Help, I think I’ve broken Yahoo!

Solipsism (from Latin solus, meaning “alone”, and ipse, meaning “self”) is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist.

I love it, don’t you, when you perform some perfectly innocent, everyday action, and in the very same instant something somewhere else goes terribly wrong, and for just a moment you wish it was your fault?

It happened just now.

Grazing idly on the news fodder on the Yahoo! features pages, I clicked on the headline to some story I really wasn’t very interested in, only it’s Wednesday.

And instead of finding out:

  • what the cute little puppy did next, or
  • what the worst football goal was, ever, or
  • which bit of Beyoncé’s Bum has gone viral today, or
  • where Flight MH370 is now, or
  • what an investment manager thinks the housing market is going to do next, or
  • whose inadvertent nipple-slip has started World War 3? or
  • where did the ghost car come from? or
  • how many mysterious holes have opened up on which golf courses, or
  • how many publicity miles have been clocked up overnight by the proliferating swarm of hyperinflated egobots called Kardashian, or
  • which £10m house for sale has the most tasteless decor, or
  • who are the Ten Most Scary Women in the World?, or
  • which star you have never, ever heard of (and never will again) says she wants a bad boy to go to bed with? or
  • why the Florida police won’t let us see the mugshots of Justin Bieber’s penis, or
  • what the other cute little puppy did next,

… as I hit the link the screen immediately went blank and a reassuringly old-fashioned card flashed up (‘We interrupt this bulletin…’) telling me that something had gone a bit awry over at Yahoo! Central, but their horrifically maimed team of brave software engineers were nevertheless struggling manfully against appalling odds through smoke and shot to control the situation….

I felt like the guy at Chernobyl who just thought he would see what would happen if you press this…

I think I’ve broken Yahoo!




The future looks Teflon-coated

‘…the ultimate irony… that a politician and former investment banker with a German wife and a cosy relationship with the media should have made himself so popular with a constituency that viscerally loathes all politicians, bankers, foreigners and media types.’

I’m getting a bit worried about this country.

It’s probably an exaggeration to believe everyone is going to vote at the next General Election for UKIP, our version of the US Tea Party only with bad teeth and negative equity.

But it’s looking horribly likely.

Having come from nowhere in the past five years, since the 2008 banking crash provided a godsend to political outsiders who can blame the resulting misery on just about anything and anyone they want to get shot of (luckily this time it isn’t, or isn’t yet, the Jews), UKIP would like Britain to be a fictional paradise, completely independent of the rest of the human race, which it regards as being somewhat less than British.

Practically every day, another UKIP candidate is hounded out of the party for claiming that floods are caused by gay marriage, that we should stop sending aid to ‘Bongo-bongoland’, or that one of Britain’s best-loved comedians should be sent back to a ‘black country’. (Amusingly, Lenny Henry was born in a part of Britain known since the Industrial Revolution as the Black Country. Don’t tell me it was a joke?)

Controversy has flared this past week as UKIP unveiled their European election campaign. Among the stronger statements their posters and TV commercials are making, are the bizarre claim that 26 million unemployed people in Europe are planning to invade across the English Channel and steal our jobs; that 74% of laws oppressing UK citizens are imposed from Brussels; and that British building workers cannot get work on British building-sites because their wages are being undercut by foreign labour.

Now, none of these propositions is true. But it doesn’t matter, because (I am sure Dr Goebbels would have approved) they tell the stories that many unhappy people WANT to believe. In the first instance, I am sure most people would rather stay and work in their own countries, as we would. But two million Britons work in other European countries; which, when we secede from the Union, they won’t be able to, so they’ll have to come back and take jobs away from other Britons. (I’ve never seen any figures for how many jobs have been created in Britain by inward investment from other European countries, or by Objectives One and Two funding from Brussels. There must be some.)

So the logic of UKIP’s claim is somewhat lost on me. Secondly, 86% of laws affecting Britons are in fact made in Westminster and 74% merely ratified by the EU, as is required under the convention. (I’ve made that up, UKIP-style, but it might be true.) The other 14% of laws originating in the EU ( a genuine statistic) most probably safeguard the rights of individual Britons against the bad laws made in Westminster.

And thirdly, the Building Trades Federation has been squealing all last week that we are so short of qualified builders, we can’t meet our housing targets and brickies are pulling-down six-figure salaries just for turning up. The idea that any Briton who can lift a hod and be arsed to get off the sofa can’t get a job because of Romanians swarming over here on minimum wage is just self-pitying crap.

