Electoral Fraud And Cults

I just slated a book I reviewed for being shallow on analysis and replete with facile Freudian symbols, and I just hope this post, which is about Trump, the US Presidential election and reactions to it, won’t do the same. This is also someone else’s election, in the sense that I couldn’t vote in it and it’s happening thousands of kilometres away, so what right have I to comment on it? The answer, of course, is that, to pluck a cliché out of my well-used bag, when America sneezes the whole world catches a cold.

There are three issues to address here: cults, the manipulation of opinion and evidence for and against electoral fraud. It’s also important to attempt to maintain respect for people, understand their thoughts and feelings on their own basis, and look for similar things in myself, or ourselves, but I’m not you either.

One of the first issues to address is the deeply problematic US presidential electoral system, and I would also level similar criticisms at our own system used in general elections (we don’t get to pick our head of state of course). Presidents are not directly elected by the populace but by an electoral college consisting of representatives from each state. There are attempts to balance these via allowing states with smaller populations to have more votes per capita, and the situation generally reminds me of our old “Rotten Boroughs”, although it isn’t quite as serious as that. The reason for this system is that when the US was first established, communications were poor and would’ve taken a long time, so they had representatives from each state elect the president rather than voters themselves. This situation would be appropriate today for an interstellar republic or empire, but not for a territory smaller than a solar system. But we in Britain also have an awful system. I mention the US one because it’s only marginally democratic compared to other liberal democracies, meaning that Trump actually lost the popular vote but was still able to win because of this system, assuming there was no fraud. There are, nonetheless, claims that there was fraud, as there was in previous elections, but the point is that the election isn’t fair in the first place.

I’ve sought evidence quite carefully for the claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent and that Trump won by a landslide. These have included photographic and video evidence of shredded ballot papers and ballot papers being packed into suitcases and moved. Against this, I would repeat the following counterclaims (and don’t want to dwell on it): the shredded paper was from envelopes used to post ballot papers, not ballot papers themselves and ballot papers in suitcases are standard procedure. Postal voting is also less susceptible to fraud than voting in person. The problem with pictures which may be mislabelled is that they have a lot of persuasive power, and in the light of deep fakes, the time may have come for us to attempt to interact with social media, to the extent that that’s a good idea anyway, using text-only interfaces where possible. It’s notable also that it’s a lot more difficult to do that than it used to be, not because of a conspiracy but because technology simply changes in that direction – one reason is that it’s harder to find a pre-compiled version of Lynx that runs on the most popular operating systems which supports HTTPS rather than just HTTP, although it is possible. Returning to my point, we need to be careful not to treat images as worthy of worship, as it were. Not that text-based interaction is without its problems.

It is of course easy to make a claim about an image of shredded paper or ballot boxes in suitcases, in either direction. Less easy is streamed video evidence of volunteers counting ballot papers which was publicly available after the election, which I presume is archived. That too could be faked of course. However, the counters concerned are often members of the Republican or Democratic parties themselves or simply ordinary members of the public, so one way of keeping an eye on the process, which in this case would’ve happened from both sides of that two-party system, would have been to volunteer to count the votes oneself. I don’t know if this happened or not among the people who claimed the election was rigged. But if you know and trust someone who did it, you presumably trust the process more, at least locally. That said, I can certainly relate to disengagement with party politics. This division between people who have washed their hands of the process and feel disenfranchised says a lot in itself.

There are numerous ways of stating the situation. My choice is to ask why a poor person would imagine that a billionaire would care about them at all. It’s possible they would, of course, perhaps if the billionaire were a philanthropist, but they’re unlikely to understand their needs even if that were true. However, ideally politics is not to do with personalities. Taking Corbyn as an example, it isn’t him who is important but the policies he wished to pursue.

This is going to seem like a tangent, but here goes.

When I first left home and went to university, I missed one of my friends very badly and became quite depressed and demotivated, though not academically. After a few weeks, I was befriended by Christians in my hall of residence and made a commitment to Christ which still has a major influence on my life today, although I’d now describe myself as a theist rather than a Christian partly due to the behaviour of Trump-supporting Christians in the States. That said, I am still a Christian in the sense that one cannot lose one’s salvation, and as I’ve mentioned before on here to presume that someone was never Christian in the first place if they apostasise is to presume to know the mind of the person concerned better than they know it themselves or to accuse them of dishonesty. I won’t go over old ground. My point is that my current understanding of what a Christian is – that they are someone who has honestly repented of their sins and committed to Christ as their sacrifice for sin and the uniquely human and divine son of God (it’s all in the creeds) – is based on the influence those Christians at the beginning of my adult life had on me. I hope I come across as liberal and tolerant, but my view of what defines Christianity is absolutely rigid and along the lines of something like Calvinist evangelical Protestantism. It’s still pretty hard for me to accept, for example, that Roman Catholics can possibly be Christian due to this very narrow and rigid definition. And that’s there because of the psychological situation of how I became Christian. It isn’t particularly amenable to rational argument or persuasion by non-emotive means. This is because of the cultish tendencies of the Navigators, the group which supported me in the first few steps of my journey of faith. I was, at least as an eighteen year old, susceptible to brainwashing by a religious cult. I’m not saying the Navs are broadly a cult or that how they were in 1985 reflects how they are now, or even that they didn’t ultimately have some positive influence on me. I am saying that I can relate to being emotionally vulnerable and therefore susceptible to suggestion. I missed my friend terribly and it had led me into a depressive state. I often reflect that the behaviour of people in my sixth form seemed more mature than much of the behaviour I witnessed as an undergraduate at university, and I think this is partly due to homesickness and fear. However, susceptibility of this kind is not confined to young adults.

When I think about the death of Jesus, I see the disciples as a mourning community who saw him everywhere, as often happens when you lose someone, and I wonder if this is one way to understand the resurrection. I’ve experienced this myself with another friend who went missing and turned up dead. I would expect the high hopes voters had that Trump would win a second term could become the belief that he did and that Biden’s victory is fake, and I can understand why some people might find that result difficult to accept emotionally and find themselves rationalising that it didn’t happen. We should probably accept that the people concerned are suffering what might be described as “disenfranchised grief”, that is, grief whose seriousness is not widely acknowledged. This isn’t meant to be patronising either. That’s how I understand much of what I and other people close to me experience on occasion. In fact, missing my friend may even be an example of that disenfranchisement from my teenage years. We’re all vulnerable to it and what they experience is often in ourselves in different circumstances.

I’ve come across a couple of people whom I thought I knew well who “went over to the other side” regarding their beliefs and values when I found them supporting Trump. It’s important to get this in perspective. Everyone is merely a plaything of vast, impersonal political forces and for whatever reason, and it’s doubtless an important one which needs to be understood, it threw Trump into that position for a reason, in the sense that the causes of his presidency can be traced, some of which doubtless involve a subjective impression of being an outsider and disenfranchised. Nonetheless, in both cases I’ve found their change incomprehensible at first, then on reflection I remember my conversion to Christianity and think the two are probably similar in some way, not because of the Christian faith itself but because it was a cult with a superficially Christian perspective.

We should always hold our leaders accountable, and Trump certainly has been by many people on the Left. This atmosphere of critical scrutiny in itself is healthy and should continue with Biden, and should have been in place with Obama. This is more along the lines of all power corrupting than a partisan-based criticism of any particular president. They are public servants, as are prime ministers.

There is continuity between abusive relationships and cult leadership and many of the same traits turn up in both. Therefore in this case, a cult leader’s personality may be very relevant. Cults can be defined in terms of a number of identifiable characteristics, and they can appear in surprising contexts such as multi-level marketing. They involve:

  • Great or excessive devotion to a person, idea or thing.
  • The use of thought-reform programs to persuade, control and socialise members.
  • Inducing states of psychological dependence.
  • Exploitation of members to advance the leaders’ goals.
  • Psychological harm to members, families and the community.

Early in the Trump presidency , there was a tendency to conflate Donal Trump’s personality with the office of the President, and to object to any criticism of him as a criticism of the office. However, no institution should be above criticism and an elected head of state is the servant of her people, even if they didn’t vote for her. There should never be devotion to the person as a person. If Jeremy Corbyn had become Prime Minister, he would rightly have been just as open to criticism as anyone else, and it wouldn’t have been about his personality or what a great guy he might or might not be. Moreover, it’s professionalism to continue to serve the people. MPs do it with their constituents for example, regardless of whether they voted for them.

I would say QAnon and Fox News amount to thought-control programs. Just a minute of Fox News is enough to persuade most people of this. For instance, Fox News once criticised a free laptop program for students on the grounds that Linux, which needn’t turn a profit for anyone, was so hard for a particular student to use that she had to leave university. It’s blatantly obvious that the real reason for the criticism was that it wasn’t a Microsoft or Apple product, and in fact the version of Linux, Mozilla and Free Office installed on the laptop were almost indistinguishable from their commercial equivalents. This kind of thing happens across the board with Fox News to the extent that it’s almost laughable. It did the same with Trump. QAnon alleges that there is a circle of cannibalistic Satanist paedophiles running the US government, and accuses many liberals, Democrats and celebrities of being part of it. It sees Trump as the opponent to it and as planning a day of reckoning.

If you want an example of the exploitation of members, you need look no further than the campaigns to fund Trump’s lawsuits against the government. The man is a billionaire and has no need of funding. There are plenty of others.

Then there’s the BITE model:

  • Behaviour control
  • Information control
  • Thought control
  • Emotional control

With the exception of behaviour control, these are quite easy to identify. Information control involves the identification of outsider vs insider groups, obvious examples being Whites and Non-whites, and “Christians” and Muslims. Access to non-cult sources of information is discouraged, for instance via Trump’s early refusal to engage with the media which wasn’t biassed in his favour. There’s also the extensive use of cult-generated information, and here QAnon comes to mind again, but also the Epoch Times, to which I shall be returning. Thought control is found in the form of members internalising group doctrine, such as Pizzagate, organising people into us and them groups, thought-terminating clichés (such as the idea that queers are after recruiting your children or having sex with them) and the rejection of criticism, which I’ve already mentioned. Finally, emotional control is about inducing extreme highs and lows, as found in rallies and demonstrations for example, and inducing fear of thinking independently.

Other people have done a better job than I at this but I’m in a hurry. I now want to turn my attention to the Epoch Times, a publication and website which defends Falun Gong. The Epoch Times is an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump because he’s anti-communist and against the Chinese state. Falun Gong are an initially innocuous-seeming new religious organisation which has genuinely been persecuted by the Chinese government. Before I say anything else, I want to point out that the treatment of dissidents by China is morally indefensible, and we could assume that it’s true that China is murdering Galun Gong members and harvesting their organs for transplant, torturing them, brainwashing them and incarcerating them. None of that is remotely acceptable, any more than it is with the Uighur. However, that’s the behaviour of a totalitarian state against any dissidents, and the same kind of thing would happen with murderers, and it would still be wrong. Falun Gong is an apocalyptic cult which is opposed to Chinese “communism” (which is a misnomer because, for example, Shanghai has a stock market and there are Chinese entrepreneurs) because it sees communism as a Western idea and it’s deeply traditionalist and believes in racial segregation. Hence a European idea is automatically opposed. Armageddon is prophesied as a battle between communism and anti-communism. The belief system opposes feminism, homosexuality and pop music. Also, the taking of medication is wrong because disease is seen as arising from internal evil induced by aliens from other dimensions. The cult is also opposed to science and high technology such as computers and air travel. Falun Gong have spent more money promoting Trump than Democratic candidates have spent on their own presidential campaigns. They believe that their own organs are being harvested because their spiritual practices make them healthier than other people’s. Another consequence of their belief system is that they believe Covid-19 is a Chinese government conspiracy and that there should be no vaccines against it.

Falun Gong and “Trumpism” share elements of cult-like behaviour and characteristics. It seems the support the former gives the latter is coincidental, along the lines of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, but to me, because I do believe in the Christian idea of Satan, it feels like it’s too much of a coincidence to be accidental. You obviously don’t have to buy into that thought of course because it sounds delusional, but perhaps bear this in mind. Christianity is, as I understand it, about putting Christ at the centre and, in fact like Judaism and Islam, about not worshipping anything other than God. It would therefore, from a Christian perspective, seem unlikely that Falun Gong would support God’s aims, since Master Li, the founder of the movement, is seen as making a special spiritual discovery through bringing the exercises and practices to the Chinese people, and perhaps more widely to the human race. It isn’t at all clear that God as understood in Christian terms would employ the Epoch Times to support Trump for that reason – Falun Gong is incompatible with Christianity as understood by evangelical Protestantism, for which, whether or not I believe it myself, I have a strong intuitive feeling.

God does, from a Christian perspective, use people who are not Christian. I find this difficult to comprehend, since if God can influence non-Christian attitudes that easily, it seems that God could also prevent people from damning themselves. There is limited free will in that situation if God really is using Trump the way God used King Cyrus, which is the popular claim. Whereas it’s impossible to say for sure whether Trump is Christian or not, he has made statements plainly in front of a Christian audience which are incompatible with a conservative evangelical view of what constitutes being a Christian, i.e. “saved”. But the suggestion is that God is using him. I actually think this may be true, but for all anyone knows he might be used as a way of putting people off adopting his views.

From a secular perspective, it’s a question of how to approach friends and acquaintances who have been induced into cult-like behaviour, and one way of doing that is to reflect on ways in which one has personally been drawn into it, if one is unlucky enough to have had that happen. What I see in my own life is that it was the result of loneliness and isolation, in other words emotional vulnerability, and perhaps meaninglessness. I see that operating with my relationship with the Navigators, with Falun Gong and with cultish support of Trump, and the solution is presumably to help provide meaning, emotional support and companionship from outside those cults.

Blake’s Film Shot In Old Gravel Pits

Spoilers, obviously.

It would be fair to say I don’t let go of the past easily, and that I’m unusually afflicted with nostalgia. My reply is that it’s important to learn from history so as not to repeat its mistakes and take advantage of its successes, and that an accurate view of the past is vital as a defence against those who would use it to push conservative agenda, and also that it’s important to know oneself. That would be my reply here and in other settings.

As you probably know, for the past few years I’ve been engaged in attempting to recreate my past mentally in order to put my current issues in context. What may loom large today perhaps seems less important in the larger picture, and a contemporary fixation may be something important or simply the latest in a series of obsessions stretching way back into one’s past. For instance, I went through years of unrequited love which seem less significant today because I’ve been married for twenty-seven years now, but maybe that preoccupation was a way of dramatising my feelings to make them seem more real and maybe I do the same kind of dramatisation today in other ways, and it’s an important to know that about myself.

I recently read John Medhurst’s excellent ‘That Option No Longer Exists‘, which covers the history of Harold Wilson’s Labour government elected in 1974 and attempts to retrieve the events from the narrative that it led up to the Winter of Discontent and constituted a final proof that socialism would never work in Britain. This post is not about that but it is about something else which constitutes an interesting “document” which emerged around the same time as the so-called Winter of Discontent and the advent of Thatcherism. I am of course talking about ‘Blake’s 7’ (yes, it’s a numeral rather than a word and I don’t think that quite works but still).

Illustrative purposes only. Will be removed on request.

