Oh, no, On The Road’s a masterpiece. What else have I missed?

A January 28, 2010 photo shows a copies of "The Catcher in the Rye" by author J.D. Salinger at a bookstore in Washington, DC. J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of "The Catcher in the Rye," has died at 91, his agent said January 28, raising tantalizing questions over whether the legendary writer might have left behind a hoard of unpublished works. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

This week’s column is dedicated to all those of you who have never read The Catcher in the Rye and who, what’s more, are unhealthily proud of the fact. It’s OK: I understand. I was one of you myself till a couple of weeks ago when, at Boy’s insistence, I wearily set aside some of my valuable beach time to plough through this hideously overrated and tiresome ‘classic’.

Why the reluctance? Well, for the obvious reason that The Catcher in the Rye — like To Kill a Mockingbird or On the Road — is one of those books you just don’t need to have read because everyone else has done it for you. Including all the thick people who have only ever finished about three books. Or that was how it was when I was at school. The top English sets would study something proper by, say, Austen or Dickens. And the slackers would be given the soft option of doing an American novella, like Catcher or Of Mice and Men.

Besides which, of course, it’s so culturally ubiquitous you know exactly what it’s about already: Holden Caulfield, a moody teenager, tells you his thoughts — and inspires at least three generations of serial killers. Oh, and you get bonus points for knowing that he wears a distinctive red hunting hat, that the reclusive J.D. Salinger wrote little thereafter and that the first line includes a dismissive reference to ‘all that David Copperfield kind of crap’.

Except the actual book is nothing like you think it’s going to be. For a start, it’s set in New York, not the country. (‘Rye’: you’d pictured the dungareed hero, lying sulkily and adolescently in fields of tall grass, plotting how to murder someone, right?) And Holden is a really sweet kid. Rich and privately educated (another thing you wouldn’t expect for an everyman yoof hero), he goofs around the city for 24 hours playing at being a grown-up (largely unsuccessful attempts at whoring and drinking), but reassuring us how lovely and well-adjusted he is underneath because he’s so nice to his kid sister and those nuns.

I remember experiencing a similar shock on reading War and Peace. And On the Road, for that matter, which I tackled — again at Boy’s insistence — after I’d finished Catcher. Why had I resisted for so long? Because of all those tossers — Bob Dylan foremost among them — who insist that, yes, of course, it’s one of those essential books that you have to read because it will change your life.

Jesus! The presumption of the man! If there’s one thing I’m absolutely never going to do it’s have my literary tastes dictated by some croaky 1960s folk singer (not one of whose albums I’ve ever listened to in full, not ever, seriously, is that bad of me?) whose politics are way left of mine. It would be like consulting Rio Ferdinand on what museums to visit while you’re in Madrid, or asking Keith Lemon for his advice on the most challenging hunt country.

Then I read the book. Oh dear. It’s a bloody masterpiece, it really is. Life–changing, you might even say. Obviously, there is much to dislike about it, especially if you leave it till you’re middle-aged: the disgusting youthful energy and optimism; the way it romantically glosses over the ravages of drug or booze addiction, even to the point of looking on fondly as the blond one-year-old child of Old Bull (aka William S. Burroughs) runs naked in the yard while his parents dedicate their lives to benzedrine and smack.

But it’s brilliant nonetheless and definitely a formative book I wish I’d read at Boy’s age, rather than moping around wistfully as I did with the lovely but doomed Le Grand Meaulnes. Still, that’s what children are for, isn’t it: avoiding all the mistakes you’ve made so that they can make different ones instead?

Naturally, all this has got me thinking: which of the other grotesquely overrated books I’ve refused to read and films I’ve refused to see and albums I’ve refused to hear (Television’s Marquee Moon; The Band’s The Band; Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue) will turn out to surprise and delight me as much asCatcher and On the Road did? And also: how much of the collective critical wisdom out there derives from bluffers too proud to admit they’re actually un-acquainted with the works on which they insist on venturing an opinion nonetheless?

If my experiences are anything to go by, quite a lot. But then, it’s my job: there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read, watch or listen to all the stuff you’re expected to be an expert on so instead you synthesise other critics’ opinions and form a judgment based on theirs.

The problem is that sometimes critics you trust get it wrong. For example theGuardian’s great Peter Bradshaw was unnecessarily down, I thought, on a culty film I adored the other day called Drive, whose tough, taciturn, broodingly handsome, ultraviolent hero I believe may have been loosely based on me. And sometimes not just one critic but the entire consensus can get it wrong, perhaps because of some silly intellectual fad of the day or because no one quite dares say that the Emperor is wearing no clothes or because they’re all just dorks.

Sgt Pepper, for example. If you’d read a Q or NME or Rolling Stone survey of about 20 years ago, you’d invariably find it listed among the top five greatest albums of all time, which it’s just not. ‘A Day in the Life’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, ‘She’s Leaving Home’: yes. ‘When I’m 64’; ‘Within You Without You’; ‘Lovely Rita’?: I hardly think so. Or as Keith Richards put it recently, it’s ‘a mishmash of rubbish’.

I’m still not going to read To Kill a Mockingbird, though. Whatever Taylor Swift says.

From The Spectator

BBC breaks impartiality rule on climate and…ooh, look, a performing dog!

