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Letting go

Four years ago, I went for a walk along a beach. I didn’t know if I’d be coming back. I didn’t want to. 

You don’t really get clear beginnings and endings. It’s like the tide coming in, a series of waves gradually coming closer, until your toes sink into damper, darker sand and the cold water bubbles over your ankles. It’s hard to know when things are. Over. 

I look back now and I know things are changing. Finally, work. Finally, hope. Family. All the things that seemed impossible, because they were then. Now they’re here and so am I. Nothing and everything has changed. You become aware of the passing of time, the process of ageing; a tooth crumbles and print becomes imperceptibly harder to read. Any moment could be the start of a decline. It could be today that pain arrives and doesn’t leave. But even that is evidence that change can happen. And you’re part of it. 

If you can get through an hour you can get through a day. One sleep at the end of the day and you can get through a day. One leads to another. Sometimes you just have to exist a bit and let time pass around you. It’s not as easy to do as that. But I found I could. 

I know the thinking nowadays is to live in the moment, an endless present tense, but that doesn’t work for me. Today is held down by threads of yesterday, lifted up on the hopes of the next day, another day. You carry scars and memories. Some things change and some don’t. Some can and some won’t. But you can try.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Why we got it so right

As a columnist I am often asked, who the fuck do you think you are? What makes your opinions so much better than everyone else’s? And why are you unable to make real and lasting friendships with other humans? But mainly, I am asked about why I am so talented and if I have any tips for young hopefuls who may wish to get into being a professional opinion-haver. And as luck would have it, I can tell you.

Now, some people – bad people, who don’t have byline photos with them looking over their shoulder at the camera as if to say yes, here I am, it’s me again, and here I come with a wry sideways controversial look at the news – have said we got it wrong. About the election, you know. Articles such as “Trot bastard Corbyn will fucking lose you leftie pricks”, “Fucking hell I will stuff a blackbird up my arse and shit it into Dan Jarvis’s mouth if Labour don’t all die of shame on June 9” and “You bunch of antisemites, liars, bastards, scumbags, murderers, terrorists and wankers, why don’t you join nice people like us over here?” may have convinced you that I didn’t back Labour.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am of course still a member of Labour, despite my column last year entitled “Why am I cutting up my Labour Party card and putting the bits into 37 different bins, each a five-mile drive from each other, just to be sure, and why you should too”. I back Labour, I just hate all their policies and wish daddy could come back and save us, but for SOME REASON people who are idiot purists and who put virtue-signalling principles above electability decided that blowing people up was in some way anything other than a glorious humanitarian liberation, which it clearly was, and actually, if you realised anything you’d see that Chomsky supported Pol Pot, so yeah, take that, leftie. Not so smug now, are we?

So yes, I support Labour, I just despise any policy that isn’t based on privatising and deregulating everything, and I certainly don’t want higher taxes for rich people. Some people – stupid people, idiots and sixth formers mainly – say this is something called “neoliberalism”. I mean, hey guys, what? That’s a pretty long word to be bandying around? Can you define it for me please? In six words. NOW. DEFINE IT NOW. YOU MUST DEFINE IT. THREE WORDS THEN. GO. CAN YOU? NO, YOU CAN’T. YOU CAN’T. YOU LOSE. I mean, it’s pathetic to try and define a huge amount of policies comng from very different places in a broad sweep of one term. Trotskyist Corbyn knows that and that’s why he is bad and wrong, and why even if he gets votes, that’s wrong, because principles are actually more important, I think you’ll find, but of course Labour hypocrites don’t see that at all, massive hypocrites that they are.

And as for this business about getting it wrong, er, hello? Labour didn’t win! I think you’ll find that my prediction of a thumping, glorious and well-deserved majority for Theresa May, that shrewd and brilliant operator who parked her tanks on Labour’s lawn and opened up a new centre-left party for everyone that would destroy Labour and push it into deserved obscurity, was closer to the truth than yours, where you said there might be modest gains by the Tories at the absolute best. So who really got it right?

Anyway, it’s not about getting it right or wrong anyway. Cuh, what do you take me for, a bloody fortune teller? No, and this is where you might want to start taking notes, being an opinion-haver today is not about being “right” or “wrong”. It’s all about getting that hot, hot take and those sexy numbers. It’s not about constructing an argument or trying to balance different views, it’s about steaming ahead like a freight train through a primary school, ensuring you make as much noise as possible. Otherwise how are your words going to make an impact in a crowded marketplace? You need to stand out. Take out all the doubts you have and imagine that you have such a colossal, grandiose sense of your own intellect that you never need to question anything, let alone yourself. Imagine (of course, some of us don’t have to imagine!) you’re always right, and plough on regardless of any difficulties with facts or things that might turn up in the meantime.

