Thursday, 14 April 2016

But Who Will Sing For Richard Neale?

Time for one of those rare blogs that isn't about death and existential angst. Who do we have to thank for this reprieve? None other than local songsmith and generally decent human being, the improbably bequiffed  Ric Neale.

This is Ric. He's trying to guess what instrument it is by touching it.
He thinks it's a harpsichord. He's close!

Ric has written, recorded and released an album of songs he wrote on his piano and sang with his voice. It's quite nice and you can find it using this link, should you so desire.

Anyway, that's not why we're really here. "Yes, yes," you think, "This stuff about Richard Neale is all very well Rob, but isn't there something brilliant you did which we can talk about instead?"

Glad you asked. For the album launch, Ric asked - nay demanded - that I perform a specially written poem, all about him. What a raging egotist! Luckily for him, so am I, and I quickly worked out that I could steal some of the attention rightly due to Ric by writing such a poem.

I read the poem out at the launch. Everyone agreed it was the best thing about the night and that really it would have been better if the evening was just about me, and not featured any piano at all. I'm pretty sure that's what they were saying. I did drink quite a lot of wine.

Anyway, here's the poem. If you don't know Ric, it will be almost completely meaningless. But hey - so is most of life. Don't blame me.

Poem For Ric Neale

I gaze into the perfect eyes of the man I most admire

His enviable hairline and finely chiselled face tell me

Everything is possible when in the presence of his holy fire


This is where I go when I want to know what’s real

I am standing before a full length mirror

My name is Richard Marshall Neale


I am no mortal man but rather

A being of infinite grace and wonder

Music flows from my fingers like dead skin drops from yours

Harmony and grace spring like beautiful sweat from my invisible pores


My voice is fine wine to your unworthy ears

My music an expensive meal

I’m the reason God invented tears

I am Richard. Marshall. Neale


Desired by women,

Envied by blokes

I’m Jimmy Carr with better jokes

I love Tom Cruise

For whom I’m often mistaken

I wrote and directed the Force Awakens

I’m Captain Kirk if he was cuter

I’m Paul McCartney’s music tutor

I’m not *the* God but I’m probably one of them

Did I ever tell you I played for Jason Donovan?


It’s impossible to fathom my unstoppable appeal

I am the alpha and omega

I am Ric Neale


I am the power

I am the glory

I am the literally never ending story

I’m impervious to bullets

I do not feel pain

I cannot be made wet by rain

I’m like Jesus but more tuneful

I’m like love only more truthful

I’m All the Young Dudes if the dudes were more youthful

I will be here when the human race has died away

In the ruins of these cities my songs will still play

Free of you peasants, finally unbound

My brilliant voice the only human sound


Carving statues of myself out of the trees

Finally happy in a world made of me


I am the full, not the partial, deal

I am the one, the only, Richard Marshall Neale


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Fascist Bully Boy


When I was at school I liked English, because English was good and all the other subjects were stupid. And by 'stupid' I mean, of course, that I was no good at them.

The worst subject of all was PE, obviously. Cold, miserable bloody PE, with its mud and its shouting and its complete lack of sitting down reading a book. I was - and still am - completely rubbish at every sport. It wasn't so much that I was chosen last, as that the concept of 'last' was redefined to include 'after the eventual death of the Universe'. One of the things that worries me most about the afterlife is the possibility that I'll eventually have to be in goal for Jim McNulty's five a side team.

Next worse was languages. All languages. Because they are impossible. That's not hyperbole. I genuinely believe that they are impossible to learn. Oh, you can say some different words instead of the ones you were going to say, but that's just dicking about with sounds. A whole other system of communication, that you can think in? Poppycock. If you ever meet anyone claiming to speak another language, they are lying. They speak English and they are just trying to impress you. Have none of it. Report them to the authorities and call them 'a whore'.

Third worst was science.