‘Blake’s 7’ was once lampooned on the radio as ‘Blake’s Film Shot In Old Gravel Pits’, which some of it was but in fact a lot of the outside broadcast sixteen millimetre film bits were done in woods, perhaps due to its vaguely Robin Hoody ethos. It is of course space opera, which the SF Encyclopedia defines as “colourful action-adventure stories of interplanetary or interstellar conflict”. ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Flash Gordon’ come to mind. The premise of this series is that much of humanity, including earth dwellers, is under the thrall of a vast, despotic, bureaucratic Terran Federation. An alien spacecraft with advanced technology accidentally falls into the hands of a group of five people considered deviant by the establishment and they use it to overthrow the current social order, aided by the ship’s computer, a telepathic alien called Cally and later a supercomputer called Orac. Notably, the first and second seasons of the series were broadcast around the aforementioned winter of ’78, into the election of Margaret Thatcher, and the third and fourth during the first half of the first term of her government, finishing a few months before the Falklands War, and throughout this time it was one of the most popular shows on TV, drawing around eight million viewers a week. It was written and devised by the man who invented the Daleks and would go on to have a hand in ‘MacGyver’, Terry Nation.

The Federation logo can be compared and contrasted with the ‘Star Trek’ United Federation of Planets Starfleet Command emblem:

Copyrighted image reproduced under Fair Use guidelines – For identification and commentary on the publication in question, or the person(s) depicted, or the copyrighted character(s) and/or item(s) depicted.

Whereas the arrow for the United Federation of Planets points upward and therefore has an optimistic and balanced, and therefore liberal, feel to it, the Terran Federation emblem, which is clearly based on it, points to the right, indicating the quasi-fascistic nature of its ideology, if it can be said to have one. This emerges from the contemporary British pessimism and feeling of decline, where socialism is perceived either to have been tried and failed or to have been tried and sabotaged.

The basic idea behind the series is that when the human race moves out into space, we will take our flaws with us and therefore that the Federation won’t end up as anything like how it’s seen in ‘Star Trek’. Although it may have started out that way, it has become despotic and corrupt. Furthermore, even those who rebel against it will be imperfect and either have imperfect motives or be scuppered by their own idealism. The Universe has fallen into oppressive ways partly because that’s what we humans are like and also considerably aided by entropy and faceless bureaucracy. The impersonality and scale of the state makes it an astronomical monster who might sometimes act maliciously but might also accidentally crush a planet like a matchbox being trodden upon by Godzilla. That said, malice is also involved and there are powerful individuals within the organisation who can express their cruelty and sadism most effectively through the instruments of the state.

But the rebels are no better, in a way. Roj Blake himself wants to overthrow the Federation but doesn’t know what he wants beyond that. He has no ideas about what should replace it and only recognises that it’s bad and has to come to an end. He is also portrayed as being too trusting and naïve. Jenna Stannis is an adept pilot and smuggler and was herself of fairly high social status before she was turned in by an organised crime syndicate for refusing to traffick a dangerous drug. Kerr Avon, who is really the star of the series, is a highly intelligent Machiavellian outwardly unemotional computer hacker and fraudster. Olag Gan is a physically strong simple man unable to kill due to a brain implant he received after, so he claims, killing an armed security guard in defence of his wife, although he was himself unarmed. Cally is a telepathic alien, although she looks like a White woman. Vila Restal is a cautious, some might say cowardly, safe cracker, lock picker and career petty criminal whose character cannot be reformed in spite of many official efforts, and provides the comic relief. Zen is the onboard computer of the stolen ship, the Liberator, and Orac the aquarium-like supercomputer which can infiltrate any human computer in the Galaxy due to a back-door exploit in their components put there by its designer. Later characters on the “goodies” side include Del Tarrant, Dayna Mellanby and Soolin. Notable antagonists include above all Supreme Commander Servalan, well-known ice queen and glamorous sadist, and Space Commander Travis, also sadistic but who becomes fixated on killing Blake at any cost.

Blake is actually accused of child sexual abuse as part of a character assassination when he is initially arrested. He has been a rebel leader but had his memory wiped and was recuperated as a model citizen and reformed character by the state. Although he is the most apparently virtuous of any of the major characters, he is deeply flawed in this universe because he is inexperienced and trusts people too much. Because many people around him have dubious and selfish motives, even his attempts to do the right thing go badly and end up causing more damage than doing nothing might have done. The parallel to the popular idea of what constitutes socialism is not lost on me here.

Gan is rumoured among fans to be lying when he says he murdered a security guard and he’s believed to be a serial sexual killer whose behaviour is suppressed by the limiter implanted in his brain. He also gets killed in Series B. His behaviour is said to be revealed when the limiter malfunctions and the crew have to go and get it repaired. He’s clearly very much underused, probably partly because he can’t kill anyone, which excludes him from a lot of the action.

Cally was described in a letter to the ‘Radio Times’ as “Punchbag Cally”, because the viewer in question got the impression that she was spending most of her time getting beaten up or tortured, for instance by Travis, who obviously enjoyed it very much.

Sally Knyvette, who played Jenna, complained to the BBC that she was also being underutilised. Given that combination, the fact that Servalan has such a significant role may help save the series from being accused of sexism, and of course it was a long time ago.

You have, then, the “leader” Blake, who is an engineer, the pilot Jenna, the IT guy Avon, the muscle Gan, the lock picker Vila and the telepath Cally.

At the moment, it’s early days and I’m still on Series A, so there are various important things I haven’t mentioned which I vaguely remember and doubtless a lot more I can’t. However, before I get to the nitty-gritty there are a few other things I want to mention.

Clearly to us in 2021, the series comes across as low-budget, retro and a bit crap, but in a way the fact that it’s “shot in old gravel pits” makes it more appropriate. The universe it attempts to portray has been described as looking like a series of NHS waiting rooms with bare furnishings, a lot of scuffing (which is not intentional but in Series A is due to not having a permanent set but having to put it up and take it down after each episode, as opposed to blocks of episodes being shot together), and all of this is due to it having been made for about fifteen quid. In fact, if you want to know the real figures for the budget, it was allocated £10 000 for the Season A which was all blown on the first episode to make the point that it wouldn’t be possible to make the whole series for such a small sum of money. These are typical restraints resulting from the economic conditions of the late ’70s, and it’s therefore appropriate and part of the charm. It is very much of the same stable as ‘Doctor Who’, the chief difference being that it’s far more cynical in tone, partly because it’s aimed at adults. As such, it’s interesting to contrast it with ‘Torchwood’, whose pitch was similarly “Doctor Who for adults”, but unfortunately for that this mainly seems to involve a lot of sex. It’s also possible to criticise ‘Torchwood’ along the lines of a lot of it being a shameless rip-off of ‘Angel’ and ‘Buffy’, among other things, but ‘Blake’s 7’ is not immune from that. The same parody I quoted as the title of this post goes on to say that it was “produced by taking old ‘Z Cars’ scripts and changing the name ‘Newtown’ to ‘Gol Random Vox X-1-11′”. Whereas this was a joke, it was practically literally true in at least one case. The episode ‘Mission To Destiny’ is acknowledged to be an adaptation of a rejected crime series script, possibly from ‘Whodunnit’. Another episode, ‘Duel’, is a direct lift and recognisable adaptation of the Star Trek episode ‘Arena’. One of the reasons for this is that the second half of Series A was written under a lot of pressure and punishing time constraints, since it was the first time any single writer had written so many episodes of a SF series in one go (I’m not sure about ‘Captain Video’ actually but I’ll take their word for it). This apparent record wasn’t broken until ‘Babylon V’.

Although it’s been said that it compares poorly on a special effects and budget level with ‘Star Trek’, my impression of the two watched at around the same time on a 12″ black and white PAL telly was that the British series had a much better look and feel, which may be partly down to the American approach of doing everything on 35 mm film, whose grain I feel has a strong distancing effect. Many of the special effects are more modern, such as the appearance of the vial containing the virus in ‘Project Avalon’, and although they may be fake, the displays on both ‘The Robots Of Death’ and ‘Blake’s 7’ resemble late ’70s microcomputer text displays, unlike ‘Star Trek’. I also suspect that actual CGI is used in one episode of Series A to create the appearance of a lit red LED, again at very low resolution, and this has made me wonder about the possibilities of using 1970s microcomputer CGI more widely, although it clearly hardly ever happened. The people who worked on ‘Star Trek’ are on record as saying that they wished they’d come up with something like the special effect used for teleportation

Returning to ‘Doctor Who’ for a while, it’s been claimed that the two are both in the Whoniverse, and they do share a lot. For instance, the invading aliens from Andromeda at the end of Series B were going to be Daleks, but the powers that be wouldn’t allow it. Chris Boucher wrote ‘The Robots Of Death’, ‘The Face Of Evil’ and ‘Image Of The Fendahl’, and there are a number of writers, actors and musicians who worked for both, such as Colin Baker, Paul Darrow and of course Chris Boucher and Terry Nation. Boucher’s written sequel to ‘The Robots Of Death’ includes the character Carnell, a psychostrategist on the run from the Federation who has arrived on Kaldor after his failure in the Series B ‘Blake’s 7’ episode ‘Weapon’. It’s also strongly suspected that Kerr Avon appears in the ‘Kaldor City’ audio series as Iago, and it was proposed that the Fourth Doctor and Blake would pass each other in a corridor but the idea was vetoed. However, to me it seems hard to fit into Whoniverse continuity, although the vagueness of the dating system would help.

The series shares with ‘Star Trek’ a dating system, rarely referred to in this case, other than the Gregorian calendar twentieth century Westerners were familiar with. The American show introduced this idea in order to keep the time it was set vague, and there were initially ideas about placing it in the 1990s and the thirtieth century, but they relented part way through and committed themselves to the twenty-third century. In the case of ‘Blake’s 7’, it’s said to be said in the “Third Century of the Second Calendar”, which seems to have been established by the Terran Federation, and it’s noted that churches were all destroyed at the beginning of the Second Calendar, suggesting some kind of anti-Christian or anti-religious movement. Terry Nation was himself strongly secularist and opposed the teaching of religion in schools, by which I presume he meant “religious instruction” of the old-fashioned kind as opposed to the anthropological study of religion. Religion is portrayed as a tool of social control in the Series A episode ‘Space Fall’, but so far as I can tell it doesn’t exist in the wider Federation, nor do any of the characters appear to have any religious sensibilities. They don’t have it and they don’t miss it. Getting back to the dating system, it’s rarely referred to although the deposed president of Lindor mentions the twentieth century by name, possibly reflecting his anachronism and the fact that he escapes into the past. For some reason I haven’t been able to track down, it’s sometimes asserted that the series is set in the twenty-seventh Christian century. This is partly based on the age of the human settlements, some of which are seven hundred years old, and have had time to revert to the Stone Age and develop their own material cultures, another common theme in Terry Nation’s writing, including ‘Survivors’ and ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’. Just in terms of the author, it’s interesting to look at Avon’s and Vila’s skills, and Blake’s and Travis’s skills in ‘Duel’, where they have to relinquish all weapons technology, as precursors of MacGyverism. Nation is, after all, more or less the inventor of the word and the idea as expressed in the later series.

The “modern” technology depicted in the series is of course influenced by its time, and in fact even the alien technology often looks dated, suggesting there’s a kind of design aesthetic and engineering philosophy which reached its acme on Earth in the late 1970s and could never be improved upon. Slave, the computer in the Liberator’s successor the Scorpio in Series D, is from the real world perspective an Acorn System 1, released in 1979. This is antiquated even for the time because by the broadcast date the BBC Micro was on sale, and in fact the subject of the BBC’s computer literacy project. Gan’s brain implant also seems to consist largely of 74LS series integrated circuits with something like fourteen pins, which even by the time of Series A were hardly cutting edge technology. I also remember thinking at the time that Zen didn’t look advanced at all, although I once had a dream about it which suggests its technology is more advanced than it appeared. This is an example of how what’s shown on the screen can ideally have an inspiring and seminal influence on the viewers, and this fine balance between vagueness and too much detail is hard to achieve.

On the whole, the aliens, for budgetary reasons again, are not alien enough. They are in fact so human that medics can work on them without any prior knowledge of biological differences between them and Homo sapiens, although there are non-humanoid aliens, whom as far as I can remember we never see. The Decimas are frankly very much like Zygons and I’m pretty sure the costumes were taken from Doctor Who, but they are artificial life forms genetically engineered by the Auronar, Cally’s species.

There’s also a markèd lack of curiosity among the citizens of the Federation. For instance, when the prison ship London encounters a “space battle” and the Liberator, the crew have no interest in what might have led to it or how humans might be involved. Everything is deadened and numbed by the stultifying influence of the totalitarian bureaucracy. Another theme, found elsewhere in Nation’s work (though notably not MacGyver insofar as that’s his) is opposition to pacifism. Violence is seen as an acceptable means to an end among freedom fighters, even quite severe violence. They’re not even “heavy-handed troublemakers”, as Judy Burns had MacGyver say in the best opening gambit of that entire series. This is the legacy of the Second World War. Nation is very often on the side of what many people would call “terrorists” with much justification. When the ex-president of Lindor shoots the bounty hunters who have captured the Seven, it’s portrayed as a positive thing which signifies he’s got his mojo back.

It’s facile and whiggish to see history as a form of steady progress, socially or technologically, and that idea in fact has been used to justify the likes of imperialism and Islamophobia. Nonetheless, it’s not entirely simplistic to see history as a race between political power and social progress. In the case of imperial expansion this might look like “civilising the savages”, but equally the rise of homophobia in some states due to American evangelical interference is an example of the opposite. My guiding thesis regarding future history parallels Iain M Banks’s in his Culture series, and I believe there is some justification for it. It works as follows. A culture based on scarcity economics and prejudice such as our own cannot progress to establishing permanent settlements in space to any significant extent because the conflict created by artificial scarcity will lead to it destroying itself or impeding its technological progress. For instance, if there are only white able-bodied men involved in scientific research and “high” technology, most of that society’s intellectual resources and talents are being wasted and it will only progress very slowly. I also think this is a possible explanation of the Fermi Paradox – why we don’t know of any aliens. Assuming complex life and tool use arises often in the Galaxy, an environmentally unsustainable culture spreading out into the Galaxy might have reached Earth already and made it impossible for humans to evolve. It seems much more likely that such a culture would wipe itself out before it left its planet, and also possible that one that was sustainable wouldn’t seek to expand in the first place. Hence my assumption is that the situation never arises where political power combined with despotism is augmented on an interstellar scale to colonise other star systems. However, the question arises of when such a culture would be overtaken by events one way or the other. Here are two scenarios: a civilisation becomes more enlightened and manages not to destroy itself, but still has the impetus and develops the technology to visit other solar systems; and, a civilisation succumbs to war, environmental damage or violent direct action before it can leave its solar system. Note that I say “solar system”. It is feasible that a species could develop space travel and settle within its own system but never leave it, either because it destroys itself or doesn’t develop the technology, which may of course not exist given the vast distances between star systems and the recalcitrantly corroborated theory of special relativity.

Nation’s vision as expressed in ‘Blake’s 7’ entails that this outstripping will not prove to be a limiting factor in interstellar imperialism and totalitarianism. For him, at least for fictional purposes, not only is it possible to travel faster than light but also it’s entirely feasible to do so without being a socially progressive culture. And it might be this which marks the series out most as a creature of the late ’70s and early ’80s: the future is most definitely not bright because the progressive project has failed, and in order to fight totalitarianism it may be necessary to stoop to their level and then internalise that compromise, leading to freedom fighters becoming as bad as the problem they are trying to solve.

The Physics Of Poverty

Yesterday my ex and we were reminiscing about how much better organised writing was before the advent of widespread online access and word processing. Even so, this is not a particularly premeditated post but is just being typed directly into the WordPress web interface, because that’s unfortunately how we roll nowadays isn’t it?