Then the actor playing the ‘unemployed’ British builder turns out to be an Irish immigrant… Quite properly, since most of the hardworking immigrant labourers who built modern Britain were Irish, and we owe them a huge debt; as indeed do we owe the Nigerian cardiologists and Philippino nurses who keep the Health Service running and just about affordable. Blundering, blustering UKIP racists, bigots and quasi-religious nut-jobs just keep on giving. And so, horror of horrors, it appears, does a vast swathe of middle England voters keep on taking, who identify with UKIP’s fuzzy logic and DON’T CARE if it is all bollocks!

For, as of this weekend, UKIP are at 38% in the polls, and they don’t even have a proper party organisation or any people with higher-level experience in government.

A rag-bag of disempowered, disappointed, disgruntled, middle-aged, lower-middle-class ex-Blair voters and disaffected Tory toffs, they’ve been brainwashed by forty years of downright fibs pumped-out by our rabidly xenophobic tabloid press about Europe and immigrants and Muslims and Westminster politicians – and bludgeoned by incomes that have been steadily falling behind prices so the CEOs of listed companies can hand themselves multimillion pound bonuses. No surprise, then, that they’ve convinced themselves democracy isn’t working, our way of life is threatened (whose way of life? Ed.) so we might as well hand the country over to them, never mind the bully-boys waiting in the wings.

Lacking infrastructure, UKIP is mostly a one-man-band, led by a publicity-vulture so preposterous that in any other era he would have been laughed out of court. That’s why we have to take him seriously. Nigel Farage is so Teflon-coated that he can afford to actively court the ridicule of the chatterati. The more people with education, discrimination and a sense of history point to the absurdities and bigotries and dangers and incompetence and gross distortions of the UKIP manifesto and sneer, the more people without those virtues love him.

Like the ex-Balliol scholar, Pipe-Smoker-of-the-Year and Socialist prime minister, Harold Wilson, before him, the well-educated, ex-investment banker and sitting Member of the European Parliament (when he turns up), the abolitionist Farage likes to present himself as a man o’ the people, a veritable goldmine of homespun wisdom and commonsense. We haven’t seen his like in fifty years, a time to which we suspect his supporters are longing to return. He’s an old-style pork-barrel politician, and that’s his shtick.

Farage the huxter just loves to be photographed in a pub, enjoying a pie and a pint on the saloon bartop, where many of his followers have bored for England. Nobody goes to pubs anymore, they are closing at the rate of two a day, but the pub is an indelible symbol of British culture and so Farage seeks them out to promote, among other causes dear to Mittel England, his populist policy of overturning the ban on smoking in public places: just one of the ideas he knows will win him votes, but which, were he to come to power, he almost certainly would not risk doing.

And then, there’s that coat.

Another of Wislon’s favourite ways of cosying-up to the link-detached, lower middle-class voter was to affect a ghastly beige-coloured car-coat made from Gannex, a cheap-and-cheerless fabric invented by his wealthy friend and benefactor, Victor (later Lord) Kagan. In a similar vein, Farage likes to sport one of those cheeky-chappie, 3/4-length camelhair coats beloved of slightly dodgy characters and solicitors’ clerks, both in life and in fiction.

Dung coloured, and slightly grubby-looking, it features a little brown velvet collar, like moleskin. Two famously shady characters who wore similar coats were, of course, Arthur Daley, the engagingly persuasive backstreet entrepreneur and rustbucket car-dealer played by George Cole in Thames TV’s Minder series; and the late Jeremy Thorpe QC, the former Liberal party leader who somehow survived a criminal trial for hiring an incompetent hit-man to try to murder a rent-boy who was allegedly blackmailing him.

It’s a coat, in short, that might once have been worn to the racetrack by a cashiered army Major with a nice line in surplus Bulgarian champagne and the phone number of a cute bit of totty lipsticked on the rattling glovebox door of his Mk-11 Jag.

Farage of course knows the coat makes him a figure of ridicule. He’s clever enough to know that the class who find him absurd and pitiable are hated by the far greater number of people who will therefore vote for him. It is genuinely astonishing, the ultimate irony if you like, that a career politician and ex-banker with a foreign wife and a cosy relationship with the media should have made himself so hugely popular with a constituency that viscerally loathes all politicians, bankers, foreigners and media types.

Even when accused of riding the Strasbourg expenses gravy-train, his answer is breathtakingly insouciant: if they’re corrupt and foreign enough to give him scads of European taxpayers’ money, he has every right to spend it how he likes. And what he spends it on, apparently, is paying his German wife to work as his PA, while he goes around helpfully sneering at people speaking foreign languages on buses.

Now, given that the mere mention of politicians’ expenses is enough to cause heart failure among not only UKIP supporters, you would think, wouldn’t you, that 38% of the voters would twig that they are not going to see much change for the better when they vote this Teflon-coated caricature into power?

