleasure”, so faithful to the old design that you have to unscrew the lid, rather than just take it off. Withdrawn in 1981, Parker never made another felt-tip pen, keeping to ballpoint and fountain pens, but like Paper Mate, they are part of Newell Brands, formerly the delightfully-named Newell Rubbermaid, so there is still time to share some ideas around.

Saturday, October 1, 2022


Last week, in downloading an episode of the comedy and advice podcast “My Brother, My Brother and Me” already on my phone, I realised I had caught up with myself: in the fifteen months since discovering the show, I had now heard all six hundred and twenty-eight episodes released since its debut in April 2010. 

The first I heard of the three McElroy brothers, and “MBMBAM” was the notorious moment, in “Kickeo”, episode 514, when “your babiest brother” Griffin said he was known as “Porky Pig” at high school, because of the noise made by his “technique”: “ba-de-ba-de-ba-de-ba-de...” For forty-five solid seconds, Griffin, “your oldest brother” Justin and “your middlest brother” Travis were convulsed by the kind of laughter that only comes from a moment of “where the hell did that come from?”, before Travis laments that people confuse their voices, because they will think he said it. 

As someone for whom the sound of people laughing may be their version ASMR, this was a brilliant moment, but also one that, like a large amount of their “bits” from the show, have been animated and placed on YouTube by creative people, and devoted fans, inspired by the McElroys and the imagery their “playing in the space” has created.

I felt like I had seen about a hundred different versions of the brothers before hearing my first full episode, which was number 562, titled “It Helps to Have a Cube”. With my only regular podcast being “CheapShow”, which I once described here as “the celebratory mix of trash culture and body horror that pushes taste for the perfect laugh” [link], I had caught “MBMBAM” on an appropriate week: Griffin began the episode as a cassette tape that had to be wound up, and who can also sharpen pencils with his behind; the brothers discuss how competitive hot dog eater Joey Chestnut deals with the inevitable trip to the bathroom; they answer a plea from a listener who wants to stop being the office jokester, before sharing how to hide from a murderer; they review the latest album by pizza play place mascot Chuck E. Cheese, and conclude that you should pour a ring of salt around a ghost to keep them in place.

With its surreal and absurdist humour not overlapping the scatological, almost Dadaist force of “CheapShow”, its shared grounding with “MBMBAM” as magazine-like formats in the safe space of “wholesome filth” made me feel like I was in the right place, so I kept listening, but went backwards for a bit, from the 500-range episodes, into the 400s, then 300s, but in January 2022, as I wrote about One Times Square [link], I heard the first four episodes from 2010, and progressed from there – having jumped around previously, the last episode I hadn’t heard was number 291, “Most Likely to Boat”. 

Having now heard every episode so far, including the latest episode number 629, “Millennial Seinfeld” – a welcome moment for every time I heard a listener’s predicament and thought “what kind of ‘Seinfeld’ plot is this?” – what have I learned from “My Brother, My Brother and Me?

Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” is where the often-cited ten-thousand-hour rule for becoming an expert in a given field comes from. Once you realise there aren’t that many hours in a year, you appreciate the slow grind of putting in the work to get gradually better over time. While the McElroy brothers discourage listening to the first hundred episodes of “MBMBAM”, it is there where you hear the graft, the refinement, the encouragement and guidance from the show’s audience, the endearing talk of listening parties, online forums, and burning episodes to a CD for a friend, and later the liberating challenge of creatively advertising Extreme Restraints, a literal online sex shop. Hearing the show’s form and tone take shape, its hosts both in charge and along for the ride, was a liberating experience – you too can have a creative career, but you must put in the work.

Despite Bob Ball’s opening advisory that “the McElroy brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed”, it is only an advisory. After thousands of questions, they have arrived at major lessons like “act strong”, “keep your grades up”, and “will a sign help?”, but it can also be concluded that horses are essentially sacred, that a religion can be formed from eating a mango, “the man who sleeps with a machete is a fool every night but one”, and “if you nut in space, it push you backward”.

But with three people playing off each other like a TV writers’ room, entire passages have been created that put me in the mind of a sketch show rather than an advice column, like “The Ravioli Monster”, Traci Chapman’s “Faster Car”, Travis creating a “mango cult”, an entire episode taking apart the Robert DeNiro-starring comedy “The War with Grandpa”, and nearly “Clockwork Oranging” themselves over “hating” the celebrity-led podcast “Smartless” for winning an award for which they were also nominated (for their advertisement reads). A particular favourite is from episode 539, “Quantum Beef”, where a discussion on barbecues turns to the children’s TV science host Mr Wizard using dry ice to shatter a hot dog, before shouting, 

“we’re all just meat! I’m basically 225 hot dogs strapped together with casing. Old casing, that saw some shit in ‘Nam! If you wanna look at the eclipse... you just burn a little bit of your eye meat, what do I care? It’ll grow back, or it won’t, then we all die. It’s meat. Life is a great experiment... You’re my son now? Your mom said I could adopt you. I promised to teach you science... I revealed to your mom the arcane meat secret, and she said she gave up. Now you’re my meat. I love you.”

I doubt anyone would have come up with the above passage by themselves, and the escalation, the lore, and the unexpected tenderness at the end marks out the three people that created it, and where their creative journey has taken them.

While I start looking into the role-playing game podcast “The Adventure Zone” that the McElroys began in 2014 with their radio presenter father Clint, my choices for five “My Brother, My Brother and Me” episodes, in no particular episodes, are:

#562 “It Helps to Have a Cube”: a listener’s first episode is forever cherished by them.

#468 “Down the Soda Hole”: presented with the force of “standing energy”, it is Justin’s asking “have you seen the movie Big Daddy?”, and Travis’s weary answer of “yes”, catches them all off guard.

#265 “The Ballad of Tit Liquid”: two words inspire a character that derails the rest of the show.

#482 “Face 2 Face: Big Stitch Energy”: a live show begun with a recap of the show’s history to date (October 2019), to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, by superfan Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the McElroys’ use of “unless, unless, unless”, to change tack on their advice, into the musical “Hamilton”.

Special “The My Brother, My Brother and Me Guided Sleep Experience for Spiritual Harmony”: sponsored by Casper mattresses, ASMR becomes deliberately quiet and unintentionally tense, followed by a Cockney countdown from 100 to zero.