Being poor is expensive. It’s expensive for society, but more so, it’s expensive for poor people. To take a simple example, if I have enough money to buy a large pack of something non-perishable it will cost me less per unit of mass or volume than if I haven’t and have to buy smaller quantities. We all know it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. This also applies to utilities and bank accounts. If you have a reliable income going into your account, you get better terms of service, but if you’re poor you can only avail yourself of your possibly authorised, or not, overdraft or perhaps a credit card. If you have to buy white goods, chances are that’ll be on credit and you’ll be paying interest. You might have a card meter and not be able to pay for electricity via direct debit. You might have to use mobile internet rather than landline and so on.

There is a link between much of, or possibly all, of this and the laws of fuzzux. A simple illustration of how this works. Suppose you have a boiler and your pipes aren’t lagged. Heat will radiate from your pipes and you will lose heat before it gets to the taps. If you want hot water you’ll have to run the taps for longer and your boiler will have to do more work – transfer energy to or from an object via the application of force along a displacement – to make the water molecules move faster, which is heating, and your electricity or gas bill will be higher. However, if you lag the pipes, your boiler won’t have to do as much work. But you may not have enough money at any one time to do that, so your fuel bills continue to be high. Another example: your cooker is old and the insulation in it doesn’t work as well as it used to. It takes longer to heat up because, again, it radiates heat through its walls more than it used to, but you can’t afford to replace it. Or, you can only afford a smaller cooker and hence it has, and this is crucial, a high surface area to volume ratio. It therefore radiates more heat and is less efficient than a larger one. Again, poverty is expensive.

This last point, surface area to volume ratio, may be one of the most important factors in all this. Suppose you have a cube one metre on a side. It will have six square metres of surface and a volume of one cubic metre. A cube two metres on a side will have a volume of eight cubic metres and a surface area of twenty-four square metres. Just in terms of the units, the ratio has dropped from 6:1 to 3:1, and of course this continues in both directions. This would have consequences for businesses. For instance an undertaking making plates which can only afford a small kiln will not only make fewer plates but it will cost more to fire them than one with a bigger kiln. It can also be seen, unsurprisingly, in ecology. A small garden pond needs a lot more maintenance than a large one, and a lake may need none unless, say, it’s a fish farm. A large aquarium is more stable than a small one. The same applies to farming, and the consequences are that large farms are cheaper to run than small ones. A large packet of crisps uses less packaging than a small one and therefore the cost of packaging, both environmentally and financially, is higher per unit for a small packet of crisps than a large one. And so on.

Therefore there are sound scientific principles which, in terms of energy, make poverty more expensive in purely practical ways, and we’re all used to this. However, it doesn’t always make sense, although we may not be used to this. For instance, the cost of having an overdraft or credit falls more heavily on the poor than the rich, and there doesn’t appear to be a good reason for this, but because we’re used to the idea of things being more expensive if you have less of them, it may not be noticeable. The fact that this is so operates across the board, whether or not there are sound practical reasons for it, and the consequence of this is that money proportionately leaves the bank accounts and pockets of the poor more quickly than it does those of the rich, and ends up in the hands of people who are already rich. There is a hypothesis dignifying itself with the moniker “trickle down theory”, which is that if rich people are allowed to do what they want with their money, for example by having lower income tax rates, more of it will end up going to poor people. Because of the nature of physics, this is like forcing water to flow uphill but there may be a way of doing it. The only trouble is, it takes work to make water flow uphill, and moreover work from a relatively strong source, one example of which is, needless to say, a taxation system and a government prepared to invest in helping the poor financially. All this is assuming that the poor are not directly exploited, i.e. that it’s all down to these principles of physics, but it isn’t. In fact the likes of Brighthouse are directly exploiting the poor. For instance, not only are the credit terms likely to be poor, and the only way people can get hold of the likes of what most of us would regard as essential such as a cooker, but missing payments may lead to the company repossessing the goods without a court order, meaning that all that money paid is for nothing. An item brought from Brighthouse, and I’m not singling them out so much as using them as an example of widespread practices, can end up costing consumers twice as much as if they’d been able to buy it for cash, assuming in any case that they’re able to hold onto it at all.

Hence not only is poverty expensive because of the laws of physics but it’s also expensive because the trickle up effect is enhanced by big business and the money people. By the rich.

There’s a rather annoying but nonetheless true to life incident in Orwell’s ‘Keep The Aspidistra Flying’ where Gordon Comstock receives a royalty cheque and proceeds to blow the whole lot on a drunken binge, spends the night in the cells and is bailed out by his rich friend in the morning. I admit that this particular chapter drives me up the wall because I don’t think we’re sufficiently convinced that Comstock would do that. He has an iron will and principles which have prevented him from taking better-paid jobs in the past resulting in his poverty, but when he has money he lacks the same kind of self-control which his character is supposed to have. Nonetheless the novelty of having more money may make it more tempting for a poor person to splurge than it would for a rich person with the same sum. Possessing money for a while and feeling secure that one will continue to possess that money leads one to become more skilled and efficient in its use. This is one reason the stunt politicians have been known to pull where they spend a week living on Jobseekers’ Allowance isn’t realistic. Not only will they not face a sudden big bill for a broken washing machine in that time, but they know this period will soon come to an end and they have the background of having spent money more sensibly and having learnt how to use it, which poor people may never have had.

Frequently, poor people are said to have a poor mindset and so be responsible to some extent for their apparent misfortune. Studies show, though, that even this may not be their fault. Having financial problems has been found to depress IQ scores by a mean of thirteen points because they make it harder to concentrate on other things. Because of this, it can be easy to slip into neglectful parenting, comply poorly with prescription medication or even weed the fields one’s crops are growing in. Poor people tend to concentrate on what’s immediately in front of them, and they may assess, for example, gambling and buying lottery tickets as a feasible way to get themselves out of the trap simply because they are unable to believe their other chances of getting out of it are high. The relative probability of winning the lottery is higher if the probability of getting out of poverty by one’s own effots are lower, and the lack of mental energy to think it through when one is in survival mode then leads one to believe that the chances are even higher than that.

Causes of success in careers are perceived very differently by the rich and the poor. Poor people are more likely to attribute it to good fortune and rich people to talent. Both of these may be misconceived, but on both an entire political philosophy can be built. Just as the poor can’t be blamed for their decisions, nor can the rich, but the problem is that rich people’s choices can be much more far-reaching due to the fact that they’re often running the country. Hence they may suppose that the poor are simply lazy and implement policies based on that assumption. However, although long-term poverty does have lasting effects on attitudes, experiments on people put into an aritificial situation of poverty, such as having invulnerability in a video game rather than a finite health score, frequently play the game less well if they’re in the former category, and in the latter will tend to enter a “survival” mode where immediate benefits are taken advantage of. This suggests that in certain ways the poor are actually more rational than the rich. In another experiment, poor and rich people were asked if they would be prepared to travel further to buy a $300 item with $50 off, and most of them said they would, but poor people were also prepared to do the same to buy a $1000 with $50 off whereas rich people weren’t, because wealth leads people to squander money.

Upbringing is a further element in this. I am from a wealthy background and consequently when I hear about people using hypodermics to inject drugs or learning how to hotwire a car, it occurs to me that these are useful and transferable skills potentially forming part of a paid job. This rarely seems to happen because the horizons of poverty are so limited. They will tend to recognise that the prospects of becoming a car mechanic or a nurse are non-existent for them, and this is sadly an example of their realism. This difference in attitude may betray my middle class childhood and adolescence. But there’s more to upbringing, such as the influence of domestic violence and other abuse on children. Without taking physical trauma into consideration, and also without making any excuses for the perpetrator, the external stresses which social deprivation may bring households probably do worsen domestic abuse, and make it less likely that a abuse survivor may be able to leave their partner, thus subjecting the children to further abuse, and in a developing brain that siege mentality which also exists in poverty may become a structural feature of the brain. Witnessing and directly experiencing domestic violence are not significantly different in this respect for children, although with direct experience there’s the additional factor of physical trauma to the brain. A survivor of an abusive household who is also poor may not have good prospects for being able to function well financially. Having said all that, it’s vital to emphasise two very clear facts: there is plenty of abuse in wealthy homes and it’s something of a leveller and potential source of empathy between the rich and the poor; and, it’s easy to imagine a stereotypical situation where the victim is female and the abuser male, and that may not be the case.

The title of this post mentions the word “physics”, and it may appear that I’ve strayed from this rather, but the fact is that sociology supervenes on psychology supervenes on biology supervenes on chemistry and physics, so this is still about the physics of poverty. It’s about a situation where the scientific evidence and observation of how people behave in society are not only ignored but even implicitly denied because of the misperceptions of the rich. The fact is that there are firm thermodynamic causes for the unsustainability of a situation where there is great and increasing financial disparity between different groups in society, and far from working with this by putting energy in the form of money into the system, the opposite happens. The claim is that increasing wealth at the top leads to increasing wealth at the bottom, but as I said that’s like trying to get water to flow uphill, and rather than trying to address that by reducing the gradient, due to their false consciousness government policy is to make the gradient steeper. It’s actually in the face of physics, and it’s like trying to create a perpetual motion machine. For this reason, I am not liberal in how I understand politics. There are politics which recognise and try to work with the laws of physics, and there are politics which amount to flat-earthism or creationism. Belief in creationism has a detrimental effect on medical research in countries where it’s popular and has influenced educational policy, and before you wonder, I’m not actually talking about the US here. Fortunately, it isn’t that influential over much of the world and so we’re spared it. However, belief in economic antigravity, also known as capitalism, is rife, backed up by educational propaganda and trillions of dollars in the media, and consequently we have an economic and political system which is not fit for running the world properly or protecting any of us from the entropy it inevitably builds up. Capitalism is just plain wrong, and suggestions to the contrary are simply examples of false balance, because there is so much more evidence to support more progressive ideas that pretending they are two equal sides is simply false and misleading.

Cretaceous Gladstone Park

I’ll start with a ‘Goodies’ episode and move swiftly on.

In the 1973 Goodies episode ‘The Stone Age’, the superchaps three find that the converted newly-built disused train station which is their office is built on top of a pothole, which in turn turns out to be a hibernating T. rex. Rather troublingly, they end up in his stomach and start getting digested, and proceed to wake him up by shouting for help, at which point he eats their station and they’re presumed dead. Death is a funny thing in the series because they all die at the end of a number of episodes and end up alive in the next one. It’s just about possible to conclude that they barely escaped this time. But I’m getting distracted. One of the interesting things about ‘The Stone Age’ is that it seems to show off Graeme’s medical knowledge as a real life qualified medical doctor to some extent, although in a fairly limited way. I don’t want to turn this into a ‘Goodies’ review, but in spite of the spectacular implausibility of I think probably all episodes in the series, of which this sets a particularly high standard, there are little touches like the oesophagus behind dorsal to the trachea and the vocal cords being situated in the latter, and of course the gastric juices. The scale of the dinosaur is far too big and it’s unlikely to have followed the actual anatomy, much of which would in any case be unknown, but it does correspond quite closely to human anatomy in a fairly sketchy way.

Since my current project, the novel ‘1934’, is partly set in 22nd century Cricklewood, after much of Greater London is underwater or a radioactive wasteland after the use of dirty bombs in 2051, I’ve decided to include a couple of ‘Goodies’ references, including a giant race of mutant cats living in the former Post Office Tower. I can’t push things too far because it would become too derivative and in any case the realism of the series is practically non-existent, unlike its surrealism which is turned up to eleven. The cats in the City are only 120 centimetres long, unlike Twinkle who was around four dozen times that length. That said, watching this episode did set me thinking that I might decide that there are recreated non-avian dinosaurs who have gone feral and are roaming the streets of North London in search of sustenance, maybe in the form of giant kittens, maybe not. Note that just because I’m thinking about this kind of thing, it doesn’t mean I think it should happen or that I want it to. It would in fact be most unethical, but that doesn’t stop it from being interesting to speculate how it might happen.

I read Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel ‘Jurassic Park’ before it was made into a film and took it rather more seriously than I should’ve. I saw it as a kind of ecological parable about tinkering with the natural order of things and the abuse of biotechnology. It probably does address such themes, but the issue of whether the park is a sustainable chaotic system is emphasised more strongly, and the way it fails is presumably an illustration of the catastrophe. I’ve seen the first film and of course the CGI is spectacular, particularly for the time, but there is a strange issue with both the film and the novel. The Velociraptors in both are actually much more like Deinonychi, and it seems trivially simple just to call them Deinonychi, except possibly for the name being less cool, which may be why that decision was made. Real Velociraptors were like this:

By Fred Wierum – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63257512

and they were this big:

By Matt Martyniuk – self-made, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=917946

To be fair to Crichton, although even at the time he was describing Deinonychi and calling them Velociraptors, he wasn’t to know they were covered in feathers, as were many other dinosaurs at the time. This brings up the peculiarly transient depiction of dinosaurs in popular culture, and as far as I know the non-avian dinosaurs of the film are fossilised in this form, which brings up the peculiar phenomenon of nostalgia for the dinosaurs of my youth and makes me sound older than I really am.

The other well-known implausibility of ‘Jurassic Park’ is the way the dinosaurs are recreated – by sampling dinosaur DNA from mosquito-drawn blood preserved in amber. In actual fact, amber wouldn’t preserve DNA well enough to do that over 66 million years or more, and of course in the novel the gaps are plugged with frog DNA, which is what leads to the problem because it means the dinosaurs change sex and are able to reproduce, which is what some frogs do if they’re in a single-sex environment. Crichton fully acknowledges in the novel that his “dinosaurs” are not real dinosaurs but artificially created beasts, and perhaps rule of cool means they would end up being made as shrink-wrapped and scaly as opposed to what dinosaurs back in the day were really like, say, with wattles, feathers and the like. There’s also an interesting parallel between the marketability of the in-universe dinosaurs and their real world cinematic marketability, but maybe that’s not for here.

Although actual dinosaur DNA is not usefully preserved in amber, actual bits of dinosaur are, such as their tails. This is a famously preserved dinosaur tail from 99 million years ago, and unsurprisingly it’s covered in feathers. It should be emphasised that only some later dinosaurs were feathered, and that ironically the ornithischian – “bird-hipped” – dinosaurs probably weren’t whereas the saurischians – “lizard-hipped” – were, the latter including birds.

I have of course covered the subject of dinosaur recreation before on here, and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. In that post the idea was to reassemble a dinosaur genome from their closest living relatives, who are of course tinamous and ghavials. Since I wrote that post, I’ve undergone a bit of a paradigm shift and this was particularly visited upon me last night, when I sat down in front of David Attenborough’s new series, ‘Perfect Planet’. One of the scenes showed lesser flamingos breeding in a dried up alkaline lake in East Afrika and their chicks getting picked off by marabou storks. Obviously I felt for the members of both species, and being vegan it strikes me that all this stuff still must go on between species who have to do it to survive, cannot afford to have a conscience and therefore haven’t evolved the capacity to care, but at the same time it reminded me of the scene in ‘The Ballad Of Big Al’, a Christmas episode of ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ which showed a fight for survival between Allosauri and Diplodoci, except that that was CGI and would’ve happened around 150 million years ago whereas this was twenty-first century dinosaur-on-dinosaur action in the real world. I can not currently look at larger birds without seeing that they’re dinosaurs, and since in this case no flight was involved and it was happening in the tropics it seemed all the more reminiscent. Getting back to my point, made previously in the linked post, it’s probable that an entire Mesozoic dinosaur genome still exists in the form of isolated alleles throughout the birds, and that it’s in its most complete form in the most basal birds, such as tinamous, magpie geese and perhaps guinea fowl.

