The burden of proof

Last night, on Facebook, I shared a link to David Collier’s astonishing report on the appalling Antisemitism found on the ‘Palestine Live’ Facebook group.

The second reply I got was this:

colin 1

Colin isn’t a close friend of mine, but I’ve met him a dozen or so times and we’ve known each other on-line for the best part of twenty years. Over that period I’ve always found him to be intelligent, thoughtful, balanced and moderate. I’d say that, over many on-line debates, I’ve been on the same side as him far more often than not. He’s one of those people where, if you find yourself on the opposing side, you do a little mental check, to make sure you’ve actually understood the issue properly.

In short, I have a great deal of respect for Colin, which is why I found his reply so disappointing. I told him so:

colin 2

Colin replied just to say that was a poor analogy (you are invited to make your own mind up on this), but when I checked the Facebook thread this morning he’d edited his comment:

colin 3

Let me remind you, this isn’t some frothing-at-the-mouth tankie or trot, this is someone who I’ve always found reasonable and always felt held political views not wildly dissimilar to my own.

Colin now refuses to discuss the report any further, because the author is partial. Another long-time on-line friend has joined the discussion to say that he wonder if the evidence is fabricated (he’s keen to point out that he’s not saying that it is, just that it is “highly suspicious”).

I guess that I am not the only person seeing the veneer of on-line friends scratched away today, nor the only person saddened by it. Where these people always like this, and I just never noticed it? Where they like this, but did a great job of hiding it until now? I’ve certainly seen plenty of Corbynites out today, trying to dismiss Collier’s work, in many cases clearly without having read a word of it. Hints: if you’re arguing that support for Palestine is being branded as Antisemitism then you haven’t read the report, if you’re asking for proof it was a closed group then you haven’t read the report, if you’re claiming that Corbyn himself was never a part of the group, or didn’t participate in it, then you haven’t read the report.

Read the report!

Then think about your response.

If you want to talk about the Tories selling weapons to Saudi, or cutting benefits, or whatever else what-aboutery comes to mind, then check your moral compass. Nobody is asking you to vote for the Tories if you don’t approve of what they do, but the flip side of that is that a vote for Labour is a vote to show you do approve of this Antisemitism at the highest levels of the party. There isn’t an option on the ballot to vote for just the bits you like. A vote for the current Labour party is a vote for the leaders is a vote for people who are happy to knowingly associate with holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists and racists.

If your first instinct is to say that the evidence is biased, or ask for more evidence, or excuse it then consider this – IF YOU WANT TO FIX A PROBLEM YOU WELCOME EVIDENCE. If you refuse to see evidence that a problem exists, then you’re not interested in fixing that problem.

And if you’re not interested in fixing Antisemitism in the party that could be forming then next government, well, that’s evidence as well. Certainly evidence that, on balance, you won’t be a great loss from anybody’s Facebook feed.

 

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Cynic in a hopeless land

In the early part of the 19th century a good number of people formed, often on the sketchiest of evidence, the opinion that the centre of Australia housed a vast inland sea. The lure of this vast mega-oasis was such that many people, mainly the type with names prefixed by ‘sir’ or ‘major-general’, set off to endure months of hardship and, like as not, die in bits of the most inhospitable and venomous snake infested parts of a land that had an almost endless supply of appealing coastline in the bit they turned their back on.

australia map

History, as is its way, remembers them. Their accounts – or the musings on what became of them, and where their remains might be found – can still be read. History is silent on those who said they were fucking idiots. To be fair history is also pretty silent on those who went along with them, to do all of the work and most of the sacrificing, which is a shame, because I’d like to read the account of the crew who went along with the guy who opted to take his writing desk into the interior. It’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have a fine perspective on the whole thing.