Sure, it might mean that sometimes you have to pretend you know more about something than you really do, but that can be done. I mean I’m pretty sure I know more about most things than anyone and am significantly better than you. In fact I read a book on bricklaying and it turns out I’m better at it than bricklayers are. But I guess we’ve got to give people who didn’t go to the right schools something to do, haven’t we! Ha ha. Yes. Yes, we do.

It might mean that sometimes you come up with stupid, wrong takes that are deeply unpleasant and upsetting, but that’s just a test. That’s the moment when you’re faced with a choice. You can either think about whether you might, possibly, have been wrong to have crashed through the wall and announced your opinion on something you weren’t really entirely au fait with… or you can do the right thing. Double down, blame the people criticising you – one or two of them are bound to have sworn, the scum, which will make it look like you’re the clever one – and carry on. People will really start to hate you. Your takes will be more controversial and more infuriating. And then you’ve really won.

So, sure, a lot of it’s about talent, and luckily I happen to have an awful lot of that. A lot of it, though, is also about making sure you have that strength of character, that courage, to make sure that even when someone dares to tell you that you might, possibly, on this occasion, have been wrong about something, or not as entirely right as they might have liked you to be, you dismiss their views entirely.

And that’s why there is no “right” and “wrong” as these idiots would like to have you believe. There is only right. Your right to get it wrong. Ha ha! (Leave that bit in, that’s good. Don’t end it on an unstressed syllable, you cunts.)

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Seven summers

Seven summers since I lost a proper job. Warm weather, like this, outside. I walked down the hill into town to put my redundancy cheque – yes, a cheque – in the bank. That time of year when violet takes over from bluebell. I saw a dead fledgling, its bulging oversized face being eaten away by hungry ants, at the bottom of a tree, and I carried on walking.

You can do anything you want, go anywhere you want, and no one will stop you. That’s what you think, but you don’t end up doing that. You end up filling out forms, writing the same thing over and over. This is my name, this is what I did, this is how I am justifying myself to you. I studied here. I got these results. I worked here. And here, and here and here. Would you like me to work for you? You might? You wouldn’t. Thank you very much and I’ll try again.

You meet people in interview rooms. Some of them are kind, and others you just want to jump over the desk and punch their stupid fat wobbling red faces until they stop moving. Sometimes they have sympathy for you, but often they don’t. There’s a thinly veiled contempt, which you feel obliged to return, but there’s only anger, and anger goes nowhere but back inside. But you never do anything. You try and be yourself, and you worry if yourself is really what you should be. Some people say, don’t be like that. Be more like this. You try being more like this and less like that. It doesn’t work. So you go back to being how you were anyway. And still it doesn’t work. You move on. Another room, another interview. Can you tell me why you want this job? Well, I need money in order to buy things and pay bills, and I can do this job, I really can do it, just let me have it, I’ve worked hard, I’ll work hard for you, I might not be exactly the precise person you’re probably looking before, but I know I can do it, and please give me the money you have, please, I would beg but I don’t know how to beg. So you don’t beg, you just retreat into that forced, polite, trying to make yourself look as good as you can, and you wonder if they can sense the desperation, and if they can, whether they care, but you know that they probably don’t, or if they do, so what? They’re still not giving you a job.

I did have a proper job, for a while. It paid pretty well and I could go on holidays. But I didn’t do the right things. I didn’t want to lie about the figures. I didn’t want to lie about the things that were happening. I didn’t want to pretend everything was all right, when it clearly wasn’t all right. I was a trouble maker. I wouldn’t just put my head down and tell the good lies for the benefit of everyone else. If you just say X is Y, that will get them off our back. But X isn’t Y. And when you won’t make X Y, even when it isn’t, you’re marked down as being the wrong kind of person. You’re the kind of person they really don’t want clogging up their organisation. So soon it was time for me to go, and seeing as I really didn’t want to go, I had to be made to go. So mistakes were found. Errors were seen. The slow walk down the corridor. The feeling that something is about to go horribly, horribly, terribly wrong. The meeting. The phone call. The meeting. With regret. And all of that. And then you begin again.