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The BBC has been caught red-handed breaking its own rules on impartiality by running a series of green propaganda documentaries funded by the United Nations on its BBC World News channel. (H/T Guido)

But you’d never guess this from the way the BBC has reported on the story about its censure in a report by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom. Instead, like a laser, it has focused on what it considers to be the only important bit of the report, viz:

Commercial rival ITV should have made it much, MUCH clearer to viewers that the amazing, performing dog which won Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year was in fact two amazing, performing dogs. That’s because there was one trick – walking the tightrope – that the main amazing, performing dog Matisse couldn’t do. So it had to be faked using a Matisse lookalike called Chase, who had trained for years and years after being inspired by watching an acclaimed arthouse documentary called Dog On Wire.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as shocked as anyone by the appalling deception which Britain’s Got Talent practised on its viewers. Had I voted for the evil, lying, faking trickster devil dog Matisse and then subsequently discovered that I had been duped about his talents, I expect that I would almost certainly have wished to commit suicide in shame. TV documentaries involving animals, as we know, are widely recognised for their scrupulous accuracy and integrity and lack of artifice. The same is true of TV talent shows.  So I can well understand why viewers who’d voted for Matisse rang to ask for their premium phoneline money back. And if David Cameron doesn’t call a public inquiry into this vital issue then I think we all have a right to know why.

All that said, I still think there may be more pressing issues of public concern in this Ofcom report.

Take, for example, the revelation that BBC World News ran no fewer than three documentaries plugging the United Nations REDD scheme, kindly funded by and made on behalf of the United Nation’s REDD scheme. (These were among 14 half-hour programmes run on BBC World News and all “funded by not-for-profit organisations operating largely in areas of developing world issues and environmental concerns.”

It’s clear from the BBC’s defensive response towards Ofcom’s initial inquiries that it saw nothing wrong with this.

BBCWN, however, believed that not for profit bodies such as United Nations agencies could fund programmes without engaging the sponsorship rules.
It believed that if the content of the programme could not be considered promotional of the funder and its activities or interests, the funder should not be categorised as a sponsor.
BBCWN said it believed that subjects of general public interest such as health, education, social welfare etc. could not be considered to be proprietorial interests of a funder provided that the particular activities of the funder were not promoted.
But this tells us more about the ideological mindset of the people who work at the BBC than it does about the BBC’s actual charter obligations as a public service broadcaster with quasi-monopolistic privileges.
In the Beeboids’ eyes, NGOs and UN bodies like the ones that funded this propaganda, are so pure in motivation, so unimpeachably correct in their collectivist urges, that there is need to subject them to any kind of scrutiny.
Had they done their due diligence – a basic requirement, you might have hoped, for a news organisation of the BBC’s international stature and supposed respectability – they might have discovered otherwise.
REDD, as Christopher Booker revealed at the time those programmes ran, was a scam of epic proportions, cooked up by the green movement in order to enrich its cronies at public expense.

If the world’s largest, richest environmental campaigning group, the WWF – formerly the World Wildlife Fund – announced that it was playing a leading role in a scheme to preserve an area of the Amazon rainforest twice the size of Switzerland, many people might applaud, thinking this was just the kind of cause the WWF was set up to promote. Amazonia has long been near the top of the list of the world’s environmental cconcerns, not just because it includes easily the largest and most bio-diverse area of rainforest on the planet, but because its billions of trees contain the world’s largest land-based store of CO2 – so any serious threat to the forest can be portrayed as a major contributor to global warming.

If it then emerged, however, that a hidden agenda of the scheme to preserve this chunk of the forest was to allow the WWF and its partners to share the selling of carbon credits worth $60 billion, to enable firms in the industrial world to carry on emitting CO2 just as before, more than a few eyebrows might be raised. The idea is that credits representing the CO2 locked into this particular area of jungle – so remote that it is not under any threat – should be sold on the international market, allowing thousands of companies in the developed world to buy their way out of having to restrict their carbon emissions. The net effect would simply be to make the WWF and its partners much richer while making no contribution to lowering overall CO2 emissions.

Fortunately, the scam was nipped in the bud by the collapse of the carbon-trading market.

But it’s quite a big deal, don’t you think, that the BBC willingly lent its services to help promulgate this outrageous scheme?

Bigger even, I’d suggest, than the Britain’s Got Talent scandal. I mean, however, much Matisse’s owner may have trousered as a result of that relatively innocuous sleight of paw involving his canine pal Chase, I suspect it didn’t come anyway near the $60 billion the WWF and its greenie co-conspirators stood to make at our expense if they’d pulled off that Amazonian eco-heist.

From Breitbart

I prefer my cod in batter, thanks very much

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Whenever I find myself choosing my next meal I always like to look out for the sign that says “healthy option.” In this age of variety and abundance it can often be hugely difficult making up your mind as to what to eat next. “Healthy option” makes things so much easier. It tells me: “Avoid like the plague.”

Good news, then, for takeaway customers in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. No fewer than six local fish and chip shops have taken on board the advice of their local council’s Healthier Choices Manager and introduced special, non-greasy, low-fat menu options. So now when customers find themselves torn between the battered sausage, the chicken nuggets and the “rock salmon” at least they can be sure of what they don’t want: that insipid-looking fillet of steamed cod on a bed of salad, with so few chips they barely even qualify as a garnish.

“It’s too early to say if steamed fish will be a hit,” says an article on the council’s website. And I’ll bet when they know the answer they won’t tell us. That’s because this well-meaning scheme is doomed to flop like a wet kipper. Of course it is. No one in their right mind goes to a takeaway as part of a calorie controlled diet. You do it when you fancy a treat.

And the reason it’s a treat is precisely because that food is so deliciously greasy. As the late Clarissa Dickson-Wright, the generously girthed cook from TV’s Two Fat Ladies, once explained to me, fry-ups, sizzling bacon, battered fish, and so on will always taste nicer than the “healthy option” because fat is a great carrier of flavour.

Clarissa (who was as big an expert on the science of food as she was on cooking and eating it) remained, to the end, a great defender of butter, cream and full-fat milk. She claimed they were much better for you than most of the supposedly healthy, low-fat alternatives. And it turns out she was right. Recent studies have shown that it’s the “trans-fats” in artificial health products like margarine that are the killer, not natural animal fats you find in butter.