Those explorers are long gone, but their insatiable need to earn their place in the history books, by defying all reason and logic in pursuit of a pipe-dream, lives on. One can’t look at Johnson, Hannan or Farage without feeling that the sunlit uplands of Brexit are their great delta of Australia, and that they’ll happily endure any amount of suffering, especially of others, if their end of the deal includes a slice of immortality.

Republicans Conservatives
“…and there’ll be tropical beaches, and gold-mines, and a Fosters waterfall. Just imagine if you stayed here and missed the Fosters waterfall!”

Yesterday the leader of the opposition outlined his vision of this hell-trek that we’re all signed up for, and it turned out to be the same vision as that of the people he’s meant to be opposing.

If one was cynical you could say that there’s no need for him to outline a more realistic plan. There are a lot of votes to be lost by being too realistic, too detailed or too opposed to the government. The chances are that Corbyn will never be called upon to deliver his version of Brexit, all he has to do is plant enough sound-bites to prove, after the fact, that he had a better plan than the one that, inevitably, led to economic disaster. Not even better, really, just different.

If Brexit is a mass dive into an unexplored land, seeking the mythical, then Corbyn’s role is that of the vulture flying overhead. He doesn’t have to lead and it’s not in his interests to dissuade, he just has to caw enough to not put us off, but to be able to claim afterwards that he was trying to warn us. Then, even as he picks the meal of his dreams from the carcasses of the unfortunate, he’ll be able to claim that his beak is clean.

It would be nice to not be that cynical, but avoiding cynicism requires hope, and we’re being led by the hopeless, on a hopeless quest, with a hopeless opposition. Hope, which should be the life-blood of politics, has never been in shorter supply.

This is a tragedy, because hope gets things done. There are those who believe that faith can move mountains (there are no documented cases of this), or who say that love makes the world go around (the Earth span for thousands of millions of years without it), but hope gets out there and absolutely sells countless lottery tickets every single day. Without hope we’re left just lacing up our boots, looking at the endless desert in front of us and arguing about who is going to carry that damn writing desk.

beau peep vulture

A non-economist’s fair tirade against Economists for Free Trade

Since the morning of June 24th 2016 the Brexiteers vision of how much better off leaving the EU would make the UK has been slowly crumbling. From Nigel Farage almost tripping over himself in his rush to make it clear that the extra £350 million for the NHS wasn’t going to happen, along the road to where we are now, with Dan Hannan saying that voters knew there would be an economic hit (because the Leave campaign told them so) and Pete North going a step further, and saying that voters actively wanted to be worse off.

Is there no light in the darkness for the Brexiteers? The government’s own forecasts say we’re going to be much, much worse off, the cabinet can’t decide what they want to transition to, and the clock is slowly ticking down until article 50 of the Lisbon treaty drops us into a hard exit from the EU, through our own inability to manage the two year exit process.

Thank goodness, then, for Economists for Free Trade (EFT), formerly Economists for Brexit, who have told anyone who’ll listen that a no-deal Brexit is going to make us better off. Much, much, MUCH better off.

eft1

Let’s not piss about, £651 billion is an enormous sum of money. It’s more than 5 times the total NHS budget, and a whisker over 94% of the government’s revenue from direct and indirect taxation in 2017. That £350m/week for the NHS is nothing in comparison…£651bn would represent paying such an amount, week in, week out, for more than 35 years!

If hard Brexit is going to allow us to furnish the NHS with gold-plated hospitals, while maybe giving us all a break from income tax for a couple of years, then why the hell did anybody oppose it?

The loose thread to start picking at to begin unravelling of this tapestry of shit is the phrase ‘EU tariff revenue’. If we leave the EU with no deal then it’s probable that tariffs will be levied on EU goods coming into the UK, and on UK goods being exported to the EU.

At the moment something we import from the EU might cost, say, £1. If it’s subject to a 22% tariff then the importer would have to pay 22p/item to the UK government. The importer would, naturally pass that cost on to the UK consumer (us), so what used to cost £1 would now cost us £1.22, of which 22p would go to the government.

