The Loneliest Jukebox

Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

Graham Author Page

Friday, September 29, 2006

With Extreme Prejudice

The extremism debate in Britain today is driving me to extremes. The reasons?
  • Participants only see what they want to see. The facts get grafted onto existing agendas. (This includes manufacturing quotations. Step forward Stephen Schwartz: the British police don't use the phrase 'South Asian community', as no-one here uses that phrase and no-one would know which community was under discussion [or indeed, where South Asia is, but that's another story]).
  • "Communities" are part of the problem here. Why go through a bunch of self-appointed mediators -- "community leaders" -- to do politics? I was brought up as a Baptist and have always lived with in spitting distance of a church or two. But insofar as there's any connection between public life and me, I'm treated as an individual citizen most of the time. This is starting to change -- my local authority clearly had the "white community" in mind when it put out a flyer urging residents to refrain from pogroms -- but the authorities could try addressing British Muslims individually for a change, or even aspiring to a secular politics. (Even the Pope seems to be headed that way...) Thankfully, the state treats my erstwhile religious affiliations as about as relevant as my teenage sporting achievements. All in all, the post-7/7 debate in Britain would be very different if conducted over individuals' crimes rather than community beliefs.
  • The concepts "radicalisation" and "extremism" are part of the problem, because they confuse words and ideas with deeds. For too long lawmakers and pundits have treated thinking and doing as being the same thing - it's like media studies redux, where images are omnipotent. If people advocate stupid, nihilistic and reactionary ideas, respond to them with better ideas. A battle of ideas, in fact. If they take bombs onto public transport, a more practical response is needed ...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Return of the Devil Dogs

They're back in the news again. Despite the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, an assortment of foul hounds are ignoring old Tory legislation. First a baby is mauled to death by pub guard dogs -- not pub pets, despite their human-sounding names -- then all kinds of local stories have been linked together to create the appearance of a national trend. Give it a day or two and this 'crisis' will be forgotten.

The initial tragedy took place in the Rocket pub. Coincidentally, that boozer is on an old boyhood bus route of mine. The one time I ever drank in there (1988?), it struck me as somewhere to find some guard dog inside the meat pies, as there was nothing worth guarding in the pub itself. Yet I 'd better be careful: talk of worthless pubs soon translates into talk of worthless people, like this Guardian feature that uses chav-baiting to make a point about a particular type of dog owner. Why not just learn to control these beasts, without mixing up humans and animals in our attitudes?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

They Got Me Started

Last night's TV schedules included 'Don't Get me Started', a polemical and self-consciously controversial slot on Five, formerly Channel 5. (For non-British readers this station is the UK home of CSI etc and the final terrestrial broadcaster to be established, around a brief of buying in entertainment-based shows.)

The programme was fronted by David Aaronovitch, professional ex-Stalinist* and brother of the Doctor Who writer Ben**. Other guests included Alan Johnson, erstwhile Trotskyist turned 'decent left' campaigner. The argument was simple - those claiming that British foreign policy means we were 'asking for it' on 7/7 and in any future attacks are plain wrong.

Aaronovitch and friends have a point. London bombers claiming to act for all Muslims are kidding themselves. I'm against the "war on terror", not least because it denies nations their sovereignty and is driven by domestic politics. But my views wouldn't make it okay for me to burn down the local post office or shoot up a primary school, even "on behalf of Iraq". The old arguments against "individual terrorism", which the show's contributors may recall from their days on the far left, hold up surprisingly well. (That said, the easily exploited stupidities of the anti-war movement does not mean that the war itself should be supported.)

One would hope that those featured in the documentary didn't watch it live. After all, Tuesdays are usually a training night for the Territorial Army, where these pro-war journalists should be preparing to back up their words with deeds.



Monday, September 25, 2006

Bad Timing

No, not the sleazy/excellent Nicolas Roeg film of the same name.* I mean last week's issue of celeb bible Heat magazine. As readers will be aware, 'pocket rocket Richard "the Hamster" Hammond' was involved in a terrible car crash while filming Top Gear. Heat, which is edited by an alumnus of my university, had this headline when 'Quick & Easy Cross-Stitch magazine ... turned his face into a pattern for budding stitchers to get into':
Richard gets stitched up

Like comedy, it's all in the timing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happy slapping: the end?

It's official. Happy slapping is, like, so 2005. So says Iain Hollingshead in the Guardian today. It appears in the 'Loose ends' column.

I was interviewed for the story, which might represent the end of a steady stream of paid work and free publicity for me. One thing's for certain - it's the final 'Loose ends' article - whatever happened to those?

You can buy Iain Hollingshead's new novel here:

Friday, September 22, 2006

Self-mutilation and ghoulishness

Following yesterday's modest amount of coverage of this premiere, the discussion rumbles on. Predictably, the main theme seems to be anti-social copycat behaviour, hence rhetorical questions like this: 'Is Sanchez film totally irresponsible?' by Gerry Holt in the South Wales Echo (Sep 21 2006). Over in the Guardian, Mark Lawson frets about TV ghoulishness - are we tuning in on the off-chance a presenter will die? (Insert your own Mark Lawson joke here...)

