Notifications from the Dead

My first one arrived this morning, “Dawn Brown and 2 others have their birthdays today. Help them have a great time”. Facebook doesn’t know that Dawn’s time ended on April 3rd this year; her life is gone, her remains interred, yet still her social media profile lives on, sailing like a ghost ship through the ether.

How we deal with the electronic personas of those who’ve passed on presents us with social, ethical and legal questions for the years to come, but for the time being at least Facebook will continue to remind us of those who are no more.

And one day there’ll be notifications for us.

Most of us live lives that will afford us no statuary or monuments when we die, we will leave behind no canon of work to immortalise us, we will not be as much as a footnote in the history books of the future, but our social media presence will remain. What we say, how we say it, what we like, what we share will be out there, perhaps forever. Day by day, post by post, click by click, we build our own mausoleums.

If these notifications remind us of anything then let them remind us that what we say on-line may be the prism through which those we care about now, and those that come after them, view us. The good as well as the evil that we do shall live after us, and each of us decides upon the proportion.

Maybe start by remembering that a reminder of a dead friend’s birthday is a reminder to treasure people while we have them, and behave a little more kindly towards them while we can. While we’re here we have choices to make, let these notification from the dead be a reminder to make them well.


Happy birthday, Dawn. RIP.


Who will tell? (A Play)













MAY: We’re going to have to tell them we can’t do it.

DAVIS: Steady on, perhaps we should think about it a bit longer. It’s only 5 o’clock.

MAY: We’ve been thinking about this since last June. It’s hard to believe another half-an-hour is going to crack it.

JOHNSON: We can’t tell them we can’t do Brexit! They’ll string us up from the bloody lampposts.

DAVIS: Exactly. We need to think of something…even if we’re here until six.

JOHNSON: Actually, I’ve got theatre tickets for this evening.

FOX: Oh, anything good?

JOHNSON: Punch and Judy.

MAY: Gentlemen! We need a border with the Republic of Ireland that is impenetrable to some people and invisible to others. We need to keep planes in the air and lorries off the M20. We need to comply with EU standards, while being completely free to make up our own. We need replacements for the European agencies that are leaving and the thousands of references to them in UK laws, which need to stay. We need to come up with dozens of new trade deals, in 16 months, that are better than the ones that took years and we need to finally, once and for all, get rid of that sodding Human Rights Act because, god help me, I am getting something out of all of this!

They all sit in silence, looking downcast.

MAY: So, can we do it?


MAY: Then we have to tell them we can’t do it.

JOHNSON: That’s awfully brave of you, old girl.

MAY: If I do it you’ll back me, won’t you?



FOX: Well…

GOVE: I’ll be right behind you, Prime Minister.

MAY puts her head in her hands.

MAY: Oh god, you’re going to push me out if I do it.

GOVE: Look, it’s a foreign issue. Clearly a job for the Foreign Secretary.

JOHNSON: Et two, Bruté!

DAVIS: I agree with him. FO matter, through and through.

JOHNSON: Really? Isn’t there a whole department for exiting the EU?

DAVIS: Shit.

JOHNSON: Look, Theresa’s going to have to sack whichever of us says we can’t do it, but if we can’t do it then you’re going to lose your job anyway, so you might as well step up to the block…er, plate.

DAVIS: But if we’re not leaving then we don’t need him either [he points at Fox] and he’s done the square-root of FA since the vote, anyway, so he should announce it.

FOX: Would you really sack me for saying we can’t do it, PM?

MAY [NODDING, SADLY]: I’d have to, Liam. I can’t have that sort of insubordination from a cabinet member.

FOX: But if I said we can’t do it, then you sacked me, wouldn’t that make it look like you still thought we could do it?

JOHNSON: He’s got a point, old girl. If it doesn’t come from you then it looks like it’s not official. Ball very much back in your court.

MAY: It can’t be me. I’m a remainer. If I do it then the frothers will think it was personal. We’ll have Farage in Number 10 inside a year. It has to come from a leaver.