Instead, UKIP supporters are deliriously happy to overlook all of his obvious failings and absurdities; projecting onto  Non-Stick Nigel, their desperate, unfocussed hopes of re-empowerment and the reinstatement of a Golden Age, located in time somewhere around 1954, when Britain was great, you knew what was what, and foreigners were people who lived abroad.

Nigel Farage is a Harold Wilson de nos jours, a smart politician who needs to do almost nothing and say almost anything to make people feel they’ll soon have never had it so good.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The Boglington Post. We think they might be Uncle Bogler’s, but he is not here to defend himself.

© The Boglington Post 2014.

An impolite dinner guest

(Guitar alert, again)

Hello. It’s been a week since I thought of anything to share with you, after I ate all the apple crumble.

I’ve been quite excited by the launch of a new piece of technology, that will revolutionise the art of sitting in your bedroom, morosely twanging an electric guitar in the hope that one day you will sound like Jimmy Page. He played lead guitar with Led Zeppelin. They were a rock band. In the 1970s… A decade in the 1900s… Oh well. Another guitar player, then.

Anyway, for a while now my friends at Guitar Guitar have been bombarding me with emails about this new amplifier. Imaginatively, it’s called Amplifi. I discovered last night from watching the video from manufacturers Line 6 that it’s pronounced, not ‘amplifee’, but ‘amplify’. Why they couldn’t just spell it phoneticalli, ee don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a genuinely evolutionary breakthrough, the first guitar amplifier that talks to your mobile phone, and vice versa. You get an ‘app’ for your mobile phone, and it offers you a screen with 200 different tone icons, and you send one to Amplifi and it changes the sound of your guitar to an organ, or maybe a violin. Any instrument you don’t play.

And you can phone it up and tell it to sound like some other amplifier, you have a choice of 50, so if you can tell the difference between the sound of a guitar played through a Vox AC30 and a Carlsboro Cobra 110, a Marshall or a Fender Mustang whatever, you can make your guitar sound like you are playing it through the most expensive amp money can buy. Why settle for less?

What’s more, you can go online to a thing called The Cloud, which at the moment is helpfully downloading gallons of water on my little garden, and find all the tones and amplifier combinations and little tunes you made up, that have been recorded for you, and play them back through Amplifi so you can strum along to them. And you can find all your friends’ little tunes and tones, if you have any friends by now, and play along with them too, and it sounds like you do have some other friends in your room and they are all professional musicians and you are playing happily along together, at MU rates. And then you can share your fuzzy tunes with your virtual friends at Facetweet, what’s not to like?

A kind of musical ‘selfie’!

And, miraculously, you can play the tunes-u-love off your mobile phone or wee-fi or whatever, your laptop (stop playing with your laptop, little Jimmy!) or iPadphone thing, that you have recorded to listen to while jogging or on the train – any piece of music – into Amplifi’s plughole, and Amplifi will listen carefully to the song or the symphony or whatever and you can select which instrument you want to be and it will make your guitar sound exactly like that instrument, including its tone settings. So you can twangalong to yourself, to Wrong Direction’s latest chart topper, to a late Beethoven quartet (it stores four voices, helpfully!), Paco Peña or whatever, Pat Metheny, and it sounds like they are all in the room playing along with you.

How cool is that?

Amplifi comes thoughtfully in two versions, the big one and the little one. It doesn’t even look much like an amplifier, so (according to the video presenter) your wife won’t complain that you bought yet another amplifier, because she’s too stupid to notice and besides it’s also a docking station for her wee-fi and you can plug your stereo in using wire-free Bluetooth for parties so guests don’t trip over the cable and it looks good in your living room. Being two-tone, it goes with any two items of furniture that happen to be red or black. And because it has lots of speakers, it will play lots of instruments out of different holes and you just play through the big one in the middle and all the instruments get blended together but sounding separate and it’s just fantastic what it can do.

But the best thing is, it’s dirt cheap! The little Amplifi is only £275 and the big one only £375. I had to call the ambulance service out to have myself forcibly restrained from pressing the Buy Now! button on the Guitar Guitar email, offering me the opportunity to Win an Amplifi! along with the 800 other entrants who had already correctly guessed the answer to the multiple-choice question and pressed the Enter Now! And Be Forever Humored by the Gods Above button. I knew that if by some chance I did not win one, I would have to buy one.

And that would be where I might start kicking myself.

For a start, I am an elderly wannabe jazz player and a purist. I only want my guitar ever to make one tone, and that is the purest, flattest, jazziest tone you can make this side of 52nd Street. Not a loud buzzing noise, like a bees’ nest you are poking with a stick. Not a noise like a herd of desperate crocodiles sliding down a blackboard. Not the loud wailing sound of the Ebmi7 arpeggio played repeatedly in the 3rd position, with anguished bendy blue notes, sounding uncannily like the inner mind-workings of a petulant teenager banished to his room. Neither an organ, nor a violin, that I don’t play, but Joe Pass’s Holy Epiphone.