What’s more, the evidence increasingly suggests, that it’s sugar not fat which is most responsible for our supposed obesity epidemic. So by trying to stop customers eating fried fish in Rochdale, the council is barking up the wrong tree. It’s the cafes pushing sweet cakes and doughnuts they should be investigating.

If, that is, you believe it’s a council’s job to be lecturing takeaways shops, cafes and the like what should and shouldn’t be on the menu. Which personally, I don’t. Surely, if you’re forking out hundreds of pounds every year for your council tax, it ought to be things you actually want and need like regular dustbin collection, not for the services of some nannyish, finger-wagging lecturer treating you like a small child who refuses to eat his Brussels sprouts.

When I read that Rochdale Council employed a Healthier Choices Manager, I assumed at first it was a joke. But no: the job exists and it’s currently held by someone called Clare McNicol. Well I’m sure she’s a nice, caring, well-meaning person and she’s clearly very persuasive to have got all those chippies to participate in this ludicrous scheme. Really, though. Oughtn’t the council to have more urgent priorities than creating such busybodying non-jobs?

For example, three years ago, Rochdale was at the centre of an ugly, grooming gang scandal when a group of Pakistanis were jailed for 30 ‘horrific’ counts of child rape. With its limited budget, wouldn’t the council be better off beefing its apparently lacklustre Children’s Services Department, rather than trying to decide the local fish and chip shop menu? Isn’t the safety of vulnerable girls maybe a bit more important than the danger that someone, somewhere might put on a few more inches as a result of too many ill-advised takeaways?

Councils are always telling us how underfunded they are, how they’re expected to do more and more with less and less money. But I suspect that this is at least partly a problem of their own making. If they stuck to the basics – schools, street-cleaning, lighting and so on – and cut out all the dispensable luxuries like recycling awareness, sustainability, lesbian outreach, diet fascism, and so on, then I’m sure they’d find it much easier to live within their means. I expect most council taxpayers would be a lot happier too.

My fear, though, is that councils, especially those in inner-city Labour strongholds like Rochdale, really aren’t so interested in the dull but essential bread-and-butter stuff. (Let alone in confronting issues like the growth of intolerant Islamism). Rather they see it as their holy mission to mould the whole world in their progressive image. Hence, that multitude of different coloured bags you’re expected to sort your rubbish into, each week: they want to teach you that recycling as an act of religious devotion.

Hence too those healthy eating menus. They don’t want you to see food as a source of fun or sensual pleasure. They want you to see it as they do – worthy, tofu-eating, vegan types as most of them probably are – as a source of guilt, self-hatred and neurosis.

Never mind the fact that cod – or haddock, come to that – is really quite disgusting when steamed and that it desperately needs the improving influence of a nice, crispy layer of beer batter, a side order of thick chips swimming in vinegar, and a squeeze each of tomato ketchup and tartare sauce to make it palatable. Enjoying the stuff was never the point. These people don’t just want you to be healthy and thin. They want you, above all, to be miserable.

From the Express

George Monbiot’s obesity solution: punish the thin!

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Obesity is an incurable disease says the Guardian’s George Monbiot.

 No really, he goes on. It’s not only “more addictive than crack cocaine.” But also it’s quite like “cancer.”

Gosh, how I love George Monbiot! Is he not such a darling, wonderful thing?

I like his new byline photograph – still unsmiling, still austere, still wholesome and chunky-knit but now with the Wrinkles of Experience and the Deep Frown of Pained Wisdom.

I like his heroic abstinence from frivolity or mirth, redolent of one of those marvelously austere Scandinavian churches and lots of distinguished German philosophers, probably. He’s like a living version of that And When Did You Last See Your Father? painting, only without the belly laughs. And also remarkably like the Hon. Sir Jonathan Porritt, it occurs.

I like the fact that he went to Stowe – when Stoics, as a rule, are such jolly, thick-but-hugely-likeable beagling types.

I like the fact that he once wrote an article – God, I feel so sorry for George Monbiot – defending him when he got into trouble when he said something legally questionable about someone on Twitter. And I like even more the fact that I meant every word, which I think speaks volumes about what a generous-spirited person I am and about how I will always put high moral principle before petty feuds.

But most of all I like the fact that he keeps writing such fantastically wrongheaded nonsense which I am freely able to attack because George Monbiot remains a distinguished columnist, rated by many, well-remunerated, and accorded many a high platform at eco-conferences and suchlike across the whole of Gaia’s world – so no one can accuse me of “punching down.”

Anyway, George’s latest. His line is that because some new study has come out in a fancy sounding journal – Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews – saying that people can get addicted to eating, and because once you become obese it’s much harder to lose weight (once you’re there, 98.3 per cent of men and 97.8 per cent of women never return, apparently) that therefore we should stop being horrid to fat people because they JUST CAN’T HELP IT.

I’m with him on the ‘being nice to disgusting looking people’ thing. The other day, I got talking to this bloke who looked like a filthy, smelly old tramp (as indeed he had been for the previous seven years) and he turned out to be an absolute joy. Also, I’m generally well disposed to fat people who appear as a rule to be jolly, who I know in my bones (call it male intuition) share my appreciation of food, and who – more to the point – could easily turn dangerous if you weren’t nice to them and just sit on you and squish you like a cockroach.

But when it comes to the as-bad-as-crack-or-cancer thing, I’m afraid George and I part company.

It’s not that I wish to diminish or ridicule in any way the difficulty of losing weight. I’m lucky enough not to have been born with the “big bone” gene.

My problems with his argument are twofold

a) if you want to lose weight, you can – just exercise more and eat less, as Katie Hopkins did on her My Fat Story documentary. (Sorry, but I absolutely refuse to believe that George Monbiot is not a massive fan of “The Hop”, as he probably calls her affectionately).

b) it expects us to share his terrifying assumption that if fatties can’t be persuaded to control their impulses then everyone must be made to suffer.