JOHNSON: You’re right. How about Michael? He had a lot to say about how great leaving was going to be.

GOVE: No, I can’t be sacked. There’s so much to do at the environment.

JOHNSON: David or Liam can do the environment. Rumour is they’ll be looking for new jobs.

GOVE: They can’t replace me. I was the face of ‘Clean for the Queen’, people trust me with the environment.

DAVIS: The only thing the British people trust about you is that you’ve got the face they’d most like to punch.

FOX: We could announce it together. A joint press conference. It’s always good to have your friends around you.

DAVIS: Can we get pizza?

FOX: At the press conference?

DAVIS: No, now.

GOVE: Every meeting we’ve been in for the last week you’ve asked about food. You’re obsessed.

DAVIS: I haven’t been eating well at home, I [mumbles]

FOX: What?

JOHNSON: He said he renegotiated his gas supply. You’ve been cut off haven’t you, old boy?

DAVIS nods.

MAY puts her head back into her hands.

MAY: Oh god.

FOX: Look, if we do a press conference perhaps we could get Jacob up there with us. Give us some credibility with the young voters.

DAVIS: Not a bad idea. You’ll have to speak to him, Boris.

JOHNSON: Why me?

DAVIS: He only speaks in Latin now.

MAY: Jacob’s never going to get involved in this. If one of you lot doesn’t replace me then it will be him.

JOHNSON: It might not be. It might be Amber.

MAY: Amber? She’s one jump-scare in Murder, she wrote away from losing her seat.

DAVIS: Well, even if it’s Jacob, he’s still going to end up where we are. He won’t believe Brexit’s possible for very long.

MAY: Are you sure? He still believes in a literal virgin birth.

JOHNSON: That’s the very opposite of our situation. The virgin birth is where we got something good without anybody getting f…

MAY: BORIS! Boris, this isn’t helping.

DAVIS: Look, this is a bit off-the-wall, but we could say that what with our narrow majority, and all, that this needs a co-ordinated effort. Propose a national government. Get Jeremy and his mob on-board with this.

There is silence.

MAY: David [pause] How do you imagine that’s going to help?

DAVIS: Well…misery loves company.

MAY: I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been miserable enough to welcome Jeremy’s company, and hard to imagine that, even if I did, it would make me less miserable.

FOX: Jeremy’s out, then?

GOVE: Wait a minute! Brexit is going to cause a lot of medical problems, isn’t it? Funding for the NHS, radiation stuff for cancer, medical research, and so on…and there’s more than one Jeremy.

MAY: Michael, are you suggesting that we give this job to Jeremy Hunt?

GOVE: Jeremy has my full support.

MAY: Excellent. Can somebody get the health secretary on the phone, please? So many people are going to love his promotion to Secretary of State for Exiting Brexit, aren’t they?




Common ground

Donald Trump’s recent flip-flopping on whether to allow the importation of elephant hunting trophies into the US has led to people taking to Twitter to put forward the economic case for hunting as an aid to preservation.

helmer hunting

The argument goes like this:

  1. If elephant hunting is allowed then people will come to hunt elephants
  2. This brings money into local economies
  3. It’s therefore in the interest of locals to preserve the supply of elephants

This seems pretty straightforward and irrefutable. Nobody wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs (unless it would look really good mounted on your wall). Where it comes unstuck – the argument, not the goose-head on your wall – is with an economic theory called the tragedy of the commons.

As a named theory the tragedy of the commons has been around since the 1830s, but it’s essentially a re-writing of a principle that is familiar to non-economists; left to their own devices people are dicks. When there is a shared resource people act in their own self-interest, even if doing so will harm the long-term interests of the group as a whole.

It happens on a large-scale – such as the, seemingly inexhaustible, supply of North Atlantic cod, which we fished almost to be point of extinction – and it happens on a small-scale; we’ve all worked in an office where a little perk has been removed or regulated, because some people take the piss.