This is what makes the phrase “tariff revenue” so worrying. It’s money that the UK is taking off individuals, and because it’s consumption based revenue it tends to be regressive, hitting the poorest hardest.

However, Economists for Free Trade aren’t so stupid as to suggest that a massive, regressive tax on the UK consumer is a good thing…

…oh no, they’re much stupider than that. They think that, through mathematical sleight-of-hand, that the EU is going to pay it.

The paragraph quoted above comes from their Alternative Brexit Economic Analysis, published at the start of this week, and quickly disseminated to everybody they thought might listen, but to understand where they’re getting their numbers from you have to go to their publication from last month, The Numbers Behind No Deal – Why the EU is a Loser, by the economist Patrick Minford (you can read it here, if you’re really keen).

In this publication Minford lays out the following argument:

  1. Because of the protectionist nature of the EU, consumers within the bloc pay, on average, 20% more than the true world market value for goods.
  2. Quickly striking free-trade deals with the rest of the world (where we reciprocally agree not to levy tariffs on each others goods) will lower UK prices to world market value.
  3. In order not to lose their market, the EU exporters will have to lower their prices to match world market prices.
  4. Our trade deficit with the EU (we import more from them than they import from us) works in our favour, because they’re still paying high trade-bloc prices, where as we’re reaping the benefits of plundering the world market for the cheapest goods.

Let’s work this through.

If our £1 item is 20% over-valued then it has an “actual” world market value of 83p (83p + 20% = £1, give or take fractions of a penny), so once we’ve swiftly signed a free trade deal with whoever is knocking them out at that price we’ll all be saving 17p every time we buy one of these things.

If it’s something that we were previously buying from the EU then there’s no way we’re going to pay the new, tariff-boosted, price of £1.22, so our EU supplier is forced to lower their price, so that the price of their thing, plus the tariff, equals 83p. We, the consumer, pay no more, and the government pockets the tariff on each item sold. The tariff is, EFT argue, being paid by the EU (specifically the EU exporter, who’s taken a hit on their profits to sell at the cost we’ll buy for).

If the item in question is something that we export to the EU then we can knock it out at our new, lower, price of 83p and, even with a 22% tariff, the price to the EU consumer won’t change much. Hence, the EU pays when it imports (because of the tariff) and also pays when it exports (because of the lower price).

Minford puts down his pen, lights his pipe, smiles, and tells you that this means that a no-deal Brexit means the UK is £651bn better off, while the EU is £507bn worse off.

Indeed, the above economics suggest that a credible threat by the UK to leave in the face of an unattractive trade deal would be a powerful motivating factor for the EU to agree an attractive deal.

Alternative Brexit Economic Analysis, page 18

That’s all good, then. End of article.

 

No, hang on, if no-deal puts £1.1 trillion of clear water between us and the EU, then why on Earth would be care if the EU offers us an attractive deal or not? Are they really going to offer us a deal more attractive than £651bn in our national bank account?

The answer, rather predictably, is that while Minford’s numbers may stand up to mathematical scrutiny (especially if the reader is keen to just hear what they want to hear, or is looking for a quick ‘Brexit boosts UK by £650 billion!’ headline, to fit the editorial stance of their newspaper), but there’s an enormous amount of supposition and wishful thinking underlying it, and if Brexit has taught us anything it is (hopefully) that “I reckon” is a poor substitute for “I know”.

The first hurdle is that to get to the world market price we have to negotiate free trade deals with everyone we want to buy from. The World Trade Organisation, under whose auspices we’d be importing goods, doesn’t allow us to discriminate based on the origin point of goods, so we either throw ourselves open to tariff-free imports from the entire world (including the EU) and hope that they do the same for us, or we sign those trade agreements one-by-one.

Thing is, we’ve had a bit of a meltdown on the world-stage and publicly separated from the supplier of, to pick a random example, 27% of our food supply. This makes us hungry, possibly literally, for those free-trade deals…and negotiating the price of a sandwich when you’re starving is rarely a good position to be in.