Here’s how he puts it:

Eventually the change will have to happen, with similar restrictions on advertising, sponsorship, display and accessibility to those imposed on the tobacco pedlars. One day, though not before many thousands have needlessly died, it will become illegal to advertise any food or drink that merits a red traffic-light warning. They will be sold only in plain packaging, with health warnings, on high shelves.

Then he adds, rather sweetly, as if even he thinks he might have gone a bit too far this time:

Does this seem draconian to you?

Unfortunately, it’s only a rhetorical question. George doesn’t think it’s ‘draconian’, it’s just plain commonsense, and he goes on with his characteristic lightness-of-touch and lack of dogmatism to explain:

If so, remember that obesity afflicts a quarter of the adult population, and is rising rapidly. It causes a range of hideous conditions, just one of which – diabetes – accounts for one sixth of NHS admissions and 10% of its budget. In what looking-glass world is this acceptable? If smoking demands fierce intervention, why not overeating?

This is the choice we face: to recognise that the only humane and effective means of addressing the obesity epidemic is to prevent more people from being hooked, by restricting the pushers – or to continue a programme of fat-shaming, bullying and compulsory treatment, whose only likely outcome is unhappiness.

Now ask yourself again: which of these options is draconian?

Which reminds me of the other thing I love about George Monbiot: his refreshing candour.

As I argue in Watermelons, the problem with so many environmentalists is that behind that cloak of bunny-hugging caringness they’re all basically a bunch of totalitarian kill-joys itching to transform the entire world into the Death Camp of Sustainability and Tolerance – with them, of course, as the jackbooted camp guards.

What’s so different, so special about George is that he really doesn’t bother to mask what he thinks with all that fluffy stuff. He gives it you straight. Whatever the situation, his answer boils down to: “More regulation. Less personal freedom. Now what’s the question?”

Truly for those of us on the opposite side of the argument, George is the gift that goes on giving.

Read the rest at Breitbart London

It’s only midges…

Midge

Lots of people, when they see this disgusting photo, will go: “Oh that’s not midges. That’s….”

And then they’ll shove in their tuppenny ha’penny worth as to what they think was the real culprit.

My legs. My bites. And it definitely was midges, I can tell you. I was there. It wasn’t in Scotland, surprisingly, but by the road at end of a particularly lovely sunny day last Wednesday in mid-Wales – my birthday, as it happened – when our car got a flat tyre and I had no option but to crouch there being eaten alive while I changed it.

You wouldn’t think creatures so small could wreak so much havoc. (Well, actually you could: fleas are about the same size and do the same damage). That’s probably why when I felt them feasting on me savagely I didn’t do what I would definitely done had it been they been, say, mosquitoes on a roadside in the Democratic Republic of Congo and changed into long trousers sharpish. I just carried on, thinking, “Ah well. It’s only midges.”

Some midge facts:

An individual midge is almost invisible to the human eye, at about a millimetre long. Only the bloodthirsty female causes us torment. The male feeds on plants and nectar, while his mate requires blood to form her eggs. Midges are alerted to human prey by the carbon dioxide on our breath. A swarm can inflict about 3000 bites per hour using a distinctive feeding technique: while mosquitos pierce the skin and suck up blood through a syringe-like mouthpiece, midges cut the skin, and then lick up the pool of blood that forms.

Oh, and apparently, midges cost the Scottish tourist industry £286 million a year in lost income from all those tourists who’ve been chomped and vow never to return.

How many bites can you count on my leg? If you email me at Jamesdel@dircon.co.uk and you’re the first with the right-ish answer then I’ll send you a free signed copy of one of my books. You’ll deserve it. You’d have to be pretty weird, bored or obsessive to count the insect bites on a revolting photograph of someone’s leg. So I shall be very interested to see if anyone does.

Must all Children’s Laureates be tedious lefties?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Malorie Blackman attends the BAFTA Academy Children's Awards at London Hilton on November 23, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Unless you’re an avid reader of the Guardian, you’re probably blissfully unaware that Britain has a new Children’s Laureate. His name is Chris Riddell, he’s an illustrator and a cartoonist for the Observer, and according to one who has interviewed him he is a delightful man: ‘Giggly, childlike, doodled book illustrations on his napkin throughout.’

I’m glad about this. One of the roles of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate — in return for his £15,000 bursary and his ‘specially designed and inscribed silver medal’ — is to tour Britain’s schools and festivals acting as an ambassador for children’s literature. Clearly, it would be a disadvantage were the incumbent to prove, say, a filthy old perv, a cantankerous git, or a total illiterate. But for me, almost worse than any of those flaws, would be this: if Riddell — despite his evident drawing skills and general loveliness — turns out to be as infuriatingly, tediously, proselytisingly lefty as at least two of his predecessors.

The one just gone was bad enough. Never having got beyond page one of a Malorie Blackman novel — though my daughter speaks highly of Noughts and Crosses — I can offer no views on her authorial talent. What I do know is that, immensely tiresomely, she would insist on using the laureate’s platform to bore on about identity politics.

Here she is (in the Guardian, inevitably) on multiculturalism: ‘I don’t think we’ve gone far enough with it in terms of making sure children know about different cultures and ways of living.’ Really, Malorie? Really? Did you ever actually pay attention when you visited all those primary schools with their Mary Seacole posters and their projects celebrating Eid and Diwali? (Though, to be fair, probably not so much Easter or Yom Kippur….) And here she is, ibid, sounding off on history: ‘History should belong to all of us and it needs to include people from different cultural backgrounds.’ (Sorry to bring this one up again, Malorie, but: Mary Seacole?) And on her specialist subject: ‘We need more books that are specifically about the BME [black and minority ethnic] British experience, and that’s why I bang the drum for getting more diverse books out there…’.