As the old joke has it, when something is needed by everyone, and could be done by anyone, most of the time it’s done by no-one.

Helmer himself shows exactly how this works. On literally the same page of his Twitter timeline as the quoted tweet above he retweets the message at the top of this image:

roger tl

Here he’s RTing someone who’s arguing that because we’re not the major contributor to oceanic plastic waste – the oceans being, of course, a huge shared resource – we shouldn’t be doing what we can to help solve the problem.

This is the tragedy of the commons writ large. This is the individual rationalisation that the problem isn’t with me, it’s with all those other bastards who are much worse. This is the logic that would, one day, lead to somebody whose wallet is far fuller than their soul pointing their gun at the last wild elephant and telling themselves, as they pull the trigger, that they’re no worse than the thousands who did the same thing before them.

Yeah, they don’t call it the tragedy of the commons for nothing.

Activate Steals! Fire photon torpedoes!

I write because I enjoy doing it, and because it genuinely makes me happy when people like what I write. Because it’s not my living I’m not massively precious about what I write. Everybody who’s ever asked me if they can use my work has been told that they can. I don’t even mind when, occasionally, it turns up on Facebook, stripped of attributions; it’s nice to know that something I wrote is still making people smile, and Facebook friends (who’ve been putting up with my wittering a lot longer than most of you) often ask, “Is this one of yours?”.

The week before last, however, something different happened, somebody straight-up stole something I’d written. On the day where it looked like the government might release readacted Brexit impact statements I wrote and tweeted this:

brexit impact statement

It’s a fairly obvious joke – many other tweeters had similar ideas – and it’s not exactly subtle. All I did was type up a Word document with a load of swear words in and then draw black rectangles over them in MS-Paint (yes, really), but that’s my version of that joke.

Three hours after my tweet, this tweet appeared…

If you follow the link you’ll see that they’ve posted the image that I created. The image of the document that I wrote. And they added it to a tweet that heavily implies it was their work.

They’re not some new-to-Twitter run-of-the-mill user looking for a few retweets either, they’re a verified account, with 16.5k followers (nearly 3 times my count), claiming to represent young Conservatives in the UK. Yet they couldn’t just retweet or quote tweet me, or ask my permission to reuse my material, or even credit me in their post.

Who’d have thought that Conservatives would behave like that, eh?

Still, I didn’t write this blog to complain about them. I wrote it to say how wonderful it was to see so many of the replies to their tweet from people complaining that they’d stolen it from me. My most sincere thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to chide them, it was lovely and really touched me.

I may never have earned a penny from my writing, but it has earned me the most wonderful Twitter followers I could ever wish for.

Spannergate IV: Drip-feeding clues

Since the dawn of human history man has stared into the night sky and asked, “Who is Brian Spanner?”

brian stars
The eternal question, pictured yesterday

Now, at last, I believe we have enough evidence to finally come up with an answer.

Let’s look at the facts. Firstly, it is self-evident that the SNP are a strong, progressive party who only have Scotland’s best interests at heart. It’s also a fact that, dog-food vendors bamboozling them with  Imperialist maths aside, independence is the only path that a true Scot would support.

Yet Brian not only supports the union, but is often critical of the SNP! To be ignorant on one of these subjects may be written off to a simple error, probably borne of a sub-standard English education, but to be wrong on both of them surely suggests something more sinister at play.

We’ve also known for some time that “Brian” is a composite of the work of many different writers. This could, doubtless, be proved with basic forensic textual analysis, but there’s no need for that, because we have the word of no less an auspicious and erudite figure than John Nicolson himself, writing in The National (the newspaper that dares to tell the truth) last August.

nicolson on spanner

Naturally, with typical Scottish egalitarianism, we have always been drawn to imagine this group as being one of equals, working towards a common goal. However, there is just as much evidence to support the theory that they are a hierarchical team, working to the dictates of a single malevolent figure.