Work is a thing that has to be done. Find the thing you love and do it, they say. But not everyone does the thing they love for money. Not everything you love will pay you money, and there are bills that need to be paid and things that need to be done. Sometimes you just want to stand on the warm grass in the summer and know what the next week or next month or next year might bring, without knowing the only thing you can rely on is the passing of time.

Feel the warm grass under your bare feet. Summer again. Still nowhere to go.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Cunt signalling

A few years ago, someone invented the phrase “virtue signalling”. (If I told you that this person writes for the Spectator, you might have a vague idea of the context, even if you hadn’t heard the phrase. Basically it means not being a cunt.) If you try not to be a cunt, you’re virtue signalling.

Virtue signalling has developed mission creep over the years since this terrible writer, whoever it was, I can’t bring myself to look him up, but it’s definitely a man who writes for the Spectator, invented it. So now it means anything you want it to mean, but specifically, anyone trying to have any faint trace of humanity or compassion, which you know to be risible and daft and not the kind of grown-up intelligent politics that you stand for, which completely coincidentally means you keeping a lot more of your money.

If you vote for something you believe in, you’re virtue signalling. If you think that rich people should pay more tax than poor people, you’re virtue signalling. If you think dropping bombs onto people isn’t a clever and good thing to do, you’re virtue signalling. If you think anything other than a brutal, horrible, vindictive, spiteful, cruel, unpleasant existence and hateful attitude towards everyone else is the right way to conduct yourself, you’re virtue signalling.

Virtue signalling is what cunts used to call being a “bleeding heart”, and the sentiment is similar. The “bleeding hearts” used to have weak, foolish, unmasculine traits such as caring about other human beings, thinking that killing other people or letting them die was in some strange way a bad or incorrect thing to happen. Nowadays, virtue signalling goes that little bit further. It’s not just that people dare to have these views, which are clearly incorrect and wrong and naive and foolish and stupid and should be endlessly mocked by those of us who realise it’s right to be a hateful prick; no, they have these views and dare to express them. Not in the shiny paper pages of superior right-wing political magazines, of course, because only the right kind of people with the right kind of friends get to write their opinions there – where they are transformed from the ramblings of unkind bastards into the sage savouries of bright, hilarious and intelligent men – but elsewhere. Maybe in tweets, or somewhere in a meme that gets more retweets than is deemed appropriate for someone without the proper clearance and authority; maybe on a Facebook page or on one of those news websites we can call “fake news” because it’s not done by someone in nice clothes who does the paper review on the BBC News channel at three in the morning.

It’s a phrase used by gatekeepers. It’s designed to shut down, dismiss and keep at bay those unruly plebs who are tapping at the drawbridge and demanding to actually be allowed to have a say about things – you know, plebs, morons and the great unwashed. Some of them think they’re allowed to have opinions on politics without even having gone to the right kind of Oxbridge college and studied PPE or PPS or whatever it is they grow chortling sketchwriters in nowadays. Stop these people in their tracks. Virtue signalling. You may think that, but that’s just the kind of virtue signalling a virtue signaller would use. You want other people to know that you’re a purity politics idiot who would rather believe in things than be in power; you would rather vote for things you want rather than things you don’t want by people you don’t like that might somehow lead accidentally to half-decent things, if you’re lucky, and if they aren’t too busy dropping fucking bombs on people halfway around the world in the name of humanitarian intervention – not that THAT’S virtue signalling, of course, because dropping a bomb actually creates peace, whereas wanting peace means that terrible things happen. Do you see?

But let’s call this what it is. What it really is. It’s cunt signalling. If they can use a dismissive little phrase to say that giving a shit about other humans is somehow invalid and pathetic, let’s have one for them. Cunt signalling. When you scoff at the idea that someone wouldn’t incinerate millions in a nuclear first strike: cunt signalling. When you tell people that actually taxing the rich more doesn’t raise significantly more money and therefore, let them keep it all, after all, it’s their money: cunt signalling. When you say that, actually, the best thing to do for the poor is to let them suffer, cut off their benefits, sanction them, stop them from getting the help they need, make it harder and harder to jump through the hoops they need to in order to be kept alive (and if a few of them drop dead in the process, well, so be it, lessons will be learned, and so on): cunt signalling.

Every time you see the phrase “virtue signalling”, used sincerely, it means that person wants you to know they’re a cunt. They’re telling you they’re a cunt. They are cunt signalling, very clearly. They don’t care about others and they want you to know that, because they’re proud of it. Happy to hate. Proud of hatred. Proud to be scum.