Secondly, even assuming I could arrange to sound like that, I don’t possess an iPadphone thing; nor do I understand how to use Bluetooth, or what an app actually is, or where and in which dimension and why The Cloud exists, or what is in it for me, that is not going to result in a huge phone bill or an epiletic convulsion. As far as I’m concerned, it may as well be The Cloud of Unknowing*. I have no friends whose little fuzzy tunes I want to suck from The Cloud; nor are the tunes-I-love stored anywhere other than on CDs – alright, I may have managed to transfer about a third of them to the Media Player thingy on this, muh li’l laptop, so I imagine there is a possibility that my son could instinctively work-out how to persuade Amplifi to make my guitar sound like Joe Pass’s Epiphone, if he could stop sneering at me long enough.

And I do have an Epiphone! But the only thing that will realistically make me sound like Joe Pass is to be granted another twenty years of life, a good teacher, and the money to pay for them. While all Amplifi will do for me is to sit accusingly in the corner, clashing hideously with the decor, head in a cloud, phoning its friends on my bill.

An impolite dinner guest, the future always arrives too early.

*Late medieval mystical text. I haven’t read it either. Look it up.

Just Desserts: in praise of… apple crumble

One thing to celebrate this fine April morning, there is as yet no law (as far as I know) against having apple crumble for breakfast – and no means of keeping me under surveillance while I furtively pleasure myself with antisocial dietary indulgence.

As a socially subversive activity it is highly recommended. Eating dessert for breakfast is a potential faux pas you can risk, living alone. And as I often say – to myself – you gotta break those habits of mind, or you’ll go crazy. Do something different now and again, Bogl. Take charge.

Okay, I admit, I purchased an Aunt Bessie’s Apple Crumble comestible last night from my local Lidl store. That could look suspicious in itself, that I didn’t make it. I do know how. I make a very acceptable apple crumble, as it happens. But so does Aunt Bessie. And for me, her way is less messy. You just open the box, take off the plastic lid (packaging alert, but it usefully keeps the crumble from falling out), put the foil tray in a hottish oven and let cook for 50 minutes.

You could then add some dots of butter on top and brown the crumble under the grill – but let me at it now, with ice cream. I don’t have time for illegal niceties.

Now, Aunt Bessie advises me that her pound of crumble will feed four, but it has lasted only two meals. Dinner, and breakfast. And I don’t regret eating enough apple crumble for four in only two goes. Fruit, butter, flour, what’s not to like, Doc? Only the sugar, but hey. I’m 14 stone already, another ton or two around the middle won’t make much difference. And four ounces each? Give me strength!

I’ll bet some company doctor dictated the copy on the pack, after much earnest consultation, many meetings. “How much shall we say is good for them, Doc?” “Oh, Bessie, about four ounces each should do it.” “But that’s barely a spoonful, Doc!” “Sure, Bessie, but did you see the size of their spoons?”

I thought the other day I may have passed a stone. I had the jabbing pain to the right of my liver, a thin slidey kind of pain as something traversed my bile duct, pissed a little blood. Now I’m all fine again. The upshot was that (apart from the ice cream) I resolved to abjure Dairy for a while. See if I can reduce the calcium my body isn’t absorbing.

Is that a good theory? Reduce one’s calcium intake? I don’t know. Beats having keyhole surgery. I ran into my friend Simon at Lidl, he’s just had keyhole surgery, they whipped out his gall bladder through his keyhole. The surgery went awry, of course – this was the local hospital, where they spent two million pounds building a second deck on the car park. When they calculated the gain, it was just two more parking spaces… I never knew anyone to go in there and not come out worse, or horizontal.

So, no more milk in my coffee, no more four bowls a day of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, drowned in ice-cold fullcream milk, no latherings and slatherings of butter over the six slices of toast and apricot jam I was eating every day, no more pigging on slivers of camembert or crumbly Somerset cheddar every time I pass the kitchen counter on my way through. No more ice cream…

But with half of Aunt Bessie’s Apple Crumble left out overnight on the worktop – I can be a bit of a slut sometimes – the temptation was just to live the simple life and finish it cold. No-one is looking. No-one is expected shortly.

The funny thing is, I don’t normally like cooked apple. Never have. But in a crumble, the crumble gives the slimy sour apple chunks a deliciously sweet crumbiness and a chunky, slightly chewy mouthfeel that’s irresistible. Mmmnnm.

If you’re one of my American Followers – I have 14 Followers, so one of you by the law of averages must be American – you probably don’t cook using measurements, you cook with cupfulls. In this case, just think 2:1:1. And I don’t know if you have apple crumble, in the home of apple pie. So here’s how to make it, switch off if you already know how.