Then we add in to the mix the shocking new revelations that Brian has been able to take photographs from inside the SNP conference and this…

nicolson on spanner


Obviously no right-thinking person would ever read Spanner’s tweets, let alone re-read them, so this will have to be assumed to be true.

When one thinks of a figure who loves the hated union, hates the loved SNP, can afford a team of writers and is not a man then one naturally thinks of moderately well-know children’s author Josephine Rowling.

The case against Rowling is strong – she has supported the union, publicly disagreed with people – even though they were SNP MPs or MSPs (!), lives in Scotland despite there being documented evidence that she’s English, and she’s known to communicate with, and even defend, Spanner on Twitter.

However, Spanner is best known as a misogynist. Part of misogyny is treating women as sexual objects and Rowling, who is married and suspected to have children, doesn’t seem to lean in that direction. Unlike this powerful, pro-Union, anti-SNP figure…

davidson anderson

When you think about it all of the pieces of the jigsaw fit together like a well-played game of chess. Davidson IS pro-union, she IS anti-SNP, she PROBABLY DOES have a team of staff working for her, she HAS powerful political connections who’d MOST LIKELY be able to smuggle her into the SNP’s secret conference, she’s CLEARLY misogynistic, she’d OBVIOUSLY know a lot of the journalists, celebrities and associated hangers-on with whom “Brian” regularly chats, and she makes NO SECRET of being a Tory…god, she even seems proud of it!

Think of the value that the Spanner account would have to her. She’d be able to spread pernicious facts about the SNP, safe from behind her cloak of anonymity. She could openly communicate with and rally enemies of Scotland. If she wished to she could even look at twitter accounts offering pornographic services – and can it just be a coincidence that so many of “Brian’s” tweets have been liked by accounts offering links to explicit sexual chat?

The icing on the cake is looking at how many people follow both Ruth and Brian. Why would they be following the same person twice, unless they knew that “Brian” was saying all the things that Ruth couldn’t, because of politic? It’s this final little detail that makes the case water-tight.

Finally then we can, with 100% certainty, be the first to reveal to the world a true photo of the infamous “Brian Spanner” troll.

ruth davidson

Gosh, “he” doesn’t look happy about it, does he?


A long, long time ago I wrote a blog criticising an Abi Wilkinson article, so it’s probably only fair that I now write one praising her.

I refer, of course, to her first piece for Esquire, ‘If you don’t like this article you’re a dick’ – that isn’t actually what it’s called, of course, but that’s the gist of it. And fair play to Abi, because I suspect that’s the not-so-hidden sub-title to every article that everybody writes.

What’s more noteworthy is what a transformation we see in this article because, whatever your opinion of Abi as a journalist, you have to admit that she makes an absolutely first-rate propagandist.

This is the watershed moment when the writers of the left, who have long since given up criticising Corbynism, find that they no longer have to even attempt to justify it. Corbyn is offering the only show in town that’s cool, support it wholeheartedly or you’re uncool.

While her male colleagues still flounder trying to explain that New-Old-Labour isn’t a cult, Abi has realised that debate doesn’t even need to happen. If she said nobody treats Corbynism like a cult then critics would find counterexamples. If she said that people are right to to make Corbyn a cult figure then she’d be called wrong or misguided. Instead she simply makes it uncool to mention cultism, and 70 years of teenagers as a distinct social group have done the heavy lifting for her…nobody argues with a younger person about what is or is not cool.

And with good reason

This is truly a brilliant piece of picking the right battleground and not taking on your enemy on their own terms. Make them a figure of fun, so that it no longer matters what they say, they are an idiot just for opening their mouth.

Abi is generous, though. If you don’t want to be an idiot the proscribed subjects are clearly laid out. You can choose to speak with Corbyn on them, or you can shut up about them, and perhaps people will still think you cool.  Your old road is rapidly ageing, the article seems to say, so get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand…this is a radical new thinking, not for the lovers of crusty old dad-ballads.