Yeah, those barriers to entry to children of colour, Malorie. There is just no way on earth that any kid without the requisite wriggling green body could ever get into the head of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. No child of West Indian heritage has ever had an Aunt Spiker or an Aunt Sponge. And J.K. Rowling’s frankly shaming failure to include a single character of ethnic persuasion (unless you count redheads) into the magic Harry-Ron-Hermione circle explains why her series only had global sales in excess of 450 million and was translated into such stubbornly Anglo-Saxon tongues as Bengali, Khmer, Urdu, Persian, Hindi and Arabic.

Mind you, compared with the 2007 to 2009 incumbent, Blackman comes across like David Starkey addressing a Ukip rally after a Jeroboam of Cheval Blanc ’47. I’m talking, of course, about the poet and author Michael Rosen — on whose best-known book I am more than qualified to pass judgment, having read it several times and found it to be possibly the most mind-numbingly tedious work in the entire canon of children’s literature.

I forget the book’s name but basically it’s about these kids whose parents take them on a bear hunt. Possibly because they inhabit some fluffy liberal fantasyland where actions have no consequences — it’s never explained — the parents seem to have no idea how dangerous the enterprise is. Nor does the author. Or, if he does, he cops out completely in his dismal pay-off. (Spoiler alert.) The bear comes out of his cave but doesn’t rip any of the family’s faces off, as bears are wont to do with their razor-sharp, salmon-stripping paws. Instead, it just stumbles after them endearingly. And they all live happily ever after. (Now imagine having to re-read that every night for up to five years. As I didn’t, luckily. We were much more Goodnight Moon, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and The Rats by James Herbert, thank goodness.)

Anyway, if I’d written a book as unbelievably dull as that, I think the last thing I’d be doing is going round the country pontificating on the cultural needs of Britain’s kiddies. But it hasn’t put off Rosen.

Rosen’s main bugbear — as riffed on endlessly in his Guardian column — seems to be that the vile, constrictive Tory establishment is hellbent on imposing on the nation’s kids the kind of rigorous, disciplined education he suffered at Watford Grammar School for Boys in the early 1960s, which meant that despite his ordinary background he could only get into Wadham College, Oxford, to read English.

Perhaps he’s right. Maybe the very last thing kids need in the 21st century is to be taught to read quickly and efficiently using the tried-and-tested phonics method; maybe memorising poetry and absorbing facts really does damage children’s vital creativity; maybe all classes should be remodelled on Alan Bennett’s History Boys, whereby fabulous, freewheeling, inspirational teachers spend every lesson digressing on anything but the subject they’re supposed actually to be teaching.

Problem is — and of course, I wouldn’t expect Rosen to be aware of this, the children’s sector being almost entirely composed of doctrinaire progressives — that not everyone who has kids is left-wing. Some of us have different views as to how our children should best be educated. And it would be nice, one day, to hear these views being expressed by a Children’s Laureate. Not this one, necessarily: he does after all draw for the Observer. But the next one, maybe, who might turn out to be someone proper along the lines of Susan Hill or Anthony Horowitz. And, please God, anyone but Terry Deary.

From the Spectator

Britain’s Day of Burning Hell. Survivors’ eye-witness accounts.

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Britain is enjoying a spectacular heatwave and I don’t know about the rest of you but I have been enjoying it immensely.

I love the sunshine. I love the way it fries your brain so it feels like you’ve been smoking weed even when you haven’t. I love the gazelle-like legs of all the nubiles in their summer dresses passing me just now as I sipped a flat white on Kensington High Street. I love the fact that, when you’re wearing sunglasses, you can perve freely without anyone realising where your eyes are looking…

But enough summer sunshine fun. It seems that not everyone feels quite as enthusiastic about this glorious mid-90s heat as I do.

This young fellow on Twitter for example who thought it would be a good idea to send me this tweet.

I wonder if Ollie is being sarcastic.

Anyway, I’m grateful to Ollie for at least two reasons. First, I absolutely adore the idea that he imagines me to be so powerful I am in any way responsible for the thing we used to call in the old days “lovely weather.”

Second, because he sweetly included a link to the Guardian which I might otherwise have missed.

It seems that the Guardian has been live-blogging this marvellous sunny day we’ve been having, providing regular updates, in much the same way newspapers more normally do when covering say a breaking story about some hideous terrorist atrocity or some terrible natural disaster.

Here, so you can enjoy it yourself, is the link.

It includes invaluable tips on how to cope if you’re fasting for Ramadan (as so many of Guardian’s white liberal metropolitan readers are, right now, of course): break it and seek medical attention if you’re seriously ill, advises Shakyh Abdul Hussain of the East London Mosque – though presumably other clerics would disagree strongly with this dangerous liberalism.

There’s a short interview with a devil-may-care couple of pensioners who have recklessly decided to ignore all the Guardian’s invaluable health-and-safety advice and expose themselves to the sun’s deadly rays:

Soaking up the rays on a bench on Gordon promenade, Veronica Josh, 70, and her friend Jean Reay, 71, say they took no notice of the health warnings urging people to stay indoors between 11am and 4pm.

Who says the spirit of punk is dead, eh?

Meanwhile the UN is seizing the opportunity to advance its nannyish, finger-wagging agenda.

The United Nations has urged countries to create better warning systems as a heatwave sweeping western Europe saw temperatures reach 40C.

People with lung problems are basically as good as dead.

Vicky Barber from the British Lung Foundation Helpline said sufferers should avoid going out in the midday heat. “During hot weather, the air we breathe has lower moisture levels than usual, which can have a drying effect on our airways,” she said.

“As a result, people with respiratory conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or severe asthma may find it harder to breathe, feel more tired, or find their lungs feeling heavy or tight.”