My proposal with reference to ‘1934’ is that most of a Mesozoic dinosaur’s genome is reassembled from those of ratites, mainly tinamous and ostriches, and also basal (“primitive”) Galloanserae such as magpie geese and guinea fowl. This is then modified with some artistic licence on the part of the genetic designers to produce an oviraptor-like dinosaur. The caenagnathids are a surprising apparent family of dinosaur who aren’t usually counted as birds but are uncannily similar to them, although flightless. They have very parrot-like heads with crests, and the largest known, Gigantoraptor, was almost nine metres long and weighed 2.7 tonnes. It’s very tempting to use Gigantoraptor herself in this setting, but I don’t know that a two and a half tonne omnivore, for so they were it seems judging by the size and shape of their beaks, would be able to survive in post-apocalyptic North London and I may have to look for a smaller example.

Gigantoraptors were this big:

. . . and looked like this:

By Nobu Tamura – (http://spinops.blogspot.com), CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19461342

I might go with something smaller. There’s also a potential climatic problem with Gigantoraptors in London, because they lived in hot deserts and I imagine they’d get pneumonia, hypothermia or something in Britain, even after the effects of global warming become apparent. Consequently I may not stick with them.

In any case, the scenario I imagine is as follows. Disregarding any moral qualms the likes of I might have, sometime in the mid-twentieth century scientists choose to recreate a caenognathid-like dinosaur, whom they then sell to the domestic market, including residential properties in London. You’d need a big garden for them, or maybe to take them for walks a lot. But a dinosaur is for life, not just for Christmas, and the novelty wears off, particularly when you realise they’re going to eat everything and poo everywhere, plus flail around and break the furniture (assuming they’re less than nine foot tall anyway – otherwise they’d probably just stay outside and trash the garden shed or the swing set or whatever). When you do take them out for walks, certain issues arise and people get litigious. You can get dinosaur insurance but most people can only afford third party, fire and theft or something, so a lot of them get abandoned. Then comes the fateful day in 2051 when heavy-handed troublemakers, to use MacGyver’s wonderful phrase, decide to assault a royal wedding crowd with dirty and suitcase bombs and end up making central London as hospitable as Chernobyl. During the supervening rapid evacuation, many pet dinosaurs get abandoned and cannot be recovered by anyone due to the radioactivity, and they proceed to go forth into the streets of Cricklewood and Ealing and multiply with one another (most were made sterile but there are occasional slip-ups) and London ends up with a population of feral dinosaurs of the old-school style. I can absolutely see this happening. It also neatly encapsulates a later ‘Goodies’ reference to Bill Oddie being kept as a pet, given as a Christmas present and later abandoned.

The trouble with the novel, to be honest, is that it seems to have too many interesting incidental stories to include without making it ungainly. They may of course also be ridiculous but I don’t have the kind of inner critic to detect that, so I’ll probably end up just writing this as a story in its own right and be done with it. But there it is anyway, thoroughly spoilt if you read it some day.

I’m Still European

The pro-EU pressure group Devon for Europe has recently produced a decal, if that’s the word, for one’s FB profile pic reading “Still European”. I have considered adding this to my own photo on there, and of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that it isn’t enough just to do that and it needs to be part of something bigger, almost regardless of the issue. On the other hand, it probably encourages people to see that they’re not alone and of course not everyone can actually see. On a third hand, there are other issues, so maybe it’s more than three hands.

I sometimes blog because I have too much to say for social media and don’t want to subject people to walls of text, and this is what I’m doing here. It also allows people to ignore it more politely if I’ve just put it together as a blog post which will be linked to from Twitter, FB or whencever but needn’t be followed, reacted to or commented upon without making one feel starved of attention. The issue of how capitalism and social media, and online interaction generally, have affected most people’s psychology is another thing upon which I won’t be directly commenting here, but there is still an issue with decals which I think, as a non-Quaker who is nonetheless sympathetic with their ideals, may clash with Quaker values.

The problem with decals, slogans on T-shirts, badges and the rest is that they can end up not only being a form of slacktivism but also make one issue seem more important than others which are still relevant and as important. It’s very like the Protestant attitude to sin, that they are all equal – they can’t be categorised into venial and mortal sins as I understand Roman Catholics would. To be honest, I do believe that some deeds or omissions of action are worse than others, but there is a whole world of important issues which need to be addressed, and addressed deeply. Consequently I rarely add much to my Facebook profile pic and for quite some time now I haven’t worn slogan T-shirts when they’re about a specific social or similar issue. Casting my mind back, I’ve worn clothing expressing my opposition to blood sports, support for vegetarianism, membership of a Greenpeace supporters’ group, CND and opposition to apartheid. Most of this was when I was younger. There’s a secondary issue here in the fact that however you present yourself, you make some kind of statement, even if you attempt to make a kind of blank statement, and this applies more to clothing and other accoutrements than anything else. Quakers have, in the past at least, tried to address this through plain dress, which is part of their testimony of simplicity, although I’m not sure how much it applies today. To quote George Fox:

Friends, keep out of the vain fashions of the world; let not your eyes, minds, and spirits run after every fashion (in attire) of the nations; for that will lead you from the solid life into unity with that spirit that leads to follow the fashions of the nations, after every fashion of apparel that gets up: but mind that which is sober and modest, and keep to your plain fashions, that you may judge the world’s vanity and spirit, in its vain fashions, and show a constant spirit in the truth and plainness.

I don’t do this of course, and I’m not a Quaker, but I do see the value of it and I did used to do something similar in the ’80s, although for me it would’ve meant jeans and T-shirt. Which reminds me – I used to have a ‘Run The World’ T-shirt, although nowadays that movement strikes me as well-intentioned but naïve. Actually it’s not that simple because there’s a tendency for people to strain at a gnat sometimes which could lead to people becoming discouraged and giving up on making the world better, and this can be more about self-righteousness than actual righteousness.

In terms of profile pics on social media, there’s a similar issue to plain dress and its opposite in terms of applying filters to one’s profile picture. I used to be FB friends with someone whose appearance always impressed me, until one day she changed her profile pic to one without a filter. She was still absolutely fine, but I felt cheated because she had never stated that she was in fact using filters before. This is the well-known problem of everyone else’s life looking better than one’s own because of how they curate how they come across in such places. And of course there’s the well-known Instagram #nofilter tag, which I always think of as an indictment of the whole culture of social media, because surely the assumption should be that one is not applying a filter, shouldn’t it? Posting an unaltered image should surely be assumed, not a point of pride, although here I’m thinking of pictures of people’s faces rather than scenery, and applying makeup, doing one’s hair, even choosing spectacle frames, are all meatspace filtering activities, so it’s nothing new.

Addressing this issue more widely, it would be nice if instead of seeing Facebook and other social media (obviously not all of them such as Instagram and YouTube) replete with images, we just had text, perhaps with emoji. I know I’m emotionally swayed and deceived by images. Unfortunately this can be quite difficult to achieve, because most versions of the text-only browser Lynx are not terribly useful nowadays owing to the fact that they don’t use HTTPS.

Decals have another questionable aspect to me which is more to do with the polarisation problem. It’s possible that emphasising certain issues would be divisive and push people away, and this could apply to “Still European”. There is usually going to be one group of people attracted by a decal and another group repelled by it, and a slogan doesn’t usually capture the long version of why you support a particular cause. You have to have the wall of text unless you’re really talented at brevity, and I’m not, hence this post.

Onto the actual issue, because this wasn’t supposed to be about all of that stuff up there but more the statement “I’m still European”. Yes, I am indeed still European. Being European isn’t something which one can really avoid being. In terms of ethnicity, if that’s the right word, the closest I can get to identifying with a particular category is to describe myself as Northwest European. Genetically, most of my genes are from Scotland, England, Scandinavia and what is now Eastern France, with interesting traces of Ashkenazi and Berber. But genetics are not what makes one European, or all the people with recent non-European ancestry would no longer count and they obviously do. When I say I’m European, I mean that I’m culturally so, not “biologically”. I am a White person from Northwest Europe. This brings up the issue of Celtic identity, of which I could theoretically partake, and I suppose that to some extent I do. For instance, I feel a sense of responsibility to preserving the G……àidhlig language by learning the bloody thing which I don’t feel towards, say, Navajo (which may not be particularly endangered, I’m not sure). But it’s been argued that Celtic identity is a bit of a mirage. Even in antiquity, the people referred to as Keltoi by the Greeks, for example, were more just the Europeans who weren’t Roman, Etruscan or whatever, rather than a specific group, and looking at it culturally, yes the Celts do share linguistic features in that their languages form a genetic group within Indo-European, but it may not go much further than that. Looking at it genetically, the concentration of certain similar groups of alleles in the so-called “Celtic Fringe” strikes me as being mainly to do with the people who moved furthest from their homeland for whatever reasons, and there could be several, and then got stuck because of the Atlantic Ocean. Tartan, or similar patterns, has been found at the opposite extreme outpost of ancient Indo-European culture among the Tocharians of Chinese Turkestan, and possibly also red hair.

Nonetheless I am Northwest European. I have a cultural affinity via my Protestant background, the fact that my first language is substantially Germanic and also the more recent tendency towards political liberalism, by which I mean the combination of support for libertarian socialism and the emancipation of those with unchangeable characteristics of their identity which lay them open to structural, institutional and overt prejudice such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and ability. Of course, this form of tolerance isn’t particularly characteristic of NW Europe, is also quite recent, and is also widespread in other cultural traditions, and where it isn’t this may be due to European imperialism, directly or indirectly. Nonetheless, to the extent that socialism and that form of liberalism do occur in NW Europe, particularly Scandinavia and the Low Countries, I identify with it as an honourable tradition, and I do believe in that and see it as part of my heritage, as is the criticism I feel I must apply to that idea.

There’s a more trivial sense in which I’m European. I was born in Europe, i.e. on its largest continental island Great Britain. So were my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. I am in fact extremely European in that sense, and it should be noted also that that “extreme” Europeanness also applies to the Muslims of Bosnia, the Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and the Sami, to pick a few marginalised examples. However, I do have some misgivings about this because in terms of physical geography Europe arguably doesn’t exist. It’s merely a particularly large Eurasian peninsula. There are issues with Eurasianism because of its connotations in Russia which tend to blur into nationalism in quite a negative way, but in terms of cosmopolitanism, we are also all Eurasian if we were born on this continent, and there’s a sense of hubris in asserting one’s Europeanness.

Hence I just am European, and this sentiment has also been expressed by Eurosceptics, and also by Boris Johnson, who is in a sense more of an opportunist than a bona fide Eurosceptic. In that sense I am indeed “still European”.

As well as all this though, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about the European Union, for two main reasons. One is that it covers an entire subcontinent and encourages trade across that region, which is ecologically not entirely wonderful. It isn’t better to make car parts in one part of the EU, ship them across to the opposite side of the area to build them into vehicles and then bring them back to the original locality to sell them, for example. On the other hand, it would probably be better for Kent to trade with Belgium than with the Outer Hebrides, or for the Six Counties to do so with the rest of Ireland than with East Anglia, so there is a positive aspect to the trade. The other is that the kind of economy favoured, for instance in the Lisbon Treaty, is international big business capitalism. And the problem with Brexit is not that it gets us out of the EU, but that it does so in terms which further encourage that and global trade at the expense of more local trade, so somehow the potential positives of leaving the EU are lost and once again a problem emerges from a solution.

I would be happy to remain in the EU if it was literally a subcontinent-wide federal democratic superstate with the capital at Brussels. Nothing would please me more than to elect an MP like my local MP, but who sat in a building in Belgium. But that isn’t what the EU is, sadly. One of the good things about the EU was that it allowed freedom of movement in the Schengen Area, without passports, but the UK opted out of that, which at time seemed like the only positive thing about the organisation to me. It’s also the case that the British state is a pretty dodgy organisation to get involved in, but I have of course been involved in it, having been a member of and campaigned on behalf of various different political parties.

Therefore, yes I’m still European. I’d be more enthusiastically European in the sense of being pro-EU if I could feel confident that it could have open borders for the free movement of people, including non-Europeans, and if it didn’t have a systemic and constitutional bias towards encouraging multinational corporations and ecologically unsound practices. But I wouldn’t feel right using the decal because I can imagine it pushing people away, and in Quaker-like manner, I wouldn’t want to prioritise that issue above various others.

“Ye Olde Worlde”

When i lived in Canterbury there used to be a bridge between the shopping centre and the multi-storey car park, on which there was a coffee shop. This described itself as “Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe”, using black letter (also known as Gothic). Since I could remember it being built, it didn’t really deserve that monicker, but one thing which used to bother me slightly about it was not being able to tell if the word “coffee” had really earned those E’s. Did it imply the isolated word “coffe” or should it actually be “coffeee” with three E’s? After a year or so I made my peace with the place, but I don’t think it’s there any more because that part of the town has been radically rebuilt.

This is the point at which I wonder, as I so often do, if I’m just telling you all stuff you already know, but here goes anyway. The title of this blog post is “Ye Olde Worlde”, a phrase which is often pronounced as “Yee oldee wurldee” and is faintly jocular, or rather, used to be but has now shrivelled and is used to refer to things which are kind of faux mediaeval and “Merrie England”-y, along with the black letter font or calligraphic hand. It looks like this:

I’m not sure if people know thisses origin or grammatical significance, so I’m just going to state the obvious. Starting with the Black Letter font, this is used to create a kind of mediaeval feel to it. In terms of the history of the calligraphic style itself, sometimes known as “Gothic”, very inaccurately but thereby hangs a tale too, this hand is actually late mediaeval and associated with the Perpendicular style of architecture. Its purpose is partly to save parchment, vellum or paper, and it kind of resembles the style of cathedral and church of the time it was used. Prior to that, Latin script had gone through various styles and for quite some time previously was written using Insular Uncial and Half-Uncial in these isles, and in fact still was printed in that way in Ireland in some contexts into my own lifetime. The reason it’s called “Gothic” is that the period after the fall of Rome, when the Goths sacked the city, now known as the Dark and Middle Ages, used to be called that. The word “Gothic” has drifted far from its original meaning in the intervening centuries because it later became associated with Gothic horror, then through that with a youth subculture, so that now we refer to the sadly lamented Sophie Lancaster by the same word we use for an Eastern Germanic tribe. This is further confused by the fact that the Goths had their own alphabet, which was an uncial version of Greek with a few repurposed and extra letters taken from runes.

Speaking of runes, the “Ye” in the above uses the letter thorn. English used to have several extra letters for sounds absent from Vulgar Latin, several of which are still used in modern Icelandic. These were “þ”, “ð”, “ƿ”, “æ” and “ȝ”, and there is also “œ”, which is used in words of Latin and possibly French origin. As a child I was used to the two vowels being used in words like “encyclopædia” and “fœtus”, partly because I used to read a lot of old books, and I use some of them in writing partly because it makes it faster. There are also short forms of words such as “the” and “that” based on them, so just as one might use the ampersand, so might one use these. Thorn, the first one, is the most common of the consonantal ones, and when that short form is used, it’s written like a Y with an E above it, which is, as I suspect everyone knows, why we write “ye” for “the”. It was of course never pronounced “yee”. The names for these letters are thorn, eth, wynn, aesc (“ash”) and yogh. Yogh occasionally leaves its mark in place names such as Kirkgunzeon, whose Z was originally that letter. Yogh was used to write what is today written “GH”, when it was an actual English phoneme. I use these letters when I’m in a hurry and writing notes, otherwise I write like anyone else would, kind of.

Wynn is now written W, eth is the voiced equivalent of thorn, which implies that there was a time when “the” was pronounced using the TH sound in “thing” rather than “thou” (as was “thou”), and aesc is just the Southern vowel sound in “that”. Clearly it could be confusing to have three letters which all look like P, so I can understand the logic of dispensing with thorn, but there were other reasons for getting rid of wynn and thorn – they were runes and had a kind of pagan feel to them to some people. But it was the Norman Conquest that did for them in the end, though it took centuries. Even Elizabethan handwriting used thorn in abbreviations. Wynn is harder to explain because Latin already used U and V for the sound, and I can only think that this means that by the time Latin script was introduced to England in 597, V had started to be pronounced as a different sound, possibly /v/.