To 8 ounces of sifted flour (white, or brown for vegans, lol), add 4 ounces of castor sugar and 4 ounces of well-chilled, full dairy butter, cut in small cubes.

Chuck it all in a large mixing bowl and, with dry, clean fingers, briskly rub the butter cubes into the flour as if making ordinary shortcrust pastry, but do not add any liquid, stop when you get to that stage. Allow plenty of air into your mixing. You should end up with all the butter absorbed in a mess of dry, crumby flakes.

That’s the crumble. Now put slices or chunks of peeled cooking apple in a baking tin, pour the crumble mix over the top and bake in a medium hot oven for 50 minutes. You could put in an adventurous spoonful of Calvados, or anything else you brought back from holiday. Norovirus? Sorry. Add some dots of butter on top and brown under the grill. Serve with a generous blob of a) vanilla custard, b) whipped or double cream, c) sour cream or crème fraiche, d) ice cream, e) black coffee (for breakfast).

What could be simpler, or more delicious? It doesn’t even have to be apple! Rhubarb, pear, cherries (pitted and partly reduced in syrup), banana – never tried that. Or a mixture of fruits. A fruit salad crumble. Or vegetables – sweet potato and leek crumble. Carrot and parsnip crumble. Have fun with your imagination!

Or head for the supermarket, but be careful! Many readymade desserts are highly toxic. There is no reason for anything to be in your apple crumble that isn’t in Aunt Bessie’s recipe: apple, flour, sugar, butter. Oh, alright, maybe one ‘e’ for good measure…

It ought to be illegal. But it isn’t!

Tales of the Riverbank

Short movie script

(The camera cuts between long shot of man in phone box beside river and closeup of man speaking on old-fashioned telephone.)

MAN BY RIVER (EXCITEDLY): “Professor, the Japanese Knotweed… It’s… It’s… Aaaaargh!”

MAN ON PHONE: “Hello, Carruthers, is that you?” Silence. FX Flackety, flick, flack. “Hello? HELLO?”

Long pause.

MAN BY RIVER: “Herro?”

Oh, stuff that Gibson

“If Eric Clapton had personally played all the guitars with his name on them, he would never have had the time to become famous.”

(Boring guitar chat alert)

Anyone who has an interest in life is going to want to share it with friends. It’s one of the penalties of friendship, that your friend could waste good drinking time droning on about fishing flies or his divorce or the golf or the latest version of Windows or Harley Davidsons or the price of property or Manchester United’s waning fortunes – and you would put up with it, for the sake of your friendship.

So, I happen to have an interest in guitars. So now you do too. And what I wanted to drone on about does in fact have wider relevance. It’s this:

Why are people so daft?

Now, I’m no expert. I bought my first guitar, or rather I persuaded my granny to buy it for me, when I was eleven years old. That was over half a century ago. I started a little pop group at my preparatory school, just three guitars, and we played Cliff Richard and Elvis covers, assuming they didn’t run to a fourth chord.

I gave up playing the guitar five years later, after a disastrous gig one night at my public school, when I just couldn’t play a note right. I hate to be embarrassed like that. And four years later, my friend Terry Milewski hocked my Hofner V3 to finance his escape to Canada, just ahead of the Doncaster police. There followed 32 years of serial marriages, during which there were to be no little personal luxuries.

Finally, four years ago everything came to a head. Freshly divorced, I was able to cash-in a long-ago paid-up pension plan; my father died, and left me some of his mother’s jewellery, which fetched a bit of money at auction…. at last, I was free and able to afford a guitar – which I had decided to take up again, only because I wanted to be a jazz singer but nobody else would play with me.

Now, as I said, I’m no expert – either as a player, or as a connoisseur of fine guitarware. I am learning all the time. And what I have learned is depressing, obviously (or it wouldn’t qualify for a mention on this, muh bogl).

What I have discovered is that if an old guitar has the word Gibson written on the headstock, the twiddly bit at the top end of the stick, then it will probably fetch between £2.4 and £24 THOUSAND, although it may well be made of plywood, as hollow-body Gibsons tend to be.*

But if it doesn’t bear the magic Gibson name, you can’t give the bloody thing away.

I discovered this, when I tried to sell my 1962 Epiphone E452T ‘Sorrento’ (see Posts passim). In 1956, Chicago Music, which owned the Gibson brand, acquired the Epiphone company. For ten years, Gibson remained the budget version of Epiphone, whose guitars were considered to have more cachet in the market. A number of models were created in parallel, using the same materials, dies and blanks, in the same factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and were sold under both brand names. They were identical, other than in some of the detailing and the quality of the fittings.