As soon as those two words come together, everything else disappears.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

What I run about when I think I’m thinking about running

I started running about half a year ago. It hurts. That’s the main thing. I don’t do it because I enjoy the buzz you get afterwards, and I don’t do it because it’s made me lose weight, or gives me time to myself, or gets me out of the house in the fresh air. I do it because it hurts. It’s monotonous, and repetitive, and hurts. I do it because I’m trying to teach myself to get through the bit that hurts and get to the bit where it feels okay again and you can carry on and forget that there was a voice inside your head telling you to give up and go home – or you can remember that voice, and remember that you told it to fuck off, you weren’t ready to quit yet, you wanted to carry on. I run because it hurts, and you get through the hurt, and you learn about how much of the pain you can take, then you learn that pain is information, nothing more or less, and that you can treat it with the contempt of anything else you might be told by anyone, anywhere.

You run because you want to run. You don’t go anywhere and you don’t see anything. You travel from one place to another, through the place in between, and you pass by other lives on the way, or they pass by you, like passengers on a train watching you run, and you watch the train pass under the road beneath you and you keep your eyes up ahead, where there is only grey pavement and there is only the road in front of you, where there is more pain, and you keep going, because you want to, because you have to, because some kind of arbitrary measuring point in metric or imperial distance is up there, waiting for you, or some unit of time has to be clocked off.

There is music playing, though you don’t hear it. You feel the music in your body and you feel it playing around you. You hear the rhythm of your feet, tapping out the same sound and the same sound and the same sound and the same sound, and you feel your breath boiling through your chest and the spit whirling around your face, and it reminds you of a song you once heard, or used to play, and takes you to the place where you used to listen to it, or of the time when you used to play it, maybe a summer, 1996, and the room where you used to live, and the people you knew, and the people who were there and seemed so important and are now gone, all of them, some in the ground and some just to other places – they could be around the next corner, waiting for you, but they won’t be, and they’re gone forever, just like the memory you have of the song you heard, which is slipping away, slipping from your grasp, like your sweat into the wind. Keep running.

Run. I used to think people who ran were running from something, something they wanted to forget, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore; I think they were probably most likely running towards something. You’re always running forward, always making some kind of progress, always putting one foot in front of the other, if you’re not going anywhere it doesn’t matter, you’re always making some kind of change. Change is possible. Your muscles get stronger, your endurance gets better, your speed increases, your tolerance of the pain gets better. You get better at the thing you’re doing. Unlike so many other places in life, you can improve, you can do the same thing again and again and it gets better rather than stagnating; you can actually change and be better at something than you were before. You can be better. You can be the person you want to be. You can find something, somewhere, anything, where you’re able to make a difference to yourself. You can run. You can get through the pain. You can do it.

Then you retreat back into ordinary life, and you’re still the same person, and your progress can’t be measured, or if anything you’re getting worse, and other people judge you and find that you’re not good enough and that you could be better. People tell you when to run and stop. People tell you what you should be doing and they try to encourage you to do things you don’t want to do, or to be a different person so that you would do things the way they would do them rather than the way you would do them, not that they’re trying to tell you how to do anything, but don’t do it that way, do it this way. People tell you that you could be better. People tell you that you’re getting worse. People tell you that you’re letting them down. People tell you that, unfortunately, they’re going to have to use the word unfortunately, and then the rest of the sentence doesn’t ever matter, because you’re looking at yourself sitting in a chair in a room with the door closed and you’re looking through the wrong end of a telescope, and everything seems to be getting darker. Unfortunately.

But there is no unfortunately when you’re running. You just run. You get on with it. You get better all the time. The road keeps coming to you and you keep coming to it.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

You silly sods

I haven’t written for a while, but it’s been hard to. Don’t you find that when the world is collapsing into insane self-harming hatred around you, it’s hard to write anything that makes any sense to yourself, let alone anyone else? I do. God, I don’t know where to begin. Begin anywhere. So, I will.

June 24th is a date that I’ve spoken about with a few people. I met a friend of mine over Christmas and he talked about how in our home town (which I left in 2002) the day after Brexit was an eerie, disturbing place to be, with union jack flags being flown with just a little bit too much. Something unpleasant had been awoken, or re-awakened from its slumber. Not in a good way, like the end of that poem about Peterloo. We are few, it turns out, and they – whoever they are – are many. Oh god, we’ve lost. We suddenly realised. We’d lost and they’d won.