When those trade deals roll in we’ll benefit from being free of protectionism, but we’ll discover that part of what it was doing was protecting us. Just because we can import an item from China for 83p doesn’t mean that the UK makers of said thing can knock it out at that price. China has lower wages, less worker protections, fewer environmental regulations and more lax safety standards than we do. Either we’re happy to let our home-grown manufacturing and agriculture industries die or we’re willing to hack back our regulatory framework, until it’s on-par with the lowest priced supplier in the world.

Thinking about that also uncovers the flaw in the EU-will-lower-their-prices argument. If something that used to be sold to us tariff-free for £1 is now being sold to us at 83p, including a 22% tariff, then that means that the EU supplier is now exporting it at a cost of 68p. To assume that they’d do so to pursue their market is to assume that they currently have that level of profit built into their product (and Minford’s own argument says that, if they have, then somebody should already be undercutting them). The EU is neither going to sell to us at a loss, or to slash its own regulations down to the bone to allow manufacturers to do so.

Nor can we export to them, especially not without a manufacturing industry. We can’t simply import goods and then sell them on to the EU as if we were the country of origin. The WTO isn’t keen on such things.

The result then would be our vibrant 40 year trade partnership descending into the sad state of affairs where they have nothing we can afford, and we have nothing to sell them.

The outcome of a no-deal, then, is the death of UK industry, a mess of unfavourable, hasty trade deals, dropping our standards to buy on price alone, without thought to ethical or safety standards, and possibly the complete end of our relationship with our biggest and closest buyer and seller.

All worth it for £651bn a year though, right?

It might be, except that figure was never an annual one. EFT have attempted to calculate the total future value of any gains, while ignoring any short-term losses, as this paragraph from the ABEA explains (badly)…

eft2

Now the point is valid; many of us, totally rationally, choose to notch up debt for 3 years getting a degree, in order to access lifelong higher average earnings, but in this case these figures are easily expressed as potential annual gain. Not to do so gives the impression that the authors were more interested in big headline figures, that would appeal to their target audience.

Hang on, haven’t we been here before?

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson speaks at the launch of the Vote Leave bus campaign, in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, in Truro
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson speaks at the launch of the Vote Leave bus campaign, in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, in Truro, Britain May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Grand Designs

grand designs brexit

EXT, DAY. HELICOPTER SHOT OF GEORGIAN MANOR, SET IN GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND

KEVIN MCCLOUD[VO]: For most of us, inheriting a manor house would be a dream come true, but for professionally inept couple, Theresa and David, it simply isn’t enough.

EXT, DAY. THERESA, DAVID AND KEVIN TALK OUTSIDE THE HOUSE

DAVID: Obviously, it’s a beautiful house and we love it deeply and want the best for it, but we feel that we can make more of it.

KEVIN: What do you hope to achieve with your design?

DAVID: To make it better.

KEVIN: Yes, but what’s your vision for the finished house?

DAVID: We can make it much bigger, but also reduce the running costs, get rid of some of the staff and make it a nicer place to live.

KEVIN: And how does Theresa feel about this?

DAVID: Well, she was against it at first, but she’s come around to my way of thinking

THERESA: Building means building.

EXT, DAY, PAN OF THE BUILDING

KEVIN[VO]: The house was constructed in 1890, and while much of it has been modernised there are still some areas which need updating. David and Theresa have rather more ambitious goals than a modest refresh, though, and have engaged local builder, Boris, to carry out the work.

EXT, DAY, BORIS AND KEVIN OUTSIDE OF BUILDING

BORIS: Obviously, one’s never tried one’s hand at this before, but how difficult can it be if people who haven’t even been to Oxford can manage it?

KEVIN: You’re not concerned by the lack of any sort of firm plan from David and Theresa?