Astonishingly, there has been a rise in sales of sun cream:

Superdrug has seen sales of suncare rise by 26% (compared to this time last year) and is predicting sales to rise by an additional 20% this week. The drugstore’s own brand Solait SPF50 suncream is the best seller, with the retailer announcing that it is selling a bottle every 30 seconds.

There has been a mass outbreak of unrepentant sexism:

The ASA said: “We considered the claim ‘Are you beach body ready?’ prompted readers to think about whether they were in the shape they wanted to be for the summer and we did not consider the accompanying image implied a different body shape to that shown was not good enough or was inferior. We concluded that the headline and image were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.”

And it’s the hottest July day on record. (Well, at least if you count one data set from one weather station as being symbolic of EVERYTHING).

Just like that, the temperature has soared at Heathrow to make this the hottest day in July since records began. That’s 0.2C higher than 2006’s record.

All of this makes me feel very ancient. I’m old enough to remember a time when sunny days were something to celebrate, not panic about or – as young Ollie seems to imagine – to cite doomily as yet further depressing evidence of man’s refusal to change his selfish carbon-guzzling lifestyle.

Is it just me? Or am I in fact the only surviving refugee from the Summer of ’76 who can remember headlines like “Phew! What a Scorcher!”?

Read at Breitbart

You only had one job at Glastonbury, Kanye West…

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Is Kanye West the most annoying, arrogant, rude, impertinent, graceless, blustering, charmless, overindulged boor in the entire history of popular music – or indeed in the entirety of history ever?

Well, yes, obviously.

But for some of us – me, I confess until this weekend – all these manifest flaws have been more than justified by the man’s superabundant talent.

“Yes, well the man’s earned the right to despise his fans, to diss lovely, sweet Taylor Swift and to be so incredibly shallow that in order to out-bling his rival Jay-Z’s marriage to Beyonce he had to go out and marry a woman notable for only two things (a) the size of her booty  b) being more famous than Beyonce.) He can do this stuff because he is an artistic genius.”

That’s what I used to tell people until I saw his headlining set at Glastonbury Festival (England’s Woodstock) at the weekend and appreciated for the first time the main flaw in my argument, viz: Kanye West is not an artistic genius, after all.

Before Kanye West made his appearance at Glastonbury, the bookmakers were offering odds of 2 to 1 that he would be booed off stage before the end of his set.

That is because, by long tradition, Glastonbury is the king of British music festivals – like Woodstock might have been had it ever been any good – and does not take kindly to artistes who think they are bigger than it.

Pretty much anyone who is anyone and who is available and alive has played there. Nirvana never did. Nor did Elvis. But everyone else has, from Page & Plant to Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash to Paul McCartney to the Who to Radiohead to Metallica to Jay Z.

So being allotted the headline Saturday night slot at Glastonbury is quite an honour.

But would Cheesus (as Kanye styles himself) rise to the occasion. Or would he urinate all over it like an incontinent Rottweiler?

Well, on Saturday night about 60,000 of us who’d come to see him had our answer.

The only brief moment of excitement was when a comedian called Lee Nelson invaded the stage (he was holding a mic and at first it looked like he was going to be one of those thrilling guest rappers that Kanye couldn’t be bothered in the end to invite along) in what he claimed was “revenge” for what Kanye did to Taylor Swift. (He interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video awards in 2009).

After that it was like being pounded to terminal boredom by a sledgehammer made of Mogadon and inscribed with the collected speeches of Barack Obama. Something like that, anyway.

The thing Kanye West doesn’t seem to have realised is that a lot of us don’t buy his records for his rapping. For all we care about the political insights of a spoilt millionaire and close personal friend of Barack Obama (allegedly), he might just as well be rapping about pizza toppings or his antique Yu-Gi-Oh! cards collection or the best fish, in his considered view, to have in a 30,000 gallon marine aquarium. It’s not like we’re listening to the actual words – (though I might if they were about the fish: could be quite informative) – they’re just the infill to give Kanye something to do with his mouth while the stuff we do care about (the samples, the hooks, the mash ups, the bit from In The Court of the Crimson King where it goes “Twenty-first century schizoid man”, and so on) gets us swaying and grooving and feeling how pleasingly badassed and Trans Black we all are. (Or real black, even. I understand that Kanye West does have some black fans. Not as nearly as many as he has white fans, obviously. But a few. Apparently).

Yes, of course, there are ALSO Kanye fans who care about his rapping too. These were much in evidence all around me at Glastonbury, chanting the lyrics so loud and word-perfectly I don’t know why they bothered turning up – they could have just piled into an elevator with a few of their mates and shouted Kanye West’s greatest hits at the mirror for two hours. They’re also, I suspect, the reason why he didn’t get booed off stage as he deserved.

But if you weren’t one of those, it was really, really, really boring. I wouldn’t necessarily expect people who think rap all sounds the same to understand this but one reason we music aficionados so love our hip hip is that, of all the genres, it’s the one that probably attracts the best, most interesting producers – Dr Dre, Timbaland, The Neptunes, DJ Shadow, and so on – and creates the richest, most intoxicating sound. An album like West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – which I still love – is like being taken by your parents to the sweetie shop (candy store, if you prefer) and being treated to the entire stock.

So imagine how frustrating it would be if you had to listen to a hip hop artiste so self-obsessed, cocksure and oblivious to the needs of his audience (take a leaf out of Taylor Swift’s book Kanye: she actually cares about her fans. When my girl went to see her in Hyde Park the same time you were playing, she and her friends got a nice shiny bracelet thing – a gift from Taylor) that he decided completely to strip out all that clever, pleasing musical stuff and just concentrate on the basslines, the declamatory rap bollocks, and himself.

Well I’ve no need to imagine. That’s Kanye. And only Kanye. Jay-Z certainly didn’t behave like that when he played Glastonbury. Eminem certainly wouldn’t do it.

