We will remember them



The Guardian’s Art Blogger Jonathan Jones decided to compare the amazing art installation at the Tower of London as “It’s the inward-looking mood that lets Ukip thrive.”. He bemoaned the lack or remembrance for all the others who died in the “Great War” on all sides – but he misses the point of this cascade of poppies.

Like the great war poets, journalists, painters and writers this piece of art is to make you think. There are no surviving soldiers of that war, but today we still send men and women across the world to “fight for their country” and this beautiful display is to remind us that while there will be 888,246 ceramic red flowers – one for each British life lost – we will always have to add another. It’s not introspective, in fact quite the opposite. I strongly believe that the power and influence of art in these areas is to make us consider where in the human psyche that war, violence and peace reside.

Many people forget that the poppy symbolises our support for all troops in all wars from WWII to Kosovo, Afghanistan to the current battle against Islamic State. It’s easy to think of the poppy as a historical thing but it’s more relevant than ever. I do understand the pacifist view that we shouldn’t be fighting at all – of course we all want peace in our time, but others take a different and more violent view – but the reality is we should support our troops no matter what. This doesn’t mean we have to wave flags and support illegal wars, but that we as a country should support and take care of those who are put in that position when they return home.

There is also a school of thought that any family or friends who bemoan the death of their loved ones in the line of duty should understand that that is the job, and I have some sympathy for that viewpoint. If you choose to go into the armed forces then you should know the potential consequences. On the other hand the amount of soldiers now returning maimed and dismembered requiring both physical and mental healthcare should get all they need to get back to some sort of normality. Just look at the recent Invictus games and how those who faced life altering injuries are being helped to conquer anything thrown at them. Their resolve and attitudes are to be supported and celebrated.

As much as I remember and respect those who fought for our freedom in the two world wars of the twentieth century – including my grandparents and great grandparents – the Poppy Appeal’s relevance today is as important as ever. The art installation at the Tower of London reflects the hundred years since that have passed since the First World War and those who fought and died for their King and Country and is a thing of genuine beauty and reflection. To call it “a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial” show disrespect for the artists and the public who have flocked to see and pay their respects, but more so for all who those delicate flowers represent and to those who they continue to.

Wear your poppy with pride in November and remember whomever is or was important to you. Even the Guardian cannot take that from you.





Is it Me? Russell Brand



I have long stood up for Russell as he received a lot of hate from the press in his early days. mostly due to his over confidence and very public sex life – but I’ve reached the point where he is really pissing me off. The pseudo-intellectual, thesaurus swallowing Brand thinks that he is deserving of a spot on programmes like Newsnight – and even worse they think that he is a good booking. The truth is that he’s wading in well above his pay grade into matters he either doesn’t understand or is bluffing very badly on.

The call to revolution we all heard in his interview with Jeremy Paxman was an embarrassment. The fact he was proud of the fact that he didn’t vote and was encouraging others to follow is the exact opposite of the action required. We saw last month in the Scottish Referendum, that people power only counts if you stand up to be counted. Regardless which side you were on you had to admire the power and passion and percentages that got out to vote that day – we need to learn from that not say “let’s not bother voting”. If every disillusioned UK voter went out and all voted for the Green Party they’d likely be in government – even in the form of a coalition. When the turn out in UK elections ranges from low thirties to mid sixties there are enough people left to make real change in politics. Brand misses that point and stands and shouts and stomps his feet in Trafalgar Square – using verbose language but really not saying anything at all.

Another point is that we shouldn’t listen to the rich revolutionaries like Brand anyway – they can afford to rebel, they can pay their bills. A true revolution in UK politics would come from grassroots as the Yes campaign proved last month. People on the ground not mouth-pieces make the real difference. Getting more “normal” people to stand for elections and reduce these “professional” politicians would be a true revolution in the commons.

Then there is the conspiracy theories about 9/11 he spouts, his deliberate ignoring of facts – on his most recent visit to Newsnight he moaned when Evan Davis tried to show him a chart exploring the history of UK wages. He is able to point at things and say they are wrong but is not willing to discuss the details involved. If you are going to move from being a comedian to a political figure (in any sense of the word) you need to accept that people will question, challenge and disprove your ideas – Brand’s only response to this in interviews is to talk over people and make silly jokes to avoid answering the questions. Ironically for a man who is about to work with Michael Winterbottom on a project called “Emperor’s New Clothes”, he has missed the fact that he is the emperor.

Just because you use big words doesn’t make you more intelligent – ask any secondary school pupil about the teacher’s who do that deliberately to make them feel stupid and see their response. I’ve nothing against a good vocabulary but engagement of ideas needs to be spoken about in a common understood language. Just because you shout loudest and over others doesn’t make you important, it makes you look like a self-indulged narcissist with only themselves in mind. Just because you call out issues in society does not make you a social commentator, it makes you the same as the rest of us. Try doing something about these things – stand for election rather than write a book about it and then ignore all criticism.