BORIS: Cripes, no. Make it bigger, better, cheaper and freer. This is going to be the easiest build in history. I’m going to make a tremendous success of it. “Look upon my works, ye mighty”, eh?

INT, DAY, BORIS, WEARING A SUIT AND A HARD-HAT, BRAYS A SEEMINGLY RANDOM WALL WITH A SLEDGE-HAMMER

KEVIN[VO]: Over-optimism, even on a tightly managed build, can be ill-founded, and with David and Theresa’s build having no plan, no firm budget projections and inexperienced builders it seems to me that they’re heading for a fall.

THE SLEDGEHAMMER GOES THROUGH THE WALL. THERE IS A SHOWER OF SPARKS AND A TOILET FALLS THROUGH A SECTION OF THE CEILING SOME DISTANCE AWAY.

BORIS: We expected that to happen.

KEVIN[VO]: There have also been significant problems with the project management.

THERESA [TO CAMERA]: We found someone called Nigel, who really sounded like he had a plan for all of this, but we haven’t seen him since we decided to go ahead.

RADIO [BACKGROUND]: Good morning, pop-pickers, this is funky Uncle Farage playing you down to the midday news, and here’s With or without you by the always wonderful U2.

INT, DAY, LIAM STANDS IN THE SHELL OF THE HOUSE, CARRYING AN UMBRELLA, BECAUSE MOST OF THE ROOF HAS BEEN REMOVED

KEVIN[VO]: Meanwhile, interior designer, Liam, has been engaged, at a cost of nearly £12,000 a month.

LIAM [TO CAMERA]: Obviously, there’s very little interior design work I can do until the new structure starts to emerge, but I’m being kept very busy imagining how wonderful it’s all going to look. For example, there’s going to be a feature staircase affixed to that wall there.

A BULLDOZER, DRIVEN BY BORIS, CRASHES THROUGH THE INDICATED WALL

LIAM: Or a door. We’ll certainly need doors.

A WHOLE SECTION OF THE BUILDING COLLAPSES, AND THE DUST FLIES EVERYWHERE

LIAM [OBSCURED BY DUST CLOUD]: The important thing is that we’re all now absolutely clear what “load-bearing” means, and that was a crucial lesson.

EXT, DAY, HELICOPTER APPROACH TO THE SITE

KEVIN[VO]: Eighteen months into the build, and I’ve returned to see how Theresa and David are getting along.

EXT, DAY, SHOT OF THE MANOR, WHICH IS NOW MAINLY RUBBLE. ONE WING REMAINS STANDING, BUT IS ROOFLESS AND SEEMS TO BE LISTING TO THE RIGHT

KEVIN[VO]: With much of the house now in ruins and what remains poorly bodged…

SHOT OF WALL THAT IS BEING HELD UP WITH PLANKS OF 4×2 LEANED AGAINST IT

SHOT OF COLUMN MOUNTED ON A PILE OF SPECTATOR MAGAZINES

KEVIN[VO]: …Theresa and David are now reduced to living in a caravan in what was, until quite recently, the modernised west-wing of the original house.

INT, DAY, SMALL CARAVAN. DAVID AND KEVIN SIT AT THE TABLE

DAVID: We’re still very positive about the build. We always expected that there’d be a lengthy period of uncertainty and rebuilding, and we’re still confident that the finished building will meet and exceed all of our previous dreams.

KEVIN: When we last spoke you said that you had 58 detailed plans of the new build. Could I possibly have a look at them?

DAVID: While I did say that there were a number of plans, they may have less physical existence than my previous comments may have led you to believe.

SHOT OF CARAVAN BATHROOM DOOR

THERESA [OS]: Strong and stable, the new house will be strong and stable!

EXT, DAY, KEVIN STANDS IN FRONT OF THE RUBBLE OF THE HOUSE

KEVIN [TO CAMERA]: With no end in sight…with no end even envisaged, it seems that Theresa and David’s build is doomed. They really have hit rock bottom.