The E452T is, in fact, the slightly superior version of the Gibson ES125TC, which has been described as the ‘student’ model. But, thanks to clever rebranding, the 1960s Gibson nowadays sells as a collectors’ item for anything between £1,800 and £2,500, while I cannot even get an offer around £800 for my superior but otherwise identical Epiphone, which is in remarkable condition for 52 years of age and made by exactly the same people, in the same place, to the same design, from the same bits of plywood and metal, because it has the name Epiphone written on the twiddly end of the stick, and not bloody Gibson.

Guitars sell for even more, don’t they, when the name on the headstock is allied with that of some celebrity endorser. A good rockstar signature is often worth an extra few tens or hundreds of pounds, and makes for a story to attach to the product publicity. This usually tells of how the Gilded Demiurge has worked tirelessly for years in collaboration with craft elves of unrivalled artistry to design the perfect instrument for all of that stellar dexterity to rub-off on 15-year-old you, alone in your lonely room and dreaming of fame. If Eric Clapton had personally played all the guitars with his name on them, he would never have had the time to become famous.

Worse, is the dealer markup. I had to pay the dealer £1,400 to acquire my Epiphone. I fell for it two years ago, out of sheer boredom while attending a weekend jazz workshop. Amid another thirty or so foolish old men flourishing their cherished plywood Gibsons out of their plush coffins, many costing upwards of £10,000 (see, it gets worse!), to spend the hours before lunch dutifully strumming the changes from Sweet Sue under the jaundiced eye of a weary virtuoso, I could not stop my other self buying it. It had a wonderfully slick playing action and a great jazz tone, it played me for about an hour and I just had to have it…. I checked with Mister Internet, and found only three others for sale in the UK, not necessarily in such good or original condition, yet all costing more. It seemed like a fair price for a unique item: a ‘collectible’….

But every time you buy a ‘heritage’ guitar from a dealer, beware. He will be charging you twice what the instrument is worth, were you to presume to sell it again. And if you offer it back to a dealer, he will give you half of what you gave for it  and sell it on again for four times as much. No-one else will be very interested in buying it at any price: there are tens of thousands of secondhand guitars languishing on sales websites the world over. (To the hallowed halls of guitar fame, many are called, but, as I discovered on stage that night in 1965 in front of an audience of 200 uncomfortably shuffling schoolboys, few are chosen.)

You can never win, with a dealer. (They do, after all, have overheads. You don’t. Living is optional.)

And you can never win, if you fail to understand one thing about the magical quality invested in a brand: that graphic expression of people’s blind faith in meaningless symbols of power and prestige:

It doesn’t half improve your playing.


The Friday-evening email Bulletin of Earthly Delights arrives from Guitar Guitar, a sales website not unknown to me, to provide a perfect example of what I am saying, innit.

There is a particular design of guitar called a ‘Les Paul’, doesn’t matter what that is. There was an original, once. Just to say that a pre-owned Les Paul-style guitar made by a company called Westfield is listed at £125, while the virtually indistinguishable-looking pre-owned Gibson ‘1959 edition’ Les Paul above it, signed by the rock god Paul Kossoff, is ‘Only £7,995’)….

Made, of course, from pure Martian crystal, inlaid with hens’ teeth; strings handspun by especially blinded fairies from Madonna’s personal hair….

*Hang on, I’ve just found a 1937 Gibson jumbo acoustic guitar online, advertised at a tad under SIXTY thousand… Blimey.

Still here?

So, why am I still here?

Stewart Lee is very probably Britain’s most achingly funny standup. I can’t describe his appearance better than he does himself, when he tells the story of how he is mistaken in the street for the Serbian war criminal, General Ratko Mladic.

Lee’s schtick is a little like Tony Hancock’s, in that that he appears to be a highly educated man on the verge of total self-annihilation in an uncivilised world where his existence has diminishing relevance. Like a man lost in a forest he keeps crossing and recrossing his path, confusing really important things with the mundane and the trivial. It’s as if he has lost the filters of reality.

When a man stands up in front of a hundred or so people in a club, broadcasting to a million others, and likens himself to a piece of tapeworm hanging out of his cat’s bottom, telling us that his six-year-old son is responsible for making the comparison, you don’t know whether to laugh hysterically, or turn on the gas oven. The ache you feel is coming not from laughter or from pain, but from the unnegotiable tension between.

I only hope Lee clears his scripts with Mrs Lee, because to describe your own wife as a bitch isn’t really funny. A long story, Lee relates how, after the first year of marriage, he runs out of clean underpants on tour and has to buy new ones. He gets home, and his wife demands to know if he is having an affair? That’s okay, because she still sees him as a sexual prospect. After ten years, the same thing happens. He runs out of pants, buys new ones, and his wife says, what, did you shit yourself? To Lee, he is defined by his vasectomy.