Now, in principle I liked science. It was indoors, it was provably useful and it featured a great many things which you could set on fire. But our experience of science, back in the late 1980s, was subject to some form of localised teacher's crisis which meant that we never had the same person at the front of the class for more than a few weeks at a time. An array of supply teachers came and went, leaving us with little in the way of continuity. Mr. Johnson. Mr. Wright. Miss... Babadook, or something. And Mr. Pillay.

Poor old Mr. Pillay. He really didn't stand a chance. For a start, he was called 'Pillay', which, of course, sounded enough like 'Pillock' to make our adolescent minds jizz themselves with delight. Added to that was his status as our fourth or fifth supply teacher. Even relatively good students like myself had realised by then that having a supply teacher was pretty much a licence to do what the hell we liked. And so we did. I shudder to think what it must have been like trying to instil order on the selfish little bunch of pyromaniacs presented to him every Thursday morning.

To his credit, he always seemed pretty happy. He would sit at the front, grinning benignly and pretending not to know what 'pillock' meant. Maybe he was just waiting it out, knowing that we were bound for cold, bleak futures because of our frankly appalling attitudes, while he knew the love of a good woman. I don't know. Either way, I eventually got a B, but I still can't remember the difference between amps and volts. I do know that if you put too much of one of them through a resistor, it fills the classroom with smoke and gets Paul McGrath suspended.

Anyway. The reason I bring Mr. Pillay up, apart from possibly to exorcise some small measure of guilt, is because I've been thinking about language. No, not languages. We've already established that they don't exist. Especially Russian. Whoever invented that didn't even use real letters - just triangles and such.

No, language. Specifically its misuse.

You see, one of the many shameful things I did in my teenage years was to be genuinely abusive to poor old Mr. Pillay. He had issued me with a Code of Conduct. This was our school's version of lines - a print out of the school behaviour code, which a misbehaving child such as myself had to copy out on the back. Whoever devised it correctly worked out that it was a massive pain in the arse turning the thing over and over to copy the words out.

Anyway, I was even cleverer. Rather than copy it all out, I simply wrote out one sentence, again and again, on the back. Hilarity and mirth were mine as I handed back my code of conduct, covered in the phrase 'Mr. Pillay is a Fascist!'

This did not go down well. His happy grin fell away, the Head of Year was sent for and boy was I in trouble.

Did I know, asked Mr. Crowe - our terrifyingly large Head of Year - did I know what 'fascist' actually meant? Well the joke was on him, because of course I did. It meant someone who told me to do something I didn't want to. I'd learned it from television - specifically The Young Ones. I told him this, and threw in some free advice about how school might be better if it was more like television, with its creativity, its lack of PE and its relaxed attitude towards facts.

He was not impressed and rightly so. He did his best to give me some context for the words I was so carelessly throwing about, and tried to impress upon me the importance of not just using phrases for the sake of it. He said that words carried not just meanings, but the weight of their history and usage. They can be used thoughtlessly and, indeed, to avoid thinking.

I don't think I particularly listened, at the time. And I'm probably conflating some of what Mr. Crowe said with things I've learned from other people, in response to other dickish things I said. And he probably looked less like a cartoon eagle than I remember. But the essence of that encounter stays with me.

It seems that I was something of a trendsetter in my thoughtless use of 'fascist' as a catch-all insult for my intellectual opponents. I should have patented it. But then I would probably have found that I wasn't being original at all. Rather, I was just expressing a basic human instinct: why make an argument when you can use a catchphrase?

I get why this instinct exists. It's loads easier to deal with someone's point of view if you reduce it to a tiny set of ideas. And indeed, if you reduce them to a 'type' of person. Mr. Pillay could be safely ignored, because he was a fascist. That's why he resented my young, independent spirit of freedom. Not because I was an idiot. Because he was a fascist.

It's started to become a flag, for me, of a poor argument. Just look out for a regurgitated phrase and sure enough, the argument following it is likely to be half baked and tedious. And, thanks to the joys of internet arguing, this is becoming something of an epidemic.