Ultimately propaganda wins hearts and minds, and political power and Abi has beautifully set the stage for Labour’s triumph. It’s not a political party’s place to debate issues, or win-over critics, the road to power lies in shutting them up, devaluing their contribution, making them unpersons and Abi should, rightly, be very proud of the groundwork she has done today in making that possible.

And, of course, if you don’t agree with this article you’re a dick.

Brexit: An optimist speaks out

I am one of life’s optimists; my glass is always half-full, every cloud has a silver lining, it’s an ill wind…and so on, ad nauseam. As a looker on the bright side I’ve been disappointed by how negative paintings of Britain’s post-Brexit future have been. Even the daily announcements from The Express, about how much richer we’re going to be when we leave the EU, are based on things like papers from Economists for Free-Trade (formerly Economists for Brexit, and against literally everything else), which boast impressive GDP growth, but also gloomily mention that UK agriculture and manufacturing are going to be wiped out.

Is that the British way? Is that patriotism? Is that what we want to tell our grandchildren when they pause from gnawing on their rats bones and, eyes wide and twinkling with faith in us, ask, “What did you do in Brexit, granddad?”

No. No it’s ruddy well not!

very british

Let us then be optimistic. We’ll start by throwing out all of the economics (which is nothing more than guess-work hidden under A-level maths) and politics (which is just economics without the maths) and, instead, look at the longer term.

We tend to think of evolution as a continuous process, happening all of the time, but at a rate too slow to be perceptible within a human life-time. However, some time ago, Stephen Gould – or possibly Elliott Gould – proposed an evolutionary theory called ‘punctuated equilibrium’, which suggests that evolution might do not much for ages, and then suddenly happen a lot when circumstances change.

Think of it like this; thousands of years ago lived a herd of things-that-would-eventually-become-giraffes. They didn’t have big long necks, just regular necks, and they ate the leaves off of trees. In times when there were lots of leaves a proto-giraffe with a slightly longer neck wouldn’t have a big advantage. Sure, they could eat leaves that were a bit higher up, but they’d also have low self-esteem, from people/giraffes-to-be making fun of their freaky neck, so wouldn’t be any more likely to breed.

Then, when times are hard and there aren’t so many leaves, suddenly Geoffrey’s freak neck is the thing to have, and the lady antegiraffes are all like, “Hey, Geoffrey, come over here and get me some leaves, and afterwards we can do hot sexing and have baby long-necked freaks.”

It’s basically the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, but with more prehistoric giraffe sex.

How does this relate to Brexit, I hear you ask (not unreasonably, it must be said)? Well, we currently live in a society where scarcity is, paradoxically, rare. With the invention of pizza delivery and Ocado (relatively recently, in evolutionary terms) it no longer matters how lazy or unfit we are, we can still survive and procreate.

Brexit is going to change all of that. By reintroducing scarcity into our lives, along with the long-missed daily threat of violence, we will be breeding a future British population that is stronger, fitter, more cunning and significantly rarer.

brexit giraffes

Not only that, but because the aims of Brexit are to keep the foreigners out and those of us already here too poor to leave, we will be massively increasing the level of interbreeding – almost to European-royal-family levels. This will make beneficial mutations quicker to establish, as we fight each other tooth and claw for the last cat with a bit of meat on its bones.

Obviously evolution is still a slow process, and it’s too much to hope that our children or grandchildren will be 12ft tall, bulletproof and able to breathe fire, but with only the modest level of optimism that Economists for Free-Trade use in their GDP forecasts, it’s easy to envisage our great-grandchildren being well on their way to those goals.

Then they – the next step in human evolution, Homo Brexitus – will fall upon a world weakened by 70 years of sloth and laughing at us, and claim it as their own. Although they will be a different species to us, and will view us as little more than lardy chimpanzees, they will still carry our genetics and the history we have taught them, and they will take these to all four corners of the world, driving Homo Sapiens to extinction before them. And that is how Brexit will be the making of the New British Empire.

Also, jam exports are likely to rise slightly.