Self-mutilation and ghoulishness on screen: these trends have some common bonds, but I've not quite worked out what they are yet.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Down in the Valleys

I've just been interviewed on Real Radio FM, talking about the forthcoming Dirty Sanchez movie. Listeners to that station should keep their ears peeled for my appearance tomorrow. The cast of Dirty Sanchez probably do keep their ears peeled, using sharp knives and capturing it all on video for your entertainment.

Readers can buy Dirty Sanchez DVDs here, if they must:

And thank you to the Californian writer who explained to me the innuendo - make that a single entendré - in the very heart of this unique Welsh televisual spectacle.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Putting words in my mouth (and taking them out again)

A spot of interest in my in-tray distracts me from the distractions at work. (Q: What do you call someone who decides to re-name all the rooms of a University campus on the day the new students arrive? Answers on a postcard please...)

First of all a fairly random blog entry from February this year attracts a letter from a publisher wanting to anthologise it. This follows the same piece fetching up in the Leicester Mecury, like a whale lost up the Thames. You're welcome ...

Then someone from TAC Presse for M6 Télévision would like to get my 'updated thoughts on the happy slapping phenomenon, which I understand is both a) old news in the UK, and b) a widely-exaggerated "epidemic" which can be very dangerous nonetheless'. I will co-operate, although she sounds like she's already got them (assuming people have 'updated thoughts' - I thought we just have new ones, if any.)

What I'm watching:

Friday, September 15, 2006

From a scratch to gangrene

A strange appearance on BBC Asian Network for me today. No, not more banter with Sonia Deol, unfortunately. This was a straight up phone slot, in response to this story in Liverpool. Some videophone clips, including ones of things that are not technically illegal, were shown to police for comment. (You can find the video running off the bottom of the webpage linked above.) Strange how a collection of files can become the basis for speculation about "national" trends.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Village idiots

Another house move, another borough. First of all I would like to reassure the 18 local worthies who signed a recent leaflet - MPs, councillors, the Mayor, several Imams and Vicars - that I am not about to go on the rampage. Like them, I too 'woke up to the news that police had launched an anti-terrorism operation within Waltham Forest'. It did not occur to me to stage a series of reprisals against the alleged plotters. Even if they are not merely Internet bigmouths or Brazillian electricians, I can conduct myself without having 'an adverse effect on our way of life'. But thanks to my new local authority for making me feel really welcome.

Incidentally, my plan D for moving house was to get a place at Orchards Holiday Village. (The distance from central London and the site's winter closure put me off in the end.) It's in the news today for all the wrong reasons. If the stories are true, the owners are clearly missing a trick by not including the abundant opportunities for casual sex in their brochure. If only Waltham Forest Council would send its troubled young men there, a suitable distraction from hatching terror plots could soon be found.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Three Degrees of Oswald Spengler

In a recent issue of AD: architectural design, I call film noir a 'mental megalopolis'. Then I read this in Nicholas Christopher's book, Somewhere in the Night:
'The city as labyrinth is key to entering the psychological and aesthetic framework of the film noir. As the German historian Oswald Spengler wrote in Decline of the West, speaking of the megalopolis or "world city" of the twentieth century: "The city is a world, is the world." He went on to characterise twentieth-century man as one who "is seized and possessed by his own creation, the City, and is made into its creation, its executive organ, and finally its victim"' (p.16).

Lesson: I'm less original than I think I am, but more optimistic than Oswald Spengler.
Books mentioned available here (UK):

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Getting Vocal

At the time of writing, the Marmite Sisters myspace page is hosting the Kick Donkey E.P. My 18 year-old younger self is doing the vocals. Burn it while you can (either to disk, or literally).

Merely resting

Another quiet week on the blogging front. Yet the launch of two free London evening newspapers this week shows that 'less is more'. The usual celebrity gossip, irrelevant vox pops and text messages from readers ('you can rely on me as a reader', says Lawrence Dallaglio). LondonLite is clearly a rush job from the proofing - Steve Irwin killed by a stingray's tale, for instance. Where was Troy Tempest that day?

Some of My Writing Available Here:

and here:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Not taking it to the Max

Late last century, I saw Mickey Spillane discuss his career with Max Allan Collins. Collins himself was asked about the process of writing a film/TV tie-in novel: he said the point of such writing was to give the reader an experience which was equivalent to - but different from - seeing the original.

I was reminded of this today, when the BBC ran a commentary by Mark Gatiss on the process of writing the Doctor Who TV tie-in novel Nightshade (1992) . Unlike the focused Collins, Gatiss sets out a whole range of personal experiences he brought to bear on his debut (tie-in) novel. Different techniques for working up a scorned genre into something special.

Buy Nightshade here (UK):

Useful new book on journalism ethics

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tortured arguments

It wouldn't take much for my flatmate and me to get hold of some seriously gruesome DVDs. I'm talking Calvaire (The Ordeal), Hostel, Wolf Creek and The Devil's Rejects. (As if to show this, you can order them all using the links at the bottom of this blog entry.) From time to time we argue about the social significance of this subgenre - he thinks it's culturally degenerate, I half agree but recognise the cathartic role these movies can play.

At least we can have this debate. New legislation passed this week makes it an offence to possess violent pornography. Fair enough, you might say. Yet the legislation makes no distinction between fictional and real violence. So we might not be able to have the debate for long.