Here's the ones that really get on my wick:

Social Justice Warrior

Dreamed up by people who don't like the fact that non-men and non-whites are encroaching upon the 'normal' world.

You don't have to follow an argument about injustice for long before someone will vomit this one up. Apparently, if you are a bloke who thinks that women get a bad deal, or a white guy who thinks non-whites suffer terrible injustice, then it's not because you've thought about it and come to an honest conclusion. No. It's because you want to impress others with your pretend virtue. Neat.

"Sticking it down our throats".

Used exclusively, it seems, by people fed up of the fact that they occasionally have to acknowledge that some people are gay. It's always seemed odd to me that a phrase with such a blatant homo-erotic charge should get used without fail by people who presumably wouldn't want anything sticking down their throat. Maybe that's the point. But how come they all use the same phrase? Was there a meeting, where approved homophobic language was set in stone?

Or is it, maybe, that mindlessly repeating half understood arguments leads to a tendency to repeat the language in which those arguments were originally made?

 Regardless, whenever I see someone complaining that gay issues are being 'thrust down their throats' I    a) dismiss their argument as derivative and thoughtless and    b) mentally picture them deep throating Freddie Mercury.

Heartless Tory / Bleeding Heart Liberal

Could we just agree that yes, there are some dickheads on both sides of the political spectrum, but there are also plenty of people who just have different opinions? And that those opinions lead to political affiliation, rather than the other way around?

My political views don't come from a desire to say the correct 'left wing' things. Rather, calling myself 'left wing' seems to be a 'best fit' way to frame the various thoughts and feelings I have on the world. I'm sure there are plenty of conservatives who feel the same - their right wing thoughts are a product of a thought process, rather than an identity.

Although they'd be lying, obviously, because they are Tories.



Ah, controversial. Plus, I'm a man, so what do I know? How dare I try to mansplain mansplaining?

Well, hopefully I'm not. And that's my point, sort of.

I think I understand the intention of this word, and I can see its value. It gives name to a phenomenon whereby men assume that they know more than women, not by virtue of actually knowing more facts, but by virtue of being more male. Is that about right?

And I guarantee I've done it. Absolutely. It's not just science teachers I'm horrible to. I bet there's plenty of times I've talked over a woman when I should have shut up and listened.

And I also bet that my theoretical understanding of 'mansplaining' seems pretty shallow compared to the experience of actually living it, all the bloody time.

Listen to me. Social Bloody Bleeding Heart Justice Warrior.

But I'm not doing 'mansplaining' now, I don't think. I'm just pointing out something I've noticed. Which is that 'mansplaining' seems to be getting used, quite a lot, to mean, 'How dare a man disagree with a woman!"

I've genuinely seen this quite a lot in online conversations. A man and a woman disagree. The woman accuses the man of doing the 'splaining. The man tries to argue that he just has a different point of view. This is, of course, just making him even more 'splainier. That's a word. Splainier. Look it up. No, don't. The dictionary will only lie.

And it sucks. Partly because it's bullshit. I've every right to disagree with a women, as long as I do it respectfully and not on the assumption that my sex makes me right. But more, it's a problem because I think it robs a potentially useful word of its true meanings. It stops 'mansplaining' having a real, proper use as a signifier of a social issue, and just becomes a slogany, argument-strangling piece of nonsense.


I know I've been saying we shouldn't group people by language, but... I think if anyone uses this phrase, they are probably a massive cockwomble.

Anyway. That's what I think. Of course, in saying this I'm probably using a whole load more assumptions about people, and using unhelpful words to do so. That's the problem with language, isn't it? Use it enough and it starts to accrue all sorts of secondary, stupid meanings that make it impossible to properly articulate thoughts. And once you stop being able to articulate thoughts, is it possible to really think?

Damn you language, you slippery, un-pin-downable beast. You are a pain in the arse.

Still. You're not as bad as PE. Bloody PE.