The other thing is the extraneous E’s. The letter E often occurs after adjectives in particular positions in “Olde English”-type writing today to create an archaic feel. This is in fact a hangover of the common practice in continental Germanic languages such as Swedish and Dutch to inflect adjectives, a process at its most complex in German and Icelandic among surviving languages and possibly also Yiddish, which I can’t currently recall. Middle English adjectives take an -e when they occur before a plural noun or after a demonstrative adjective, possessive pronoun or definite article, and occasionally as the dative case (expressing the recipient of an action, as in “I give thee a redde flag”, as opposed to “I threw a red flag”). This only occurs with adjectives which don’t already end in vowels.

As for “worlde”, there’s simply no reason for there to be an E at the end and it isn’t historic. Although Kentish used to have “wordle” and there was also “werlde”, there has never been “worlde”. When it was spelt with an O, it simply ended in D. “Shoppe”, on the other hand, might have existed, because it’s from the French “eschoppe”, which originally meant “porch” and was taken from Frankish.

What strikes me as odd about all this is that far from indicating some isolationist view of “Merrie England” as she was in the Good Olde Dayes, this actually indicates how many connections English has with the rest of Europe. The alphabet itself is Italian, thorn is from runes which were originally kind of Austrian, the extra E’s are remnants of continental Germanic and Black Letter is how much of continental Europe used to write and print up until the early twentieth century. Hence it isn’t really English at all, or rather it is, but it’s just as much “foreign” because everything is foreign.

Norwegian Blue

The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ is a song about a lesbian, the implication being that Norwegian wood is poor quality pine which looks good but is more suitable as firewood than timber. The implications of this song are potentially dodgy to twenty-first century ears, particularly as the narrator decides to burn her house down once “this bird had flown”, but if you tolerate ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ this song will be next and it might be better to have a sense of humour about it. When I sing the song, I jokingly translate the line “Norwegian wood” as “skog”. This doesn’t actually mean wood as in substance, but in the sense of a forest, but this distinction will be lost on West Germanic language speakers who are unfamiliar with continental Scandinavian languages because they have a life. The Nynorsk word for the actual substance is “trevirke” and the Bokmål is “treverk”.

But there is another much more Pythonesque bird which may or may not have flown: the Norwegian Blue of Parrot Sketch fame. It isn’t entirely clear why they chose the Norwegian Blue, although it might be to indicate that the shopkeeper is just making stuff up to sell things and it’s all part of the poor customer service. Parrots are of course not currently found in Norway and do not pine for the fjords. Strictly speaking of course, paradoxes (as opposed to parrotdoxes) of material implication mean that precisely because they don’t exist, they do pine for the fjords, but I don’t want to get too distracted here. No, what I want to focus on is the following set of questions: could there ever have been a Norwegian Blue parrot and would such a parrot have had fjords to pine for? That is, were parrots ever native to Scandinavia, did the area now referred to as Norway exist at the time if they were and would they have been blue? My conclusion, which I will have reached in a characteristically circumlocutory manner, is that there may well once have been a Norwegian Blue Parrot, and that of those three words the most problematic is the first, even though they could well have lived in Scandinavia. I’ll start with colour.

Vertebrates are often very colourful, birds often being a good example of that. However, there’s a telling distribution of colour among different species which has various implications. Many bony coral reef fish are unsurprisingly vivid, with a wide range of colours. Many amphibians, particularly tailless ones, are green, and in fact it may even be that all living amphibians are fluorescent green when exposed to blue light. Some of them are actually bright blue themselves, notably one of the poison arrow frogs Azureus. Reptiles (who either don’t exist or include hummingbirds – lizards, tuataras, crocodiles, alligators, tortoises and the like) tend to be quite dull, if I recall correctly, although many are bright green. Among birds themselves, a subset of reptiles if you insist reptiles exist, there’s a whole range of colours, and I’ll come back to that. Mammals also tend to be quite dull, although there are many exceptions such as my own eyes, a mandrill’s bum, red and orange fur and hair, tiger stripes and the very slightly green ringtail and vervet monkey, and also the considerably greener sloths, who however are green because of the algae in their fur. But there are no bright green or bright blue mammals. There are two practical reasons for this and a number of other explanations connected to fitness. Chief among these is that excluding haemoglobin, which does come up as a colouring pigment in some situations such as the skins of Caucasian humans and the uakari monkey, melanin is the only pigment employed in mammalian skin and hair. This isn’t a huge disadvantage because a wide range of colours is available from just melanin, including brown, orange and blue, but although mandrill’s buttocks, human irises and dolphin’s naked skins can all be blue, even bright blue, fur can’t be. This is because mammalian fur is made of alpha keratin, which is a monofilament fibre. Away from alpha keratin, for example in my iris, blueness can be fairly easily attained in the same way as the cloudless daytime sky seems to look clear blue to many people (not to me but that’s another story) – through Rayleigh scattering, where the shorter wavelengths of light hitting small opaque particles are more likely to be scattered, and so appear blue. This is known as structural colour.

Incidentally, there are two closely related species of fish which have genuine blue pigment, but these are unique among vertebrates.

Birds are often different because their feathers tend to include a different kind of protein referred to as beta keratin. This is able to form more complex structures than mammalian fur, as can be seen from their flight feathers. One of the things they can do which mammals can’t is produce bubble-like structures of melanin within the hairs and sheets which are close together and reflect the light in a special way. This is how birds manage to have blue feathers. They may also have access to other pigments, such as the carotenoids we use to make visual pigments in our retinae and which colour the likes of tomatoes, many carrots, red and yellow peppers and the like. Cardinal birds, for example, are red in the same way that tomatoes are red. This is a bit odd, because humans are notoriously able to go orange in certain circumstances, sometimes due to carotenoid overdose or underactive thyroids, or due to jaundice of course, but for some reason mammals never seem to use carotenoids to make themselves red, orange or yellow even though they could. They can’t incorporate them in their hairs though, so for a hairy or furry mammal this is a moot point. This is by contrast with many birds, including for example pink flamingos, but even birds can’t make the pigment themselves but have to get it in food. Carotenoids as pigments become important in courtship, as they are used visually to attract mates and their absence, as found for example in some captive flamingos who are often white due to deficiency, means that there’s something less than ideal about them, which is off-putting for birds in the same way as poor skin might be for some humans looking for a partner.

This use of carotenoids also means that albino birds are frequently not actually white because they can still incorporate the colours in their feathers, although they can’t use melanin. They can also mix colours subtractively. As mentioned in my post on colour spaces, in subtractive colour but not additive, it’s roughly true that blue and yellow make green, and birds use this to generate green plumage. Yellow carotenoids in otherwise structurally blue feathers would cause them to look green by reflective light, although they wouldn’t look green if seen by sunlight shining through them. Hence a Norwegian Blue parrot, like any other kind of blue bird, would be blue by virtue of structural colour on the more complex feathers alone.

At the end of the Cretaceous, shortly before the non-avian dinosaurs died out, there only seem to have been relatively few families of birds of the kind surviving today, mainly ratites (ostriches, emus, kiwis, cassowaries and the like), game birds and water fowl. Although there were many other types of bird, these all died out. Apart from anything else, the Chicxulub Impactor seems to have ended up destroying most of the tree cover, leaving birds who needed them to die out. Game birds, water fowl and ratites are all ground or water birds, and are probably fairly representative of the kinds of birds who were around at the time. These three clades have a number of things in common. For instance, whereas ducklings, goslings and cygnets can swim, ratite chicks can also do so, suggesting a common origin as water birds. Another thing they have in common is that they can only use carotenoids to colour their bills, legs and faces. Kiwis, for example, are brown, ostriches black and white and cassowaries have blue and red faces and necks but are otherwise dull coloured. Pheasants too have brightly-coloured red and blue heads but the rest of their bodies are brown, black and white. Jungle fowl have iridescent plumes but again no colours from carotenoids. Mallards and teals, and for that matter mandarin ducks, are all brightly coloured, but don’t derive those colours from carotenoids. Mallard and teal both have iridescent feathers for example.

All of this strongly suggests that the ability to include carotenoids in feathers didn’t evolve until after non-avian dinosaurs had died out, and the issue of structural colour is similar. This too doesn’t seem present in basal birds because their feathers are not sufficiently complex structurally to allow it to happen. All of the ratites, including the most primitive examples the tinamous, have quite dull-coloured feathers. Consequently, blue birds probably didn’t exist in the Mesozoic. But we need there to be a Norwegian Blue, so the next question to ask is: what about parrots?

Parrots are relatively advanced birds who didn’t exist until around 59 million years ago. They probably evolved in Gondwana, which was the Southern supercontinent which later broke up into Afrika, South America, Australia, Antarctica and the Indian subcontinent, because they’re most diverse in the southern regions. However, this is not reflected in the fossil record and most of the oldest definite parrot fossils are from the Northern Hemisphere, because of course many birds can fly. Consequently there were European parrots, and a bone has been found in Denmark which may be from a parrot although it also looks quite like an ibis bone. There are older parroty bones from before the end of the Mesozoic but they seem to be from non-avian but parrot-like dinosaurs called oviraptosaurs. Some of these were enormous and I’ll return to them in future because I believe they occupy a special position among dinosaurs. As I’ve mentioned before on here, there are often various bird-like features scattered among other dinosaurs, in particular feathers but also the likes of duck bills, crests and hollow bones. Birds are merely where all of those things come together. Roughly fifty million years ago there were definitely English and German members of the parrot order, and since the British Isles have intermittently been part of the continent, it doesn’t really stretch credulity that far to suppose that there would’ve been Scandinavian parrots. However, the birds in question are not true parrots. The British parrot, found in London, is called Pulchrapollia gracilis, on whom information can be found here. From this reconstruction, which may of course be unrealistic, the bird in question looks quite dull, and as has been mentioned before this is probably quite realistic.


Aotearoan (New Zealander) parrots are unusual. Not only is there the mossy rock-like kakapo, but there is also the kea, found in the Southern Alps. This is the only alpine parrot, and as such it might be expected to give one hope for the onetime existence of the Norwegian Blue. However, Aotearoa has been colonised by a relatively small number of species who were able to get there and the fact that in that fairly non-biodiverse environment kea found themselves an ecological niche could be pretty irrelevant. Also, back when there were native parrots in London, London’s climate, and probably Scandinavia’s, was tropical and highly suitable for the kind of birds we think of as parrots, although they may not yet have evolved by that time. Kea are greenish, rather dull-coloured birds, but even here in temperate England there are many brightly-coloured species of bird. Aotearoa also has fjords, so if there’s any kind of parrot at all who found herself pining for the fjords today it would be one from those islands, if they’re native to the Fjordland.

This raises the next point: What is Norway? On today’s political maps, continental Norway seems to consist significantly of a narrow strip of fjord land stretching south from Tromsø until the bulky bit nearest Scotland, and this is of course because of the ice ages. Prior to that, it, Scotland and Aotearoa would all have had a relatively smooth coastline, so the question arises of whether Eocene Scandinavia actually even had a Norway as we understand it today. That said, it does seem that during the Eocene, during which the sea levels were much higher than today because it was so warm and there was no permanent polar ice, Norway did already exist. Hence there was a Norway, kind of.

To answer the questions then: yes, parrots probably were once native to Scandinavia although they may not have been parrots as we know them today; yes, there could have been a Scandinavian parrot with blue plumage, achieved by structural colouration although parrots could also have been quite drab-looking back then and the tropical climate may have little bearing on that fact; and finally, no, it would not have pined for the fjords because at the time the Norwegian landscape, although it did exist, did not include fjords. And I would also say one last thing. At the time, the Norwegian mountains which dominate the country today would’ve been even higher and there might have been a bird like the kea, although I suspect it would’ve had more competition than in Aotearoa and therefore not have had a chance to evolve.

To conclude then, yes, there may once have been a Norwegian Blue.

A Popular Culture Mars Bar

This entry is only kind of about ‘The Goodies’ as an illustration of the relationship between the past and the present, and particularly values and memory.

I want to start with what I might call human nature. Existentialism notwithstanding, I do think there is currently such a thing as human nature. There is a sense in which we’re not constrained by our basic biology, in that we are cultural and technological beings, and in particular language users. The fact that we have lived with being cultural and tool-using language users is very likely to have influenced our genetic evolution. Examples that spring to mind are that we are physically weaker than other animals of our size because we can use weapons other than teeth and claws, that we are in a sense predisposed to use language from birth in that we have particularly good fine control of our speech organs and hands, that many of us retain the ability to digest milk past infancy and, a more recent example, some of us have narrower pelvises which would previously have been weeded out via death in childbirth because C-sections which don’t kill the mother are now commonplace. Yesterday’s post also attempted to make the point that we are constrained to perceive pink in a particular way, partly culturally (it’s stereotypically feminine) but also because of our currently prevailing anatomy and physiology, which entails, for example, that there’s no such thing as “infrapink” for us because our sensory apparatus constrains us from extending our conceptual network in that way. It has other consequences. For instance, we perceive certain foods as spicy because they stimulate pain, cold or heat receptors or stimulate local circulation, but until we, or often another organism, interacts with something like horseradish or an aeolid nudibranch sea slug, that “heat” (which is in fact closer to cold in some cases, such as peppermint but also mustard), that “fact” isn’t really true, in the “if a tree falls in a forest” kind of way. Looking back into the past and taking yesterday’s robin’s egg blue as an example, it turns out that non-avian dinosaurs also used to lay teal eggs, perhaps making it easier for a parent to sort between their own eggs and those of other species in a nest, and also apparently as a signal to the parents that the mother was healthy and therefore that the offspring would be favoured. At that time, our ancestors and their kin probably had poor eyesight compared to the dinosaurs in question, so that quale (an experienced quality or property) was only present in the minds of dinosaurs and perhaps never in the minds of any of our direct ancestors during the Mesozoic. Then again, it might help an egg-eating mammal to identify food, so maybe they could see it, although they may not have been our direct ancestors.

I certainly have the impression that over most of the history of our species, nothing much changed for us over the period of a couple of lifetimes. Thinking in terms of surviving grandparents and grandchildren and rather generously allowing for a quarter-century generation time, one would generally be born into a situation where living memory extended half a century backwards from the moment of that birth (from a wide-pelvised mother) and anticipation of the future would be invested largely in the lifetime of one’s grandchildren, maybe a century and a half into one’s future. It could be longer than that, but there’s a kind of window of awareness, certainly in communities without literacy and therefore the kind of communities which have existed over most of the history of our species and its predecessors, which extends over a maximum of around two centuries. My face to face experience of relatives allows me to be aware of the experience of family members back into late Victorian times and anticipate my grandchild’s future extending into the early twenty-second century. Technology such as photography and gene sequencing has enabled me to extend that much further, in that I have photographs of ancestors who were born in Georgian times, and at least for wealthier families this is probably true of many people in today’s richer countries. This brings up the question of change.

Social, cultural and technological change seems to have been very gradual over most of the history of our species. There were of course major changes during people’s lifetimes such as epidemics, famines, wars and religious changes. The Protestant Reformation and the earlier spread of evangelising faiths, for example, would have been very significant for many people’s lives in the last two or three millennia. However, this may not be long enough to have significant consequences for our genes. There is a hypothesis that Ashkenazim are more intelligent than average because of the pressures on their communities in mediaeval Europe, but although that pressure was major and in terms of recorded history very long-lasting, it doesn’t seem to be long enough or severe enough to have that kind of impact. I say this as someone who with a short segment of coding DNA from presumably Ashkenazic ancestors which I do believe has given me a few psychological traits such as certain aspects of my neurodiversity, but the question of what caused them to be selected for is unclear. It’s also the case that family members tend to have relationships with Jewish people, and I don’t understand why that would tend to happen but may be significant, not so much for us but in terms of how a community might become more genetically distinct over time.