Intercut with his live act, Lee has himself being interviewed offstage by a superego figure in the guise of an interrogative TV arts programme presenter-type, of whom all you see is his face in huge profile. He forces Lee into paroxysms of self-justifying non-sequiturs. In the final shot of the series, asked to justify the nullity of the content of his act, Lee breaks down in tears of frustrated self-loathing. What do people pay to see? He has given them everything, and nothing.

Is this real, or part of the act? Lee’s genius is to continually expand the boundary between life and art into a world of inverted logic. Other standups tell stories against themselves. Richard Pryor exploited himself relentlessly as a creation of pure pain. With Lee, you have no idea what is real and what is imaginary. The camera drives in remorselessly on his eyes. The emotions behind switch from pain to anger to contemptuous mockery and back again. He is constantly winding-up his audience. Sometimes, he stops to criticise them for their stupidity, laughing at things he’s said that aren’t funny. They laugh all the more. Sometimes he ignores the room and turns to camera, expressing loathing for the voyeurs who aren’t even paying to see him. A voyeur, I laugh all the more. Then I feel stupid and bad. It’s like watching a zoo animal with psoriasis, tearing off its own skin.

Ultimately, Lee’s question is painfully, honestly valid: what is the point of a middle-aged man,  overweight, sagging, a borderline alcoholic who has had his children, stuck in a sexless marriage, held largely in contempt by his family, with a pointlessly unproductive job that drags him all over the place exposing him to public ridicule, and whose vasectomy has essentially ended his reproductive line, leaving him with – what?

Whether this really describes Lee or not is immaterial: he is just a conduit for the existential angst of millions of us, men who can no longer see the point of ourselves, but who struggle on regardless; boats beating, as Fitzgerald famously evoked, ceaselessly back against the tide. And he is achingly funny.

So I’ll ask you again.

I’m 64. Sixty-five in October. Trying to think of some significance to 64, I realised that, with the legal age of sexual consent at 16, if I came from a feckless working-class background and my kids had had kids at 16 and their kids had had kids at 16, etcetera, I could in theory, legally and biologically, this year be a great-great-grandfather!

What would you imagine someone’s great-great-grandfather might look like? Stooped and white-haired, shuffling about on a Zimmer frame, or sitting in a big room with a bunch of other great-grandparents drooling over thermal underwear catalogues, croaking Vera Lynn songs, dreaming of driving the latest-model stairlift and smelling of old pee? That’s if he were still alive, and not a veteran of the first Crimean War.

Now, the picture I Post at the top of my Posts is me, okay, but me pretending to be a depressed old man, like in my Posts. I thought it would amuse you. It’s actually a stage photo of me three years ago, playing the part of Blind Captain Cat, an old retired whaling-captain character from the Dylan Thomas tone-poem, Under Milk Wood, on stage. In reality I still don’t look much like that. I could pass for 50, maybe younger on a good day. Women still give me looks, in which I detect less pity than surprise.

But I do live alone, apart from my dog Hunzi, and Scat the cat. I have a student son too, who thoughtfully insists on bring his laundry round every weekend, so at least I see someone regularly and won’t be found by social workers dead in my armchair two years from now, mummified and partially gnawed by rats. I count the number of friends I have – not the ones you wave hi to in the supermarket, or chat with briefly at drama group, those ghostfriends kids collect on Facebook, I mean the kind whose addresses and marital status you actually know – on the fingers of one maimed hand. Check my phone records: I call maybe two or three people a month, take maybe two or three calls a week, a few SMS texts.

I seem to be turning into a bit of a loner.

With only five weeks’ work guaranteed a year, the only actual work I have is to wash-up after myself, vacuum the dog-hairs off the bedroom carpet, take them for walks, strim the grass on my lawn, 10′ x 5′,  and churn out this, muh li’l bogl, that nobody much reads – not even my 14 Followers – when I can think of anything to write, which, as you can tell, I can’t now.

I don’t somehow see Wife Number Three (a hypothetical individual, the next Mrs von Bogl, a peroxide blonde with a permanent suntan) going for that kind of a life: it takes money, travel, bridge nights. True, I have kept my health, although I’m keeping an anxious eye on a few new aches and pains this week, maybe gallstones, and sometimes while out walking I have to duck into someone’s front garden, behind the hedge (or piss in the street. I once pissed in a shop doorway in Knightsbridge, and I wasn’t even drunk, just desperate. I was astonished to find out that it’s illegal, it’s only water cut with a little ammonia).