THERE IS A LOUD BANG IN THE BACKGROUND, AND A LARGE FIRE STARTS AMONGST THE RUBBLE.

BORIS [OS]: OH TESTICULIS!

EXT, DAY, OUTSIDE THE CARAVAN. KEVIN IS STANDING, THERESA IS SITTING IN A MUDDY PUDDLE

KEVIN: Do you feel at all that you’ve wrecked the house you inherited?

THERESA: Inherited? Oh no, we’re just renting.

CREDITS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will no-one think of the adult babies?

Pornography elicited a decidedly unpleasant swelling in the trousers yesterday, when it became clear that the forthcoming enforcement of the Digital Economy (2017) Act will give a private company the keys to build a database of the porn watching habits of 25m UK adults.

group of bunnies
This photo is unrelated to the rest of the blog. I just thought it might calm us all down a bit

The act requires that sites offering pornography in the UK must verify that the user is over 18, and that requirement is creating a need for 3rd party service providers who can do exactly that. It probably wasn’t the government’s intention to create a hugely valuable database to serve as a primary target for every hacker who fancies a spot of blackmail, or who thinks they can sell extracted data to somebody who does…and with all the noise of Brexit it’s easy to forget just how incompetent the government is with day-to-day legislation as well.

In theory, this section of the bill is easy enough; a regulator views websites and decides if they are pornographic or not. If they are deemed to be so then they need to have age verification, if they don’t acquiesce to this request (and many of them will be based outside the UK, and outside of the reach of parliament’s legislative arm) then the regulator can order UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to that site (and also to record who has tried to access the blocked site…sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that until yesterday’s trousers were back from the dry-cleaners). The bill tackles the tricky question of, “What is pornography?” by defining it as material “produced solely or principally for the purposes of sexual arousal” and which would be rated ’18’ or ‘R18’ if submitted to the BBFC for classification.

Probably because of this requirement to determine how the BBFC would classify a piece the BBFC themselves have been named as the regulator. As I’ve written previously this is a terrible decision, for both us and them. However, the Digital Economy bill gives the BBFC more to do than make a porn/not porn decision; it requires them to shut down “extreme” porn websites.

The bill helpfully defines “extreme pornography” in the following manner…

extreme porn definition

It then goes on to refer the reader to sections 63(7) and 63(7A) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration (2008) Act for the definition of “extreme”. This act itself isn’t particularly restrictive, to be extreme the material must depict one or more of the following:

  • An act which would threaten a person’s life
  • An act which is likely to result in “serious injury” to a person’s breasts, anus or genitals
  • Necrophilia
  • Bestiality
  • Non-consensual penetration of the mouth, anus or vagina by anything (the act literally says, “by another with a part of the other person’s body or anything else”)

In cases where the BBFC decides that porn is extreme the only option the Digital Economy act gives it is to issue a notice to ISPs, compelling them to block the content in the UK.

The BBFC’s preference has always leaned towards cutting, rather than outright banning, and they have always worked with the film industry to negotiate with them, in detail, what must be cut in order to make a film acceptable. The DE act gives them no leeway to negotiate in such a manner with porn sites. If a site hosts thousands of videos, and one of them is deemed to be extreme, then the chances are that the whole site will vanish to everyone in the UK (but, remember, ISPs will still be logging who tries to visit it).

When what’s in question is rape-porn and snuff movies I doubt there are many who would argue that this is a terrible affront civil liberties. However, a grey area is opened up by the gap between what the BBFC is willing to classify as R18 and the definition of extreme pornography, as given above.

And, boy, is there a lot of stuff in that grey area. If your tastes run to watersports, spanking, face-sitting, scat, bondage, verbal abuse or just plain old watching adults dress up in giant nappies and get bottle-fed then you’re into the area of material that the BBFC would not pass as R18, but which also does not constitute extreme pornography.