It was the same here, in Bristol, even though “we” – who is we anymore? – voted to Remain. (sorry Remoan. Yeah, we’ll come to that in a minute.) There was a bin that I walked past on the way to school, and someone had burst it open and chucked all the rubbish inside around on the pavement and in the street, not for any reason other than they could. And so they did. Break a window to hear what it sounds like. Leave the EU because of straight bananas. Or too many foreign types. Or whatever it is this week. On June 23 I’m sure it was a high-minded technocratic Brexit designed to make the country better.

Whatever. It was fucking wrong, wasn’t it.

It was wrong, wrong, wrong, and things are going to go wrong, and get worse. The white paper I saw this week said I, and 64,999,999 other people, were hoping it would all be OK, which is kind of true – I hope it’s okay and not terrible, I’m not an idiot – but I kind of know it won’t be okay. It’s going to be a mess. A mess that a lot of us predicted. There’s no pleasure in being right; but it is going to be horrible. I’ve kept waiting for someone to try and save us, but it’s like the end of the Wicker Man – you think someone’s going to come and stop him from being roasted alive while the hicktown inbreds stand around chanting, thinking it’ll make their apples come back, but no-one does come, and that’s that. No-one did come to try and save us. The meek, feeble wet-paper-bag resistance of the flimsy, dying Labour Party, a handful of Lib Dems, and Cuddly Ken Clarke. And there: it’s gone. And gone forever.

We’re all meant to pull together, which is something the British are supposedly good at – Blitz spirit, up and at ’em, Vera Lynn, white cliffs of Dover, all that bullshit you get fed in history at school that deflects you from the bland, tedious reality of life in these islands, surrounded by unpleasant, selfish, spiteful racists everywhere who’d rather wreck the future for themselves and their children and grandchildren than have to endure the sound of a couple of Polish people chatting away in Greggs.

For fuck’s sake, how did we get here? It’s tempting to draw a line from Gordon Brown not being allowed to call a bigot – a stupid fucking bigot – a bigot, but we could go back further. Nick Griffin on Question Time. Endless racist vox pops on the news. Vile, foul-smelling individuals like Guido Fawkes and his horrible friends being absorbed into the mainstream. Nigel Farage. Christ! That cunt. A beaming smashed-bag-of-crabs face breaking through above a car coat, pint and cigarette. A little man, a dim intellect, a minor, miserable, sad little nobody, and yet there he is, in the golden lift – oh god, that lift, and him, the other one, the other awful man, but I don’t even have time for him yet – holding the hand of the most powerful man in the world, right at the heart of everything.

How did we get here? There’s been endless handwringing of course. Perhaps we didn’t listen to the Very Real, Legitimate Concerns of racists being really racist and saying and doing racist things, and maybe if we’d implemented all of their hopes and dreams for them, they might not have been so racist. Oh no, you mustn’t call them racist, it really upsets them and their Very Real Concerns, and if only we engaged with them and did everything they wanted, then everything would have been all right in the end. If only we’d given them more of a platform, and done everything they wanted, and been really racist, then we could have had our liberal non-racist utopia.

Oh, what balls. I’d counter that we listened too much. We nodded along too much. How many times have you heard a racist idiot say something really racist and think to yourself, I hope he doesn’t push his pint glass into my throat, I just want to get home and not die, or, I just don’t want to make a scene, or, I hate you and everything you stand for but I’d rather not discuss this now. That’s just as bad. We didn’t say enough. We didn’t do enough. We tried to listen. We tried to see things from their point of view. Idiots that we are. Do you think they, once, tried to see things from our side? Ever?

They, of course, the sorest winners in the history of anything, are entitled to call us “Remoaners”. These people who did nothing but moan about everything – everything! – for the past 40 years are now even angrier. You’d think they’d be somehow less angry, since, you know, they actually won, but no. They’re angry that people aren’t rolling over and dying, or that some people still refuse to accept that a glorious future of selling jam to China, privatising everything, destroying all worker rights forever and impoverishing everyone except the very rich. They’re angry that anyone else should be angry. They’re angry they won. They didn’t want to win. They wanted to sit on the sidelines and snipe away, forever, muttering under their breath. But enough stupid fucking mutterers managed to get together, and they only went and won. And now they just want to run away, probably to some villa in Spain, and hide.