The quality of change has itself changed. Previously, significant changes in people’s lives would have included things like natural disasters, famines, epidemics and struggles between tribes, and here of course I’m projecting backwards, but they would probably have been things which have “always” been with us, or if they weren’t (such as certain diseases resulting from changes in lifestyle or migration, or the start and end of an ice age), would have come to impinge on their lives so slowly that they would still have seemed constant. What we have now is what Alvin Toffler called Future Shock, although it extends far back into history. The rapid social change brought on by the advance of European empires and the Industrial Revolution aren’t exactly new, but they probably would count as something like future shock.

It’s notable that when you look back on British history during the last couple of centuries, change of a newer kind seems to accelerate. Two identifiable changes in the nineteeenth century are the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The former began in the middle of the nineteenth century and ended around 1920, and the latter lasted from 1848 until about 1900. Hence someone living to the age of seventy born between about 1830 and 1885 in the right social setting would have been familiar with Arts and Crafts and the Pre-Raphaelites for a considerable portion of their life, perhaps even most of it. It’s fairly telling that in Britain the first decade of the twentieth century is referred to as the Edwardian Era more often than “the 1900s”, which to me at least is also ambiguous. Up until that point, periods of history for us had tended to be parcelled up into the reigns of monarchs, so we have Victorian times, Georgian times, the Elizabethan Era and so forth. Change was measured in terms of lifetimes rather than mere decades. Although the significance of the Great War can’t be overestimated, the first actual decades referred to as significant time periods seem to be the Gay Nineties, also known as the Mauve Decade, and the Roaring Twenties. More recently, change has been such that the early and later parts of decades are quite distinct, and perhaps even the early, middle and late parts, which strictly speaking would only amount to 1220-odd days each. On the other hand, there’s also the suggestion that change is slowing down rather than accelerating, but I’ll come back to that some other time.

It wouldn’t be surprising that a species which evolved in a world likely to change only very slowly would bring that legacy into a rapidly-changing world in various ways. I’m aware of the distinctly middle-class way I’m writing about this, incidentally, but I think it’s probably worth talking about things in a relatively non-threatening context before I move onto something bigger. This idea should be stated clearly, although I don’t necessarily agree with it. We have evolved in a world which changed so gradually it wouldn’t really be noticeable over the lifetimes of most individuals. There would have been great personal change in those lives, such as births, marriages and deaths, maturing and ageing and perhaps an increase in wisdom or cynicism, but the background of these changes would be largely either constant or change in ways which were somewhat comparable to more distant historical changes. Therefore, it appears to make sense that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, in the sense that humans do better in societies which don’t change much. In such circumstances, certain practices and customs would tend to appear in what looks like a kind of organic process, very like the evolution of the English language. To my mind, this basically is the philosophical foundation of old style political conservatism, and as such it makes me uneasy that I can understand it. Then again, given current polarisation and failure to listen, it’s probably a good thing that I can.

As I’ve said, this is from a middle class perspective, and as such I’ve been relatively insulated from the kind of social change which would cause me major life problems. I’ve never worked in a factory for example, and that non-existent factory where I worked has never been taken over by a larger company or been closed down due to automation or jobs being moved overseas, so I have the luxury of the absence of praxis. Nonetheless, I’m as vulnerable as anyone else is to Douglas Adams’s analysis of life stages into what’s in the world before you’re born being a natural part of how the world works, what changes between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five being new and revolutionary and what begins after the age of thirty-five being against the natural order of things. In fact, I may even have these skewed to a younger age than average. A good example is found in IT. I understand the imperative, procedural programming paradigm pretty well and am used to a command line interface. Object-oriented programming and graphical user interfaces are respectively completely black boxes where code just hangs around and a load of unnecessary flim-flam which eats up memory and processing power. I have a dream of a computer with a text-only interface and a keyboard which can nonetheless be used to access social media and the web more generally, and never bothers with graphics or multimedia, and in fact I honestly believe such a device would be very useful because it would circumvent the persuasive power of images, particularly moving ones with sound, and probably really help the user stay in touch with reality. It’s notable that you simply can’t use a text-based browser such as Lynx to access Facebook via Windows, but in fact I’d like it a whole lot better if it all looked like a monochrome version of Teletext. This is clearly just me. But it’s notable that Teletext came on the scene in the mid-1970s and even then it was in colour, so as I said, the temporal skew for me is considerable. It’s also manifested in my fake inability to take the idea that there are years after 1984 at all seriously. Clearly that is a joke but as usual it has a core of truth to it.

When we try to think about the past, we probably should be wary of how it’s represented to us and how we represent it ourselves, and this brings me back to the question of ‘The Goodies’, mainly as a symbol of the past of popular culture. ‘The Goodies’ is like a Mars Bar. The economic significance of a Mars bar is considerable. Monetary inflation is not as clear-cut as it appears because the relative cost of different things goes up and down a lot. IT provides a particularly stark example. The Cray-1 supercomputer had a 80 MHz 64-bit processor, 8.39 Mb of RAM and 303 Mb of backing storage, was released in 1975 and cost nearly eight million US dollars, or 33 million in today’s money, adjusted for inflation. However, this doesn’t mean you would be out of pocket by millions of dollars if you went out and bought a computer as powerful as a Cray-1 today. In fact you couldn’t even give such a computer away any more. Mars bars are relatively well-protected from such changes because it’s a “long established basket of staple commodities” and not prone to speculation. There are issues with Mars bars – I can’t remember but I think they may be one of those sweets which have shrunk without getting cheaper – but they’re relatively immune to speculation. Consequently it makes a lot of sense to think of the cost of other things in terms of how many Mars bars you could’ve bought with that money rather than in terms of pounds sterling or US dollars adjusted for inflation.

This is also the case with ‘The Goodies’ in terms of other values than monetary ones, although the occasional mention of prices in the series is of interest too. If the values you’re looking at are political, social and cultural, the ongoing contemporary topicality of the series is a good guide. The most obvious examples are racism, sexism and homophobia, although there are others. The mysterious amnesia regarding the series might well be due to how it might be perceived today, but there’s a problem with that attitude, summed up by Santayana’s famous quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Because history never repeats itself, in the sense that it will have the same general theme but a twist in the tail of some kind, this doesn’t mean that we need to be aware of the subjectively-perceived racism, sexism and homophobia of the past in order not to become more sexist, racist or homophobic today. It means, rather, that we are probably doing the same kind of things today completely innocently and in total ignorance, and we don’t know what they are or make excuses to ourselves. The last episode of the series was broadcast thirty-four days before the Argentinian flag was raised on South Georgia, which I perceive to be a major turning point in history, which changed things forever. The British government’s response to that act ended up ensuring a second victory for Margaret Thatcher, which radically altered most people’s attitudes in Britain. The series did end under a Thatcher government, and in fact refers to her a lot, but it’s also a candidate for being considered the most 1970s thing in history, rather like the Wombles as a pop band.

A few years ago, I turned this blog into a series of ‘Star Trek’ TOS reviews and went through the whole series. The way I feel right now, I’m strongly tempted to do the same thing with ‘The Goodies’, but then it wouldn’t be a box of chocolates any more. However, ‘The Goodies’ is itself kind of a box of chocolates, and if you’re of a certain age it may well have special significance to you.

I’m going to spend the rest of this blog responding to points made in a comment on the previous entry.

Yes, it is true that Alex Mitchell died laughing at Kung Fu Kapers on 24th March 1975, thereby missing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by seven months, but then he probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Mitchell was a bricklayer in his fifties who found the filmed scene of the bagpipe-based Scottish martial art so hilarious that he laughed non-stop for twenty-five minutes before expiring. It turns out he had a hereditary heart condition called long QT syndrome, where the heart takes a relatively long time to return to its electrical state at the beginning of the first heart sound. This is likely because he seems to have passed it on to his daughter. That said, this really is an example of fatal hilarity. What it probably indicates is that so many people found it funny that one of them died. His wife thanked the Goodies for making her husband’s last moments so happy. They considered capitalising on the incident for an episode but decided that would be going too far, which indicates that they had taste and limits. The impression I have in general is that they were attempting to pursue satirical, topical themes in a cartoonish way which necessitated caricature, and caricature practically just is stereotyping, so it’s not surprising they had so many stereotypes. Because their general aim is towards making people laugh rather than anything else, they had a tendency to run roughshod over things which had the potential to be offensive to certain groups, but there’s also a fluidity to that which could be lacking today. One thing I think the fatal hilarity incident does indicate is that they were very much tuned into the popular sense of humour at the time, and the emphasis there is on popular because that may well mean that certain minority groups were not included. Having said that, there is the issue of whether someone should learn to laugh at themselves. As a trans woman, I do have access to that in one way but maybe not the others. In particular, as I’ve said before I don’t find Tim Brooke-Taylor’s use of drag even slightly offensive, even though it is used to get a laugh at the expense of someone perceived as a man in a dress. I can’t extend this too far without treading on people’s toes, but I think this may be very significant, completely beyond the realm of the series itself.

Rolf Harris is a frequent target for the three, in particular in ‘Scatty Safari’ broadcast the week before. This is an interesting case. Rolf Harris is one of the best examples of a ’70s celebrity who has fallen from grace. I also think his case is interestingly and annoyingly different from Savile’s. The thing about Savile seems to have been that he knew where the bodies were buried, and many people found him very irritating and talentless even at the time. This makes it easier to view Savile as someone who is completely without merit. Now I do have a dog in this fight because of my English teacher who is now in prison for serial child sexual abuse who was also a great inspiration to me, and I am just not going to falsify my memory in that respect but remember him “complexly”, as the Green brothers say. Rolf Harris was irritatingly talented, so his reprehensible behaviour is all the more saddening because it was in the context of a man whose approach may not have been to my taste particularly but was nonetheless popular and in a sense earned. He is a target along with Tony Blackburn and Max Bygraves, among others. He also expressed an interest in being in that episode but wasn’t asked, and if he had appeared in it, it would probably have succumbed to damnatio memoriae. The Goodies never portrayed him in a positive light, although they were more poking fun at him than implying any kind of criticism. His representation on the series probably would be upsetting to his victims and their families because they don’t want to be reminded of their trauma, but that’s true of any representation at all. In ‘Scatty Safari’ he’s given the status of a non-human animal, particularly reminiscent of a giant panda, but the episode also attempts to make a point about invasive species in the second half, and this is significant. As I understand the process, the first half of most episodes was written by Graeme Garden and the second by Bill Oddie, who is of course now a wildlife presenter. Rolf Harris is basically a cane toad. Cane toads are Central and South American amphibians deliberately introduced into Queensland to control sugar cane beetles hard to control with pesticides in 1935, who not only didn’t control the beetles but also ate a lot of other species who were previously eaten by various Australian reptiles and the cat-like Northern quoll. In this episode, Rolf Harris is supposed to be an invasive alien species who wreaks havoc on the British environment. This then turns into ‘The Pied Piper Of Hamelin’, which is somewhat different. However, the episode, like many other episodes written by Bill Oddie, has the fingerprints of a future wildlife presenter all over it. This aspect shouldn’t be lost just because of him, and in fact if it is lost, it’s a further bit of damage he’s done.

The double disc which came out a few years ago attempts to focus on what the BBC seems to consider the best and least controversial episodes, i.e. the ones which have aged best. There are in fact two of these, plus the LWT series which was never subject to the odd neglect afflicting the BBC episodes. The LWT series, as I understand it, was simply released a few years after it was on like any other popular TV series, on VHS. The BBC released a couple of VHS tapes in the ’80s, one of which was ‘The Goodies And The Beanstalk’, and there were three from the first two series including ‘Kitten Kong’ and ‘The Beefeaters’ (which was the pilot) and then five episodes from season five including ‘Scatty Safari’ and ‘Kung Fu Kapers’. This is widely considered their peak, which is presumably why there are a number from this time. Another VHS volume included ‘Scoutrageous’ and ‘Earthanasia’, and finally from the BBC comes ‘Saturday Night Grease’ from 1980. I’m not sure where that fits in, nor do I know when all this happened, except that ‘The Goodies And The Beanstalk’ was in the ’80s. So it isn’t quite true. ‘Punky Business’, however, was skipped for some reason. As for DVDs, the earlier two sets of releases seem to be different in Australia, where the series is still popular and was far more so in the ’80s than today owing to it being more or less repeated on a loop by ABC to children with various naughty bits cut out, because it includes ‘Lighthouse Keeping Loonies’ which I think is absent from the British version. The second set seems to be identical in both countries and does include ‘Punky Business’. Both of these are “proper” DVD releases with commentaries, extras, storyboards and so on. Finally, there’s the BBC box set, which isn’t released by the BBC but another company in 2018, and includes everything that survives, including a couple of black and white episodes and one in which a fake “advert” is in black and white but the rest is in colour, presumably censored by the ABC. There is also an interesting phenomenon on Disc 11, where the disc video seems to falter after a particular few seconds which was censored by ABC which feels like it must be more than coincidence. There are no extras on the box set, the programme list is printed inside the case in a way which is hidden by the discs, the discs themselves stack awkwardly within the box and the series begin and end mid-disc with no attempt to sort them into separate sections. I don’t blame the distribution company for this because apparently it was a bit of a struggle to get them out at all and I presume the questionable quality is linked to this, but it seems somehow typical of the peculiar attitude taken by the BBC to the series that it should have suffered in this way.

I think it’s true that the humour on the two smaller releases is not offensive to contemporary tastes, but they almost seem to have been chosen for their very non-offensiveness, which might be why they come across as a bit lame. The problem is that the edgy humour goes with the offensiveness, and it seems to me that the reason it took so long to get to see these (I think there was a protracted campaign to make this happen but I’m not sure) was that the public are no longer trusted to react sensibly to things and that certain people in the BBC were embarrassed and cautious about what would happen if they saw the light of day. This country seems to have a knack of forgetting its history, for good or ill, so maybe it’s not surprising that the BBC, as a representative of this country, does that as well.

The point about Sartre is a good illustration of how these things might go awry, and also relevant to my current novel (see the comment on the previous Goodies post if you like). «Les chemins de la liberté» is an incomplete series of novels by Jean-Paul Sartre which was adapted into a drama series on BBC2 originally broadcast in 1970 and repeated in 1977. Unlike much of Sartre, I haven’t read them because I concentrated on German rather than French philosophy in my postgraduate work and I make a point of reading texts in their original languages wherever possible. It sounds to me like there’s a connection with the writing of Jean Genet, but that’s just a guess. Now I have to say that Sartre annoys me because so far as I can tell he found the idea of respecting other people tiresome, and he also seems to have a habit of shoehorning his philosophy into whatever he happens to want to do at the time as a kind of unnecessary garnish on top of things, but my understanding of the issue here is that the portrayal of a homosexual character is considered contentious by the BBC and that the exposure would stir up controversy. I would say this about the representation of queerness in the mainstream media of the ’70s: whereas queerness is encoded as villainy in many cases, particularly by Disney, and alternately as a source of humour in many others, and often as disgusting, it’s an important part of queer history that this happened and although it may be perceived as offensive by younger queers today, it was still more or less all that was available to us at the time and is at least no longer “the love that dare not speak its name” by this point. Also, many queers who were younger at the time would probably have picked up quite negative messages from it, but the fact that it was there at all enabled us to know that we weren’t alone, and there is even rosy recollection of those representations in some cases. I can’t comment directly on the adaptation of Sartre’s writing, or even on his writing itself in this case, but I would like to have had the opportunity to have done so and we’re being denied that because it hasn’t been released.