What happens to websites containing that material? Again, the act gives no middle ground and grants no consultation process or advisory role to the regulator. They make a decision on whether age verification is required and another on whether pornography is extreme, nothing else. There is a wealth of material that the regulator cannot say that they would award an R18 rating, but nor can they, in good conscience, classify the material as extreme, by the definition used by the act.

It seems likely that the BBFC will default towards blocking such sites within the UK. It’s the least risky option for them, especially as most of the sites are likely to be small, specialised (ahem) businesses, based outside of the UK, who will not want the expense of a legal battle, and the ISPs themselves are unlikely to kick up a fuss about simply adding another domain to their blocked list. The communities of users are also likely to be small, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll even get a petition going, for much the same reason they’d be worried about appearing on a big database of sexual preferences.

All of this means that if you’re currently lying gagged and shackled, while a man dressed as a baby urinates on you and calls you a cuck then, for you, the party is almost over. The future is your favourite web-sites vanishing, your ISP recording that you went looking for them and a sea of ‘acceptable’ vanilla porn taking their place (if you’re happy for your name and address to be recorded against your visits to those sites).

group of bunnies
Best have the rabbits again. If rabbits are your thing, you’re in luck

You might not share any of the kinks mentioned, and it’s certainly hard to believe that if Pastor Niemëller’s famous warning had started, “First they came for the scat fetishists”, that anybody would have cared who they came for next, but the case is that the bounty that the Internet brought to some weird-as-all-hell people is being taken away by, quite literally, the “will nobody think of the children” crowd. And that’s got to smart a bit.

From April the Internet, as seen from the UK, will start becoming more conformist, more ‘normal’, more approved and state-sanctioned. It’s hard to defend the view that doesn’t also make it a lot more boring.

As somebody once wrote, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine [Sorry, this content is not available in your country]

One drunken night

A recent tweet invited people to describe the most drunk they’d ever been in six words. This is sort of a response to that, except that I’m going to use many more words and this story didn’t happen to me. However, the subject cannot (and would not) tell this story themselves, for reasons that will become clear.

Some time late in ’95 or ’96, no idea which, I got an invitation from a friend, Sarah, to go and visit her for the weekend in Glasgow. She also invited a mutual friend, Clair, from Newcastle. Clair didn’t fancy driving from Newcastle to Glasgow by herself and was between boyfriends, so she in turn invited her new housemate, Phil.

I say Phil, but this was more than 20 years ago, I only met the guy this once and I’m terrible with names at the best of times, so quite possibly he wasn’t called Phil at all. Also, I should possibly change his name, but there’s a good chance I already have.

On their journey Northwards Phil and Claire got to find out things. She, for example, discovered that he was a staunch Catholic and he discovered that Sarah, and most of her circle of friends, were lesbians. This revelation came as they sailed over the Scottish border and he genuinely asked Clair to stop the car, so that he could get out and walk back to Newcastle, rather than having to spend a weekend with the sinful.

Clair refused and the pair of them turned up at the Glasgow flat, where Phil spent the afternoon avoiding talking to anyone or touching anything, in case lesbianism was contagious. Around 5 we piled into the kitchen for a communal effort at cooking dinner, and also started drinking.

Over the next 4 hours more people drifted in, and more beer was sunk down. A decision was made that we needed to hit the town. Between the start of cooking and the decision to go out Phil had been drinking with the determination of a papist who suspects that if sapphism is the disease then alcohol is the cure, and offered only token resistance to being bundled into a taxi (still armed with a tinnie tincture).

Thus myself, Phil, Clair and around half-a-dozen ladies-who-munch arrived in central Glasgow and democratically decided to hit the gay bars.

Where Phil had the time of his life. He danced, he chatted, he flirted, he loved it. He was the absolute life and soul of several other people’s parties.