And a roof over my head. Getting that was more than lucky, I can tell you. There’s a tramp in the park I have chats with, a well-read and thoughtful guy when he’s sober, still on the first cut-price can of the day, who is trying to persuade me to give up material possessions and take to the road. He knows all the best spikes, the food dumps, the soup kitchens…. It’s tempting, but I’ve been given this little house, I think I’ll stay here in the dry, until I can sell and move somewhere more agreeable, where the parks aren’t ankle-deep in McDonalds wrappers and dogshit, thanks. Where I’m not being sworn at by swaggering council-estate kingpins wrestling savagely with snarling illegal dogs on chains, or haunted by ginger-bearded dwarves (see earlier Post).

I hear you saying, oh for God’s sake, try harder! Get over yourself, what, the world owes you? Take up macramé or bear-baiting or something positive, take your mind off things. Jeez, this guy is just one giant suck for Mankind.

So, you’ve got the point at last. It’s a thin line between self-pity and brutal honesty. And to be brutally honest, my life should be working out better by now.

I blame the  viewers.



If you are a microcephalic xenophobe who despises everyone outside of your own squalid little ‘hardworking’ family unit, slumped on its piss-stained, sale-bargain sofa watching Pointless; if you plan in your fathomless ignorance to vote UKIP, or you are the Home Secretary, the following Post might cause offence.

I don’t know why I do it. Sometimes, I fear the knock in the night.

But I’ve gone and signed another petition.

You have to give away your address, so the recipient knows where you live. The Evil One, whose ghastly, inhumane social policies have resulted in yet another calumny to add to the thousand-years-long list of protestable injustices inflicted on the innocent and the helpless. The One with the Power.

So here, I’m aligning myself nakedly with the recusant, the heretic, the enemy cause. I’m The Other, as far as you are concerned. A bleeding-heart liberal, I deserve to be dragged away in chains and left to rot.  To have my genitals wired-up to a live TV set showing a Conservative party political broadcast on an endless loop. I deserve to have Union flags forcibly painted on sharp slivers of acceptable English oak, inserted under my fingernails.

But I don’t care. Because I do care.

This poor teenage girl fled here with her mother and sisters from a dark-hearted regime in Africa, believing in the great hoax of British justice and fair play. An A-star student, she was due to sit exams in May. They were her one hope for a future life of what we in the North might know as recognisable normality. Her headteacher wrote to the Home Secretary, a blackened political thing purported to be a woman and possibly even the symbol of a mother, pleading with her to relent, to let the girl stay until the summer. Thousands signed a petition.

But no. The law, which is often more than ‘a ass’ as Dickens had it but sheer, hardfaced brutality, says that asylum-seekers’ children who reach the age of 18 must be herded into a concentration camp for women, called Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, until their futile appeals to an emotionally dead man with a rubber stamp are exhausted and they must be physically restrained and deported to God-knows what ultimate fate, in whatever flyblown, wartorn rapists’ republic, we don’t care. Many have died making this same journey from despair to disaster. We still don’t care.

It is a crime indeed to be foreign in our blessed, free country. Foreigners should by definition live abroad. Otherwise God would have ordained that they be born British. So a young, defenceless girl was deported yesterday, ripped away from her family (foreigners don’t have families, they just live in colonies) alone and afraid. It took five guards and a lot of expensively acquired empty seats on a plane, paid for by British taxpayers, who were never asked for our opinion and who, if we had given an opinion, would have been studiously ignored. Sent back alone, into a clear and known danger of rape, imprisonment, torture or worse.

It is not the first time I have been ashamed to be British. I genuinely hate these aspects of Britain: its curtain-twitching smugness; its lying, bloodstained ‘heritage’ industry; its fake veneer of civilized governance; its institutional racism and casual, isolationist barbarity. This unconscionable shit is being done in my name, as a born-British citizen whose ancestors arrived a thousand years ago, by self-serving, bland-faced bastards, toads and nematodes I never, ever would or could vote for. Yes, I’m afraid I mean you, soulless, hag-faced, vote-grabbing witch-woman, Theresa May. Your actions fly on your first-class broomstick in the face of every civilized value my forbears ever fought and died for. I pray your Imelda Marcos-sized shoe collection gets botrytis.

For, you had no right to do this heartless evil in my name. As a born-British citizen I protest absolutely and with incandescent fury that you did this awful thing, this crime against my own humanity, to my mind merely in the hope of  salvaging a few worthless, grimy votes from a crudescent rival party that consists, if such a thing is possible, of a demented rabble of even more unpleasant, self-satisfied, boorish moral imbeciles than your own.

That you did it in the name of the law and British ‘justice’ is even more unpardonable, because so obviously wrong. Laws must be made for the people, not for the lawmakers. They are for our protection, not for your position.

Be that as it may, I have this morning signed a second petition, demanding with hopeless futility that the Government closes this Danteesque facility of Yarl’s Wood, this house of hellish despair; repudiates this brutal, bullying policy, that is bringing shame on my country. But you don’t listen. You are just desperate to win an election.

You don’t care. So why should I?