There are two final issues about queerness with ‘The Goodies’ I do want to mention. One is to reiterate the issue of Tim in drag, and the fact that I have access to the experience in question and therefore the full right to express myself as an individual trans woman on this issue. Although it’s clearly being done for comic effect and has an element of mockery in it, to be honest my main reaction to this is envy that he had the access to the production resources to do this publicly and fairly well in some cases. I don’t look at him and feel ridiculed or not taken seriously at all. Even if that’s intended and it’s going over my head, it isn’t the main thing I take away from the depiction.

The other is Bill, and here it should be borne in mind that he actually wrote half of the material. With the hindsight that he now has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, there are certain episodes where Mr Oddie really gives of himself, notably ‘Cunning Stunts’, which is a poignant watch in a couple of ways. One of these is the presence of Tessa Wyatt at the point where her marriage with Tony Blackburn was in the process of breaking down, and one can’t help wondering how much of her mockery of Bill is informed by that. Having established that he is to some extent able to laugh at himself even in his worst moments, perhaps as a survival mechanism, there are at least three incidents scattered through the whole twelve-year run which suggest he’s hinting at something else relating to queerness. I won’t say more than that and I accept that I may be seeing patterns where nothing is there, but it’s interesting.

We need complicated and mutually respectful discussions around certain issues, and they are often unavailable to us. One thing which doesn’t help here is when things like this series get posted into the memory hole. My current novel’s central character is a teenage boy living in the 1960s who is unhappy with being homosexual. If I want to examine how that situation is from the inside, I need to be free to write that sort of thing, and simply because my character is ego-dystonic shouldn’t be taken to imply that I’m completely in sympathy with that. My concern is that things are taken so much at face value and thoughtlessly right now, and I’m trying to do the opposite with that.


I wasn’t sure at first if I’d already posted something about this, but I seem not to have done and in any case Sarada has said I shouldn’t worry about it, so here it is. This is not a particularly good way to start a blog post because the text “before the fold” is not necessarily very grabbing. In any case, this is about infrapink.

Ultraviolet and infrared are fairly straightforward concepts to grasp. In the former case, “ultra-” is used as a prefix to indicate that the frequency of the light waves beyond visible light is too short for the human eye to perceive, and in the latter, “infra-” indicates that the frequency is below that which the human eye can perceive. Before I go on, I want to examine this in a bit more detail. Ultraviolet light is light whose waves are shorter than visible light but longer than X-rays. There is a sense in which this waveband has colours, namely UVA, UVB, UVC and UVX, although there’s quite a big gap between the last two, and these colours are hues rather than full-fledged colours. Also, although the unaugmented human eye apparently cannot see ultraviolet, the retina can detect it, because the lens, and possibly the cornea, filter it out, preventing it from damaging the eyesight. This means that whereas we can’t look at ultraviolet light and see colours unless we have had cataract surgery, we may be able to see it out of the corners of our eyes because the lens is thinner and less effective at filtering. However, peripheral vision doesn’t involve colour information even though our brains seem to project colours onto it – that is, because I know the wall to the left of me is blue, I see it as blue out of the corner of my eye even though I’m looking at the laptop screen and I have few or no colour-sensitive cone cells in the part of my retina onto which the image of the wall is being projected. Instead, my higher cognitive functions provide the colour. This means that although I might well be able to see UVA, I won’t be able to see it as a colour.

Apart from the word “ultraviolet” itself, the question of “infrapink” was initially triggered by the awareness of the name for the colour ultramarine. As a six-year old, I considered it logical that there was a prefix “ultra-” which simply meant that the hue concerned was the next one along from the colour term it preceded. Therefore orange is ultrared and indigo ultrablue for example. Conversely, “infra-” meant the opposite, and indigo was equally infraviolet and orange infrayellow. Hence I concluded that there was a colour referred to as “marine” which was somewhat less blue than ultramarine. Unfortunately, the prefix in “ultramarine” merely refers to the fact that the lapis lazuli originally used to make the pigment ultramarine was from beyond the sea, i.e. Asia as opposed to the Mediterranean. Nonetheless a back-formation does quite neatly allow one to pair ultramarine with aquamarine, and just conclude that the former is a bluer version of the latter, which is what I used to do, and there is in any case such a thing as “marine blue”, which is this:

The trouble is that ultramarine isn’t actually ultra marine. Marine is more like a darker and less saturated version of ultramarine. Marine blue has the hex RGB colour code of 042E60, and at this point I should probably unpack that. Hexadecimal is a numerical system used on digital computers because it conveniently converts to binary – each hex(adecimal) digit is equal to exactly one nybble (four bits). The three numbers run together in a hex triplet are each between zero and two hundred and fifty-five inclusive and indicate how bright each colour of red, green and blue, the additive primary colours, are. As usual I’m not sure if this is common knowledge or not so I’ve spelt it out. Hence this description of marine blue is of a colour with hardly any red in it, almost twelve times as much green as that and just over twice as much blue as green. By contrast, ultramarine is supposed to be 120A8F, so it’s got more red and blue in it but less green. This is a little surprising because it does in fact mean ultramarine is closer to violet than marine blue is. Violet doesn’t exist in the RGB colour space as such but is instead represented by purple, which is not violet. We perceive purple and violet as similar colours because the cells in our eyes which respond to red start to respond to a hue whose wavelength approaches half the wavelength of red, so we tend to confuse purple with violet. If we had a violet set of cone cells (colour-detecting cell), purple and violet would look like completely different colours to us.

One of the most annoying songs to me as a six-year old was ‘I Can Sing A Rainbow’ because its lyrics deviate drastically from the colours one can actually see in a rainbow. Pink and purple are not spectral colours and the order is completely wrong. I saw other children colour rainbows in based on those words and thought it was ridiculous and irritating. I dislike the song because I think it confuses and misleads children, and it reminds me rather of ‘Swinging On A Star’, from the same era, with its contempt and stereotyping of non-human animals. I can’t help thinking it says a lot about the 1950s that these kind of children’s songs were around, but I can’t quite identify what. Anyway, pink and purple in particular are non-spectral colours. That is, you can’t look at a spectrum such as a rainbow and find either, and this is why the concept of “infrapink” is difficult.

As far as I know, the word “infrapink” was invented by Douglas Adams in 1978 when he had Zaphod Beeblebrox mention “the infrapink lizard emblem on the neutrino cowling” of a Lazlar Lyricon custom-built spaceship. One of the implications of the idea of infrapink is that it’s a colour which can only be seen by an entity “whose eyes respond to different wavelengths”, to quote Trillian a few minutes “later” (also known as millions of years earlier – consult Dr Streetmentioner’s book for further information), so presumably Betelgeusians such as Zaphod and Ford can see “infrapink” but humans can’t.

This raises the question of what pink is and what happens when you try to apply prefixes which refer to spectral colours to non-spectral ones. Here is an example of an official shade of pink:

Thisses RGB hex triplet is FFC0CB, which is as red as possible plus a fair bit of green and blue. In other words, according to the spurious objectivity of a computer, pink is greyish red. The only trouble is that it isn’t, but let’s entertain that for a while. This is supposed to be pink because whereas it’s as red as red can be, it’s also a bit washed out – desaturated. Therefore it would seem straightforward to suppose that infrapink would be like infrared but slightly washed out, assuming one can see infrared as colour. However, there’s a problem. If pink is as red as possible but desaturated, infrapink is as infrared as possible, and looking at the hex triplet that might be expected to get one the same colour again but without the red, at least to a human eye with the kind of colour vision most people have. That makes it look like this:

This is apparently “robin’s egg blue”, and I perceive it as close to cyan or turquoise, but the conceit is that it’s actually infrapink but because we can’t see infrared as a colour, we can’t distinguish between the two. It would indeed look infrapink to a being who could see infrared as a colour (as opposed to merely being able to see infrared) but perhaps for the same reason as we see violet as similar to purple. And there is another issue. This colour is also exactly what we would perceive if the wavelengths were off the other end of the spectrum in the ultraviolet, so it isn’t so much infrapink as a colour which could be either robin’s egg blue, infrapink or extreme ultrapink. in fact it’s even conceivable, and I don’t know if this is true or not, that actual robin’s eggs are in fact infrapink, because they might be reflective in infrared light.

However, this is all based on the RGB colour space. Once again, I have no idea if this is common knowledge or not so I should probably explain it. The primary colours are commonly stated to be red, yellow and blue. This is one version of what they are but also a falsification, because the actual colours involved in this system are in fact magenta, yellow and cyan, and in fact it’s hard to find pigments which correspond exactly to these colours and therefore pictures created using this system will often look a bit “off”, particularly if black is involved. Therefore, black is added to this system. These are known as subtractive colours, and it makes sense to use them as primary colours if you’re using paint, crayons or ink as opposed to light or luminous substances. This system, known as CMYK – Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK – is used to print things. It’s also close to being the upside-down version of RGB. Consider a cube whose coördinates represent redness, greenness and blueness. Red is along the X axis, starting on the left. Green is up, and blue is into the cube – increasing distance from the observer. The front bottom left corner is black and the back top right corner is white. Cyan is as green and blue as you can get, so it’s the back right hand bottom corner, and yellow as red and green as possible, so it’s top left back. Finally, magenta is top right front, and the red, green and blue primary colours are in the corners not yet mentioned. CMYK, then, is a system where the cube’s corners have swapped places, making it easy to convert between them. However, there is also black and white, which operates on its own axis in this system, making pink something like mid-to-light grey combined with magenta. “Infrapink” doesn’t mean anything in this system because it doesn’t correspond to the spectrum.

A third system (I really don’t know if I’m teaching an egg-eating snake to suck robins’ eggs here but I’ll plough on) is HST, which has nothing to do with trains but stands for Hue Saturation Tone. Hue is based on a colour wheel which strikes me as a lie. It looks like a rainbow except that violet blends into red, which it can do and must in order to include some non-spectral colours such as magenta, purple and pink. Saturation is on a scale of grey to brightly coloured, and tone is brightness. This is a bit confusing because saturation isn’t brightness – for instance, dark brown is more saturated than grey or white. Pink is in this colour space as – well, I should probably mention something else first.

Ultrapink seems to be a more meaningful word to me than infrapink. To me, ultrapink would simply mean extremely pink, like the colour of hot pink. This is supposed to be hot pink but doesn’t look like it to me:

This has a HST value of 330°, 59%, 100%. The angular expression is based on the colour wheel, where pure red is at 0° and it goes through the spectrum to meet up with itself by going through violet to the reddish-purple non-spectral colours, including pinks. Saturation is at fifty-nine percent, which is fair enough as pink does seem to be slightly greyish on the whole. Tone, however, is turned up to the max. It’s as bright as possible. This also makes sense if pink is light red. But it does raise an issue: what actually makes something pinker? Is hot pink pinker than less “bright” pinks or is it less pink because it’s more vivid and pink is by its nature a non-vivid colour? This question could be seen as impinging on present-day Western gender stereotypes as opposed to how they used to be. Pink was formerly considered a masculine colour because it was vivid and high-energy, so hot pink fits in with that. Considered as a feminine colour, the stereotype might be to make it less vivid because it is more “passive”. Both of these are stereotypes of course, and since blue used to be considered a feminine colour it can also work with that. Alice in Wonderland’s dress is often depicted as baby blue, which is presumably what the Victorians considered a feminine colour as opposed to “bright” pink. Hence there could be said to be a feminine and masculine axis on pink and blue, and also between pink and blue, which are probably quantifiable in the HST colour space. However, they’re also confusing because it might be thought that stereotypical masculinity are lower on the saturation and tone axes and stereotypical femininity higher. Then there’s a small range on the colour wheel between about 350° and 240° which ranges between feminine and masculine with the rest of the wheel being gender neutral. It would be interesting to know how this affects “pinkness”. Is pink as a masculine colour pinker when it’s hot pink and pink as a feminine colour pinker when it’s less saturated? Does that also apply to blue?

Back to infrapink. If hot pink is “ultrapink”, it would probably mean that less saturated pinks were infrapink, and in fact infrapink is then a colour which I’ve occasionally seen referred to as “grape”:

Apparently this is officially known as “falcon color” (sic), but it is on the appropriate part of the colour wheel. It’s infrapink in the sense of being “not quite pink”.

I think what this really illustrates is that all of these ideas of colours are not only culturally mediated, as with for example the idea of different degrees of pinkness, but also dependent on our own hard-wired perception. There is a whole other discussion to be had about colour terms in linguistics, and in the perception of colours by contrast as with the notorious “that dress” example, but all of these discussions would be taking place within the milieu of our sensory equipment, which varies, but perhaps helpfully tends to vary less in how we perceive pink as opposed to the possible tetrachromacy of mothers of red-green colour blind children and the dichromacy of those children. Or does it? In any case, we have a colour wheel which allows violet to blend into red, making pink a particularly good example of something which can’t be modified by “ultra-” or “infra-“. If it could be, we would need a larger colour wheel, as might be available to an animal or machine able to perceive ultraviolet and infrared as colours, although how much bigger depends on how far into those wavebands they can see and whether they have receptors whose sensitivity peaks at red and blue but are able to respond to infrared and ultraviolet, or whether they have additional receptors, or perhaps a completely different way of perceiving colour. Olaf Stapledon envisaged the next human species, referred to by him as the Second Men but whom I tend to prefer thinking of as Homo superior, as having extra cone cells allowing them to perceive a new primary colour between green and blue, another for violet and being able to see ultraviolet and infrared, the last as purple. Hence the colour wheel for H. superior might still have three hundred and sixty degrees (if they ended up with the same system for angles as most people use today) but instead of having it blend from violet into red, it would blend from ultraviolet into infrared, and possibly not even that if the colours were too different to allow such a mixture to occur, and they might also find the wheel quite cramped, since it would now need to accommodate five primary colours rather than three, two of which include hues invisible to the current human eye. Hence to one of that species, does pink actually exist?

To conclude, then, I think two things are going on here. One is that there is a kind of temporarily gendered colour space which may influence how we understand colours, which varies according to custom. It might be conceived of in terms of what colours are considered “too feminine” for a man, although there seems to be no corresponding “too masculine” nowadays, and in Victorian Britain it seems to have been almost opposite, as opposite as CMYK and RGB are to each other. The other is that although we can play within this space, and invent different colour spaces for ourselves within it, there is still currently a natural set of anchors determined by our own colour receptors and apparatus for perceiving vision. It seems likely that other anchors exist within our experience, such as our poor sense of smell, and that similar constraints operate outside the realm of sensory perception. Which raises the question of whether aliens or artificial intelligences would have relatable science or common sense.

Oldies But Goodies

They say that if you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. Of ‘Withnail & I’, it is said that they can’t remember the ’60s either, presumably because they were constantly “tired and emotional”. Of myself, I can just about remember the decade in question, as I’ve said, which has over the past month presented me with a bit of a problem. This problem was compounded by the fact that I don’t really know Hertfordshire, so ‘1934’, my NaNoWriMo project this year, which was to write a novel mainly in the setting of 1960s Letchworth, didn’t exactly comply with the well-worn principle that you should write about what you know. My central character is also a closeted gay boy teen, which takes it further from my experience. Nonetheless, Iain Banks himself (the “himself” is practically an official title for him for me) emphatically claimed that writing about what you know was really bad advice which he always completely ignored, and of course bearing in mind that there are such things as good science fiction and good high fantasy, where the writer definitely isn’t doing that unless they turn out to be an alien or a fairy, it clearly doesn’t work for everyone, or at least what you “know” isn’t obvious. Of course, if you literally took that advice, bearing in mind that what one actually knows is confined to maths and the immediate content of one’s mind, one would probably end up writing a story told from the viewpoint of someone living in a tin of talcum powder which was never used, or perhaps a ping-pong ball that had been painted red. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with such a story, but most aren’t like that at all.