No, being a crap performer – and actually having the gall to demand to be respected for it – is purely a Kanye West thing.

Towards the end of his set, Kanye told those of us who had stuck it out (whether we wanted to or not: once you’re in the middle of a crowd of 60,000 or more you’re there for the duration) that we had witnessed a performance by “the greatest living rock star on the planet.”

This, it struck me, isn’t quite accurate. And as he played out his final numbers – including an inexplicable account of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – I began making a mental list of all the bands I’ve seen at Glastonbury or elsewhere over the years who are or were much, much better than Kanye West. (Some, I admit, have passed on. But I’ve a suspicion that even the dead ones could still put on a more impressive act than Kanye did at the weekend)

A short list of rock stars who are better than Kanye West

Page & Plant; Eat; Lush; The Chemical Brothers; The Prodigy; Foo FightersOasis; New Fast Automatic Daffodils; Paul McCartney; Patti Smith; Future Islands; Dreadzone; PJ Harvey; Tricky; Paul Oakenfold; The Killers; Radiohead; The Rolling Stones; DJ Shadow; The Happy Mondays; Inspiral Carpets; Neil Young & Crazy Horse; Dizzee Rascal; New Model Army; Massive Attack; David Bowie; Duran Duran; Michael Jackson; Mogwai; Jesus Jones; Tracy Chapman; Lou Reed; Bob Dylan; Rodriguez; Love; Rolf Harris; The Unthanks; The Who; Supergrass; Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci; John Grant; Midlake; Trashmonk; Gravenhurst; Florence & The Machine; Burt Bacharach; Jamie T; Suede; the xx; Amadou and Mariam; Elbow; Ash; New Order; Primal Scream; The Flaming Lips; Gorillaz; U2; Coldplay; Arcade Fire; Gregory Isaacs; Bjork; Manic Street Preachers; The White Stripes; The Verve; Neil Diamond; Blondie; Smashing Pumpkins; Elvis Costello; Carter USM; The Black Crowes; Jeff Buckley; Pulp; Moby; Brian Wilson; Arctic Monkeys; Leonard Cohen; Rage Against The Machine; Lenny Kravitz; The Cure; Depeche Mode; Frank Turner; Caribou; Todd Terje & The Olsens; Fatboy Slim; Four Tet; Leftfield; Django Django; Skrillex; Franz Ferdinand; Fatboy Slim; Lamb; Groove Armada; Red Hot Chili Peppers; Pet Shop Boys; Chas n Dave

The list is not exhaustive.

From Breitbart

Why is Britain dishing out honours to low grade Twitter trolls?

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Historians will never cease arguing about when it was that Western Civilization began – Sumer? Salamis? After the Fall of Rome? But not one of them will be in the slightest doubt from this week onwards as to when it was that Western Civilization ended.

Indeed, they will be able to pinpoint its demise down not just to the day but to the very hour the announcement was made. I refer, of course, to the extraordinary Gavrilo-Princip-style moment when some very dangerous and out-of-control mad person somehow got their shaking, sweating hands on the controls and decided it would be a good idea to award an OBE to someone called Caroline Criado Perez.

To help future historians I thought I’d provide a contemporary record of this momentous event using the traditional early 21st century medium of an internet Q & A.

Q: So we’re all very clear now, we historians here in your future, that Western Civilization definitely ended when Caroline Criado Perez was awarded an OBE. But though we’ve searched our extensive archives, which includes every article written or published, and every tweet ever tweeted – including the deleted ones by Johann Hari claiming to have personally transcribed all Shakespeare’s plays as they were dictated to him by the author – we seem quite unable to find anyone by that name of any significance. The only Caroline Criado Perez in our records appears to be some kind of desperate, attention-seeking, political activist cum low-rent blogger.

A: Yes. That’s the one.

Q: Then we can only assume that her OBE wasn’t the OBE but some similarly-named bauble of no significance.

A: Er, no. It’s the OBE. As in Order of the British Empire.

Q: Quite impossible! We’ve studied the history of the British Empire and it was kind of a big deal. We’ve read about Queen Victoria and Clive of India and the Charge of the Light Brigade and Scott of the Antarctic and Rorke’s Drift and the White Man’s Burden and all the incredible economic and scientific and intellectual advances that were made as a result of the money, power and influence which accrued from the Empire where the sun never set. So when you award one of your Queen’s subjects a medal named the Order of the British Empire that’s got to be a pretty big deal right? You’re not going to just hand it over willy nilly, to some hysterical, twittering, publicity-grubbing nobody?

A: So the more old-fashioned among us would have hoped, certainly.

Q: No. No! You have GOT TO BE JOKING. We know our history, we historians of the future, and one of things we know is that the Beatles – who are, only, like, the most famous pop band in the history of the universe – when they got their awards they weren’t even OBEs. They were MBEs. Which is one notch below. You’re not seriously telling us that between 1965 – when John, Paul, George and Ringo got their MBEs – and 2015, when Caroline Criado Perez got her OBE, that your culture became so grotesquely debased that some jumped up feminist troll was deemed superior in value and achievement to the creators of Eleanor Rigby, Strawberry Fields Forever, Helter Skelter and (our personal favourite in the future) Octopus’s Garden? Really?

A: Now you’re beginning to grasp this End of Western Civilization thing.

Q: OK. OK. Just to recap, so that we’re SURE we’re talking about the same woman. This Caroline Criado Perez’s most memorable achievement was launching a campaign to get the head of Jane Austen on a banknote. Not because Jane Austen was maybe the greatest novelist in the English language – which we could understand – but just to make the cheapshot feminist point that Jane Austen had a vagina whereas Dickens and Trollope didn’t?

A: You do sound refreshing un-PC in the future, I must say.