He seems to think that he is above criticism in all areas from “Sachsgate” to his books, but perhaps the real revolution we need is against public figures like Brand who use their “celebrity” to spout off about things we don’t think are legitimate sources for these ideas. He has no real credentials and I could name a dozen more educated, intellectual, trustworthy and interesting comics who I would listen to on all these subjects before him. I don’t deny him the right of speech, but I don’t have to listen to it and it doesn’t belong on our national news programmes.


Why are Comedians the real newsreaders?



Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Russell Howard, Have I Got News For You, Charlie Brooker: What do they all have in common? Answer: They write, investigate and discuss the news in the most honest way in today’s mad 24 hour news world.

The invention of rolling news is almost as old as I am, but the American land of superlatives used in them are seeping into our own news channels and broadcasts. Fox is a well-known purveyor of the OTT in the way they impart the news using shock and fear to tell their audiences the daily news. They are tabloid TV at their worst. But look at the work of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, the spin-off show “The Colbert Report” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and how they have approached journalism in the last few years and you will find that these comedy shows are relaying the news more openly, honestly and in-depth than any of the US channels. From racial shootings, stop and search, ISIS, Ebola, Congress, Scottish Referendum, Indian Elections, Fukushima and many other top stories have been discussed and presented at length.

In the UK, Russell Howard’s show started last night and mixed silly humour with some great observations on important elements in the news agenda. Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe (Which needs to be on again) is another great example of looking at the stories succinctly and intelligently. HIGNFY is also very clever at using humour to point out the mistakes and problematic policies through both Ian Hislop’s contributions and the great writing team behind each presenter. From David Frost and team on “That was the week that was” to Rory Bremner, Mark Thomas to “The News Quiz” we have a tradition of honest satire – but now the Americans (or in Oliver’s case, Brits abroad) are now carrying that torch on and making it even brighter.

For many young people in America The Daily Show is their main source of news – mostly because they find it trustworthy. John Oliver has been heralded in the US for his team’s journalistic approach – one that he, Colbert and Stewart all laugh off claiming to only be interested in comedy. But to push this aside so easily is missing the importance of satire and honest reporting of news events. We live in a world where the politicians and many in the media are happy to extol the emotion of fear: Fear of contagious diseases; Fear of terrorism; Fear of Paedophiles; Fear of being under surveillance; Fear of Racial Profiling – the list goes on. Rather than Kay Burley screaming “Run for the Hills” on Sky News or in the US the daily bullshit of Hannity, O’Reilly and the rest of the Fox Fear brigade we need calm and clarity.

Why do we have to rely on comedians – and I love all these shows I’ve mentioned – to deliver us the real news? For my money Channel 4 news is still the closest we get to that in the UK – while at times they push the boundaries of serious into awkwardly funny – see Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s  interview with Richard Ayoade below.

It’s time the traditional TV news paired back all the ridiculous “Day Today” music and graphics, and explained the news and the reality for those affected by the stories. We don’t need tweets, vox pops and so-called experts – we need the truth and we need it without the ludicrous superlatives that go with it. Otherwise we will think that comedians are the only ones serious about the news.


Job Search restarts



All average things must also come to an end and it’s time to move again – not because I’m not enjoying the job, but because the money is almost non-existent. Sales is not an easy area at the best of times as you are reliant on others for your wage instead of putting in the hours for a guaranteed pay packet. The job I’ve been doing was commission only and after the last six to eight weeks of next-to-nothing coming in its time to find a more reliable income source again.

The one benefit that has come from the last few months in sales is that I don’t need to be making thousands to live and be happy – something you don’t see when there’s a regular wage – you just need to be able to pay the bills and find a work/life balance. I used to look through the vacancies with an almost snobbish attitude, but now I realise that there are both great jobs and very talented people right through the pay spectrum. Also the realisation that Aberdeen truly is a false economy when it comes to pay. I’ve sold to lots of people and found those on the big bucks are doing little for their money whilst those on minimum wage or civil service pay are just getting by. Yes it’s something we all assume but when you chat with these people you can see the real size of the gap we have in society in terms of pay.

Not that I grudge those who make twice what I did in teaching for a reasonably simple desk job, because that was my choice – I took the decisions to put myself there. Now out from the academic and “public service” clouds I have a much more realistic view of work. While there is still a stigma associated with being a teacher and the business industry’s blinkered approach to transferable skills I am more determined than ever to rise above it and force employers to see the huge skills bank you actually need to be a teacher. Combine that will the amass of new tricks from sales and all the previous work I have done with “Referendum” and now “The Limit” I’m no longer lacking the confidence to go for the jobs I think I have the abilities for.

There will always be a resistance to teachers moving into business unless they carry a science or business background, but it shouldn’t stop those who have left, or wish to leave the job behind, from being successful in other spheres of work. Time to update the CV and get myself back out there.