Around midnight me and one of the girls decided that we needed pizza rather than more drink, so headed off. We agreed to take Phil with us, as he was by now very, very drunk and in serious danger of doing someone he was going to regret. A walk, a wait in the pizza shop and another taxi ride later we realised it would also have been a good idea to take a key to the flat.

As it was a ground floor flat we skirted around it to see if any windows had been left ajar, without any success. Phil, however, reckoned that he could make one ajar. He gripped the bottom of the portion of Sarah’s bedroom window, which opened outwards, and give it a sudden, full-strength, tug. CRACK! A hairline fracture split the pane from top to bottom, but the window remained shut. We resigned ourselves to having to wait outside for the main party to return. Fortunately, because of our time in the pizza shop and that spent being drunkenly inept cat-burglars, it was only about a half-hour wait. We got into the warmth of the flat, shared pizza, drank more and, at some point, passed out.

The next morning, during the inevitable hungover tidy-up, somebody mentioned the broken window.

“Did a window get broken last night?” asked Phil.

“Yes,” he was told, “you broke it.”

“Did I?”

“Yes, when we were trying to get back in.”

He looked genuinely puzzled. “Did we go out last night?”

We cross-examined him, but he honestly seemed to have no idea that we’d ever left the flat the previous night. He didn’t know that, for one night only, he’d been the most beautiful (and most drunken) butterfly on the Glasgow gay-scene. Perhaps he never knew, because we certainly weren’t going to tell him, but he was Queen for a night.

Postscript

I wasn’t going to write this story up, but the sudden and tragic death of Dolores O’Riordan brought it up again. I’m not a great listener to music, but I remember that it was Sarah who introduced me to The Cranberries. She was a very dear friend of mine, and thinking about this story and her made me realise that it’s been 20 years since I saw her.

It’s 2018. So many things are shite. But that moment remains frozen in time. Sarah is my best friend. The party never ends. Phil rocks the gay scene. Delores provides the soundtrack.

I can’t revisit that moment, except by sharing it with you.

Afterwards

You drunk the wine and now you must pay the price. There is a headache, there is a headache on top of the headache, and it’s got a headache of its own. All you want is to sit still and let the headaches fight it out, until there’s only the alpha-headache for you to deal with, but you can’t. You can’t because there is stuff to be done.

So much stuff.

Things were broken, damaged and disarranged. While you were enjoying the heady wine they seemed like trivial things. There would always be wine, there would never be morning, all problems would be resolved.

Now there is no more wine, only morning. The problems have not been resolved. Everywhere you look there is ruin. “Traitor” has been carved into your antique writing-desk. That’s there forever now. No amount of polishing is going to remove that. Ornaments and knickknacks have been smashed to pieces. Strange how saddening that is. They’d been around so long that you’d really stopped noticing them, but they were yours and now you suddenly appreciate how much nicer they made living here.

No time to mourn, though, everything has to be sorted out quickly. There’s a deadline looming. It’s like that time you threw a teenage party the night before your parents were due back from holiday. Christ, what were you thinking?

Oh god! What has someone done on the TV? The filthy animal!

No time to dwell on it. It’s time for the Marigolds and the sturdy bin-bag. Just stuff things in, no time to worry about whether what you’re hastily discarding is repairable or valuable, you just have to clean up.

God, this would be a lot easier if you didn’t keep remembering all of the crap that the wine made you say last night. Did you really make those plans? Was everyone as drunk as you? Are they really going to expect you to do those things?

Fuck! That Lancaster House speech! What were you thinking?

Block it out. Stuff things into bin-bags with extra force. Just throw everything away, you can always say you’ve de-cluttered, de-toxed, gone back to basics…minimalist. Yeah, you can make that sound like a choice, rather than just an outcome.

Right, there’s no way that room is ever going to be the same again. Perhaps you could just close the door on it and pretend it was never there. Hey, that might work for that bedroom as well. Sure, the house will be smaller, but you might be able to manage the bits that you live in.

That really was one hell of a party, but this is 2018, the year of the hangover.

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