Q: Yeah well. We had to change. It was the only way we could start trying to recreate Western Civilization once this Caroline Criado Perez person had killed it. But look, we’re asking the questions here. We’re future historians. We NEED TO KNOW because there’s something about this whole banknote think that has been troubling us. Are we right in thinking that the person on the other side of the banknote was also female?

A: Yes. The Queen.

Q: But this Caroline Criado Perez felt, what, that was “sexist” or something? That only total domination of your banknotes by the female sex would do?

A: “Gender”. She would have preferred the term “gender.”

Q: Crikey, she sounds tiresome.

A: I think she would have considered that kind of language patriarchal, phallocentric and dismissive.

Q: I bet she would, the minx.

A: Wow! I’m loving this future of ours already.

Q: You say that. But you have no idea the horror the planet has to go through in order to get where we are. Fireships off the shoulder of Orion, my arse. We are talking ugly, ugly, ugly. Mind you, having said that, nothing quite as ugly as the awarding of the OBE to this annoying uber-talentless rabblerousing flibbertigibbet. Which is why I’ve got one more important question for you.

A: Go on.

Q: Well, it’s like this. Our records show that when the Beatles got their MBEs many earlier recipients of the award were so disgusted that they handed their gongs back in protest. Yet, we seem to have no evidence that Caroline Criado Perez’s OBE provoked a similar outbreak of high principle.

A: So your question is what exactly?

Q: Well it’s more of a rhetorical one, really. What can have happened to your culture that it became so vapid, spineless and worthless so quickly? Since when did you become so obsessed with this “equality” crap that it was allowed to trump all the things that once made Western Civilization great: your history, your traditions, your values, your heroic achievements, your quest for truth, beauty, wisdom, excellence?

Read at Breitbart London

In which finally I discuss the hell of being born Trans Class

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“Trans Race” victim Rachel Dolezal has attracted much mockery from some quarters for claiming to be a black woman trapped in a white woman’s body.

All I can say is: she should be so lucky. I personally have spent my entire miserable life suffering from a far more painful, emotionally draining, and tragically irreversible handicap. It has ruined my career, it has blighted my children’s future, it is a constant source of disappointment to my wife and could well one day lead to a very ugly divorce. I’ve had difficulty talking about it before because it’s such a sore topic. But now, thanks to the brave example of Rachel Dolezal I have been shown the way.

Today, finally, I have plucked up the courage to speak out in the hope that fellow sufferers of this awful disability might finally be able to talk openly about the misery this tragic condition has brought upon them. Perhaps we could even form a campaign group and demand government compensation.

The problem is this: I was born Trans Class.

Imagine how it feels to stare into your bathroom mirror every day and to see, reflected back, not the extravagantly be-sideburned, gimlet-eyed, red-cheeked aristocrat you know you really are, but just the pallid, gaunt features of a middle-middle-class nobody struggling to make a living, just like all the “little people”.

Imagine waking up, not in the four-poster-bed that has been in the family for generations and which its rumoured Anne Boleyn once slept in, but just a fairly ordinary pocket-sprung number you picked up ten years ago from a boring high street chain with some name like SlumberWorld or DreamLand or Bed-U-Like.

Imagine the stabbing agony you experience every day when you realise that nothing you ever do – NOTHING – is ever going to alter the fact that you will never have a foxhunt bearing your name (like the Duke of Beaufort does), that neither you nor in all likelihood your children, will ever inherit a 52 bedroom Baroque palace with 5,000 acres of parkland landscaped by Capability Brown and swarming with unusual-looking sheep, rare-breed cattle and exotic deer which your ancestor brought back from the Forbidden City in Peking.

Imagine the horror of knowing that instead of having your every whim catered for by a retinue of liveried servants – as is your natural birthright – you instead actually have to put your leaves into your teapot yourself, then pour boiling water on it from an electric kettle, then wait for it to brew for four minutes, then pour it out into a cup which isn’t made from antique finebone china but has Mr Silly on it and came from some unspeakable supermarket like Tesco, not to mention all the other crap that ordinary people have to do because they know no better and weren’t born Trans Class like you and are therefore more dumbly accepting of their lot…stuff like putting out the rubbish once a week for the binmen, and having to floss your teeth rather than getting your cheeky chambermaid Moll to do it and having to watch television rather than having your staff watch it for you and then give you a written summary in copperplate.

Imagine sticking both arms out every morning then remembering, with a shudder, that there is no valet to slip on your frock coat and that in fact all you’ve got is a bunch of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts and the same old pair of jeans which you’re going to have to put on yourself.

Imagine….well there’s really no point because you can’t bloody imagine. Unlike me – unless of course you are a fellow Trans Class victim – you won’t have sufficient intellectual refinement or imagination to imagine, because your proletarian brain won’t let you.

So since you lack the inability to imagine, I’ll just have to tell you.

I was born an 18th century Duke with a vast estate, a stable of two dozen hunters, a bevy of mistresses, a summer “nooky house”, more estates in the West Indies (where I can assure you that the workers are all very happy with their lot and address me cheerfully as “Massa Duke, Sir”), a beautiful if slightly remote wife who is related to the King, lots of paintings (especially of me) by Gainsborough and Reynolds, yet I am trapped in the body of a middle-class, middle-aged journalist in ugly, pointless, 21st century Britain.

And it is HELL, I tell you, hell.

That is why from now on, to help my cope with my disability, I shall expect to be addressed as “Your Grace”, be given the place of honour at those of your miserable dinner parties I deign to attend, and be treated at all times with deference bordering on worship.

Thank you, Rachel Dolezal for showing me the way. You may be a horrid wretched oik from the Colonies (job going on my West Indies estates, if you’re interested) but you have enabled me to become who I really am.

After all, it’s not the body you were born into that defines you. That’s just an oppressive social construct.

What truly defines you is how you feel so I’m going to say it proud and I’m going to say it loud:

I. AM. A. DUKE.

From Breitbart