I had two rather dicey tasks with this project. One was to attempt to portray life for a teenager living in 1966 convincingly. The other was to portray Letchworth convincingly. Whereas it was an interesting exercise to do the latter, perhaps informed by the fact that I was a teenager in the Home Counties in the early ’80s, I want to focus on the former today. Due to the fact that my parents were late adopters, and also older than most other new parents in 1960s UK, my own childhood and adolescence had a somewhat anachronistic quality which informed my writing on this occasion. By “late adopter”, I mean that they were definitely behind the trend regarding getting new gadgets. For instance, we didn’t have a telly which could pick up BBC2 (also known as a PAL – Phased Alternating Line – TV) until 1975 and didn’t rent a colour television until August 1980, when the halfway mark for colour TV ownership in the UK was passed in 1976. This was partly because my father bought things to last and partly because he usually didn’t buy anything at all, which I’m afraid does bring a particular ethnic stereotype to mind although I can see the appeal of frugality and austerity. My parents were also born well before the Second World War, and if my father had become a parent at twenty-five, say, that would’ve been in 1954. Also, as I said I can remember the ’60s, just about, although whether the memories of a toddler and nursery school child are particularly useful for imagining the life of a teenager a few years earlier are of any relevance is another question.

It’s been said that the stereotypes of a particular decade are often truer of the decade afterwards than the time period itself. Hence the true era of free love and drugs would’ve been the ’70s by this token, and the ’60s would’ve been more like the buttoned down and ultra-conformist attitudes of ten years previously. Time, in any case, doesn’t fit into neat little parcels of ten years. Post-war housing and other architecture, for example, still looks “modern” to me, although since I’m in my fifties that might be me, and people didn’t just stop being hippies when Woolworths started selling the wigs. I’ve known a lot of hippies in my time, they weren’t even ageing, and even today, fifty years after that decade, there are people of my age and acquaintance who would probably still call themselves that. My own memory of hippies at the time is of flower people in Afghan coats in sunny soft focus, the last of which was due to my as yet uncorrected eyesight. An interesting exercise in this respect is to divide the years up duodecimally, in which case the 1960s get divided into two unequal portions of 1956-1968 and 1968-1980, which has the merit of making 1968 the “‘sixtiesist” year of all. But as I’ve no doubt said previously on here, far from being non-conformist and progressive, my chronological hinterland seemed to consist largely of the likes of being expected to be housewives and stay at home, not being allowed to take out loans without their husbands countersigning, having to avail themselves of backstreet abortions, being sexually harassed and having it passed off as “just a bit of fun” and so forth. People were expected to marry, homosexuality was illegal, particularly in Scotland where it wasn’t even decriminalised until Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street, there was a load more churchgoing and so forth. The decade in question was most unlike what popular images lead us to expect, or even remember.

And this is where I get onto ‘The Goodies’, that well-known incredibly successful sitcom which dominated the following decade.

Due to the death of a friend a couple of months ago, I have recently bought and started watching a box set of the BBC sitcom ‘The Goodies’. The LWT season is missing from the set but will be acquired in due course. To explain, I was revisiting my memories of the guy and remembered that at some point in the ‘noughties he had made the observation that for some unknown reason, although it was easy to acquire box sets of all sorts of other TV series from the last third of the twentieth century, one in particular was conspicuous by its absence: the aforementioned ‘Goodies’. The BBC seemed remarkably reluctant to release any material at all from the series in question, and there could be all sorts of explanations for this, some of which I will go into. After all, I haven’t checked but I would be extremely surprised if such a thing as a box set of ‘The Black And White Minstrel Show’ was anywhere to be found. As a nation we are rightly embarrassed about the popularity of that particular series, which ran from 1958 until its last gasp as a touring stage show in 1989! It’s actually worse than it appears in this respect. In the late ’60s, the BBC attempted a series of the aforementioned show without blackface and it bombed in the ratings and was met with a clamour from the presumably mainly white viewership to bring back the blackface, which is what Auntie did, simply for the sake of the ratings. Hence the appalling persistence of that particular series can’t be laid entirely at the door of the Beeb. It was the white British public wot wanted it, although it stayed on because of ratings.

‘The Goodies’ ran for twelve years overall, with a hiatus in the late ’70s, and went over to LWT after the budget used to support it was reallocated to the TV version of ‘The Hitch Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy’. With a total of seventy-six episodes and peak viewing figures above ten million, there’s an argument for the proposition that it put ‘Monty Python’ in the shade. The roots of the two series are of course rather entangled, and some people mix up their memories of the precursors of the two. For instance, the ‘Yorkshiremen’ sketch tends to be thought of as a Monty Python creation, but it was in fact written by Tim Brooke-Taylor in 1966. ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’, as well as Jo Kendall and David Hatch, had the three Goodies and John Cleese in it. ‘Monty Python’, of course, has staying power. ‘The Goodies’ is rather sapped by its attempt to insert topical satire and other references which have led to a kind of decay of comprehensibility. However, I don’t think this is the main reason why it’s disappeared.

Just as popular demand, regrettably, brought blackface back to ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’ and thereby sadly boosted its popularity, it took a similar campaign to get ‘The Goodies’ put on DVD. It didn’t happen until 2018. There had previously, and reluctantly, been a couple of small collections of classic episodes, which however missed out what many people would have regarded as the real classics, but not until (and this is a guess) about 2010 or later, and the reluctance of the BBC to do anything with it was often noted and never really explained as far as I know. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that unlike many other series of the time, none of the episodes are really missing due to the BBC’s erasure policy of the ’70s and ’80s. The only missing episode is the original ‘Kitten Kong’, which is replaced by the later updated version of the same, and the only black and white episode seems to be ‘Caught In The Act’, which, possibly due to the poor quality of the tape, hasn’t had its colour restored.

I am of course currently re-watching the episodes for pleasure, mainly because they were an important part of my childhood. It has to be said that doing so can be very embarrassing at times. Anyone new to Radio 4’s ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ is likely to come away with the impression that its humour is antiquated, unreconstructed and inappropriate for a 2020 audience, and as the title of the programme suggests there is a link with the TV show since it’s a spin-off of ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’. Early episodes of the antidote to panel games had Bill Oddie and John Cleese, Graeme Garden was responsible for starting the thing and Tim Brooke-Taylor was in it until his death this year (2020), so it’s not surprising that there are some similarities in the humour, and it is true that a lot of it is pretty dodgy. However, there’s still dodgy humour on the Beeb today. ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ come to mind.

If you want a list of the sins committed by the series, they aren’t hard to call to mind. There is sexism aplenty. Sexual assault on women is played for laughs and women are shown enjoying rape. There is blackface. There are other racist stereotypes, notably of the Scots and local English communities such as people from Cornwall and Lancashire. There is drag played for laughs. There is homophobia. I could go on with a little thought. Another, historically interesting phenomenon is the datedness of some of the humour in other ways. For instance, ‘The Clown Virus’ depicts a biological weapon turning the population of Britain into clowns, who nowadays are perceived as very creepy and not at all funny by most. In 1975, however, this was by no means the case and the audience clearly found it side-splitting. There’s also a strong tradition of slapstick which was continued by the three of them which still exists today but was taken by them from silent films. Another major aspect of the humour is that the entire show can be seen as a live-action cartoon, with the likes of weights prominently displaying “1 TON” on the side and holes which can be picked up and moved. It isn’t so much that the series isn’t funny because the humour is dated as that it reminds one of what used to be considered funny as a kind of historical document, and this even applies to the most cringeworthy bits of sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia which are relatively rife in the series and just make me wish they hadn’t “gone there”. In modern terms there genuinely is another level on which this can be enjoyed, not as comedy but as a historical document. And this is important.

If the persistent campaign to bring all of the series to DVD had failed, it would have meant that the BBC’s embarrassment at what was on the tapes would have prevented us from remembering what things were, to some extent, “really” like in the 1970s. Yes, it absolutely is shameful and mortifying to see all this, but precisely for that reason we need to remember it and it isn’t just shameful and mortifying. The BBC would prefer us to remember ‘Monty Python’, and it’s undeniable that that is a classic, but it isn’t the whole story and I think they have committed a sin of omission by not letting us re-watch ‘The Goodies’. They’re relying on rosy reminiscence to sanitise what actually happened. Note, incidentally, that I’m not singling out the BBC here. This is part of a more general process, probably encouraged by the public ourselves, to re-imagine the past in a form of denial and confabulation. And it isn’t even that simple. There’s yet another level to this.

Two of the most toe-curling episodes involve black face as a fairly central theme: ‘Alternative Roots’ and ‘South Africa’. I am of course happy to accept that black face has never been acceptable, and it’s no more so here than it is anywhere else. However, in both cases it’s used to satirical effect. In the case of ‘Alternative Roots’, the Goodies black up because they’re supposed to appear on the aforesaid ‘Black And White Minstrel Show’. Although there then ensues a very hard to watch few minutes of television, the point they were attempting to make was quite clear: that the BBC shouldn’t be showing it, that it was being done for ratings alone and that they should’ve taken some kind of moral lead in taking the series off the air. Now for ‘South Africa’. The point of black face in this episode is again satirical. Tim blacks up to promote emigration to South Africa because in-universe it was impossible to find any Black South Africans prepared to promote the apartheid regime. Once all the Blacks have left South Africa, the S.A. government introduces a policy of “Apart-Height”, which places short people into the category previously occupied by non-Whites. This means that Bill Oddie is seen as the victim of this prejudice and also on the run from the police. It’s interesting to note that the BBC were unhappy with this episode at the time, not because of the blacking up but because they saw it as portraying the South African police in a negative light!

There are other incidents of black face in the series which are far less justifiable, but for that very reason we need to know that they exist. They shouldn’t have been hidden from us.

Some of this is the “Alf Garnett” effect. The notorious problem with Alf Garnett was that he tended not to be perceived as satirical by much of the viewership, but as a White hero saying what was not normally allowed on telly. The same is true of how ‘The Goodies’ are perceived, and probably how they were at the time. Even when they’re trying to be satirical, they can miss the mark in a way which ends up doing a fair bit of damage, but beyond that, the subtlety of what they were doing, such as it was, is lost to modern audiences. This is particularly relevant to us today because we are living in a post-satirical, post-subtlety age. People go by knee-jerk reactions online and things are taken away from their original meaning. Even being openly satirical can be harmful because much of the online community is going to end up taking it seriously and not even have meaningful access to the context.

I’m aware that I’m commenting on the racism of the show as a White person with Scottish roots. I am aware of the sometimes rather irritating stereotypes about Scots which were perpetrated by the Scottish Graeme Garden and continue to be so in ‘Hamish And Dougal’s You’ll Have Had Yer Tea’ even now. There’s a scene in ‘Life On Mars’ where Sam Tyler reprimands the Black barman for playing along with racial stereotypes, and there may be an element of this here. Having said that, the history of the Scots is fairly murky with respect to imperialism and it can’t be directly compared to Black history, so it’s fair to object that I can comfortably sit here and pontificate about black face and other problematic approaches to ethnicity in ‘The Goodies’ because it doesn’t have any direct consequences for me. However, whilst not wishing to assert for sure that it’s harmless, partly because there’s no doubt that it definitely is harmful and I can imagine, for example, plenty of racist playground bullying being inspired by certain incidents on the programme, there is another aspect of it upon which I do feel fully qualified to comment: the drag.

Tim Brooke-Taylor has a long history of “dressing up as a woman”, and the other two have been known to do so too. I don’t know enough about drag itself to comment informedly about it, but I do know how I feel about seeing men “dressing as women” on TV. To undertake a brief departure, I can watch Dick Emery and perceive him as a consummate artist, although he clearly does go places nobody would today (or would they? Brendan O’Carroll comes to mind here) without there being much of a serious point to it, but I can still respect the talent and skill he put into his performance. Getting back to ‘The Goodies’, I recently saw ‘Chubby Chumps’. In this episode, Tim Brooke-Taylor has been listening to a lot of Terry Wogan and decides to enter a glamorous housewives show rather like Miss World. There is a considerable degree of fat-shaming in the story which as someone with a low BMI I’m definitely not qualified to comment upon. Leaving that aside, Tim, unsurprisingly, does appear in a wig and dress etc early on in the story and stays in them for most of the rest of it. Many gender-incongruent people have doubtless had the experience of feeling invalidated by such experiences in the media, which is of course one reason I’ve never watched Brendan O’Carroll and have no intention of doing so. However, I surprised myself with my reaction to Tim in ‘Chubby Chumps’. Far from feeling self-conscious and invalidated, I was actually impressed by how well he passed and envious at his access to the resources of the BBC which enabled him to do so. As far as I know, Tim Brooke-Taylor was not gender-incongruent although I do think his acting more widely is something of a commentary on the nature of masculinity and the prison of gender roles to some extent. But I didn’t feel remotely demeaned or insulted by this portrayal. Why? Also, can this be transferred usefully to the other problematic aspects of the series?

It’s common for gender-critical people to accuse trans women as adopting “ladyface”. The reason this doesn’t work is that the appearance of ethnic differences is not constructed as primarily cultural. There clearly are problematic aspects to White people making themselves look Black. For instance, the Afro and dreadlocks are frowned upon today because they’re considered cultural appropriation. It remains the case that people outside the “centre” of an ethnicity will have hair which can go either way, because of the very absence of a genetic basis to ethnicity which makes racism of that kind so flimsily-founded. Even so, black face is inappropriate because it’s a superficial appearance of Blackness which is isolated from the experience of really being Black. Skin-bleaching exists too, but its extreme nature indicates how far one would have to go to achieve that as opposed to slapping a bit of makeup on.

I think the reason I don’t find Tim in drag insulting or invalidating is also the reason “ladyface” accusations are poorly-founded. There is certainly an element of “having” to do this every morning in order to be considered properly presented for various jobs and being expected to present oneself in this way so as not to be subject to harassment, but in my case “ladyface” does the reverse – if I don’t do it “properly”, it subjects me to harassment and prejudice. Blackface is not like that because the reaction to it would not be prejudice but discrimination. Consequently I can look at Tim Brooke-Taylor, or for that matter the members of Queen in the ‘I Want To Break Free’ video, particularly Roger Taylor, not with a sense that I’m having the mickey taken out of me because they can take it all off without feeling or getting invalidated, but with a sense of admiration at the skill put into making them up (I’m excluding Freddie from this by the way). It isn’t a case of feeling insulted or made fun of, but of “Wow, how did they do that? How can I learn to do that as effectively?”

The next question, then, is whether the same thing can be applied to the other aspects of ‘The Goodies’ which are perceived as dodgy, because much of the time I can’t really comment on them. Because of that, this paragraph is rather short.

The last thing I want to ask is this. Have we lost something in not being able to have a nuanced discussion about this? Is there a deficit in not enabling humour to go in that direction any more? I can remember in my early twenties being able to embrace the humour of the situation of being gender-incongruent and not take myself too seriously while recognising the subversive element of radical drag. There are elements of that today but I’m not sure about the humour. It’s really summed up in the experience I had of how far I pushed my so-called “cross-dressing” at the time. My impression is that if I did it modestly, in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to me if I were a cis woman, it would often get me laughed at. However, going full Carmen Miranda wouldn’t get me laughed at. It would get me laughed with, and this is a crucial difference.

How do we get the nuance back?