And we’re left with this shit. It doesn’t get any easier, does it. I think it’s making me sick every day that I sit around and think about it. It seems to deepen the further you walk in, like you’re stepping into the sea… and then, all of a sudden, there might be a shelf of sand, and we’ll slip below the waters, and be forgotten forever. Good God, what did we do? It doesn’t matter about the why anymore because there’s nothing we can do to change what’s just happened. We aren’t going back in. We’re stuck on a polystyrene island, floating off into an inky black sea, and we’ve turned off the lights and we don’t want anyone to save us. Except. Except him.

Oh no, him. But that’s for another time.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Paul Daniels dies live on TV

The year is 1987, and we’re five years ahead of the controversial transmission of Ghostwatch, the Screen One drama about Michael Parkinson being possessed by a man called Pipes who had his face eaten off by his own cats. Paul Daniels is about to die live on TV.

This, for me, is the true Halloween highlight from the archives. A surprise that came from nowhere, a live magic show with a deadly escape to finish it off. Surely they wouldn’t… would they? But they did.

Hard to know where to begin, but let’s set it up. Paul Daniels got massive audiences in the 1980s, absolutely huge and by today’s standards unimaginable, often in the tens of millions. At the same time, he was a love-him-or-hate-him figure, a petite and balding man from Middlesbrough of no conventional attractiveness who was a gift for lazy impressionists and comics alike. The magic show was perhaps on the decline by this time, but Halloween 1987 was going to embed it in the memories of all who saw it.

You should see the above clip in the context of Daniels’s usual performances, where his fast and effortless patter and showmanship, perfected in a career spent honing his craft in small theatres and working-men’s-clubs, shone through. You might not have liked him – not a lot – but he was slick. But this performance is anything but, and it’s on purpose.

All the umming and ahhing from Daniels isn’t just the demands of live TV – he was used to delivering his act without retakes. He’s getting it wrong on purpose, creating a kind of edgy, nervous tension around his performance. There’s a sense that he doesn’t really know what’s going on – he claims not to know how much lead shot will set off the trigger on the device that might just kill him, for example. He’s messing with our minds. Hang on, is Paul Daniels really going to do this? He doesn’t look ready. Is he going to be OK?

“Now this is very dangerous,” begins Paul, after bringing up Harry Houdini, someone who famously nearly perished during his escape attempts, “I have to warn you this can go wrong.” He then goes on to instruct anyone of a nervous disposition to switch off. What’s going on? Why has he said that? Daniels’s act was never about “this can go wrong” – he was always in charge.

Daniels introduces the maiden itself. A real torture device? A genuine instrument of killing? Pretty sure none of those are still around. But we didn’t have the internet in 1987, we just had to take him at his word. It certainly looked the part. It looked bulky and like it could do you some damage. Very heavy, he claims. It certainly looks heavy. You see a strange hooded figure at the side of the stage. What’s he doing there? This whole show was filmed in an old castle to enhance the Halloween theme, and to make it as creepy as possible. A hooded guy in a monk’s outfit, what’s that all about? The lighting is perfect. Dim, oppressive.

Paul rattles his wand on a couple of spikes to show you they’re real. The guests have inspected it, he says. Well then how’s he going to get out? He shows you underneath. He shows you people round the back. It’s all one camera shot and it never cuts away, even when he claims to be showing you round the side, which you never actually see. He shows you the door slamming into the iron maiden. It looks and sounds like a real thing, not a prop. “The door weighs several hundredweights,” says Daniels. You’re starting to get a bit worried for him. That looks like it could hurt someone.

Handing over his jacket and bow tie, Daniels gets strapped in. He tells his assistant and wife, Debbie, to leave the room completely. Why? That seems odd. It’s all designed to unsettle you. Something’s going on here, but what? You haven’t worked it out yet, but you’re starting to get nervous. “Aren’t the rattle of chains on Halloween wonderful?” he chirps, as he gets locked in by two Georgian footmen. But he has to warn you again. “I mean it,” he says. “This can go wrong.” He’s telling you again what’s going to happen, but you don’t believe it yet. “Don’t move out of your seats if it goes wrong,” he tells the audience, like it’s a safety briefing, but of course there’s probably another reason for that. It ratchets up the tension just another notch.

The escape attempt takes 10 seconds, which is one reason why it’s so transfixing. The clatter of lead shot into the cup. The slam of a catch. Part of the paper door concealing Daniels gets ripped. Is he? But too late. And bang, the door shuts.

Then, silence. One of the hooded figures looks around, as if to say, what’s happened? What’s gone wrong? The camera shot finally changes. A hand-held camera wanders around alongside and behind the iron maiden.

You’re waiting, you’re waiting. He’s not behind it, where is he? He’s going to pop up with a big grin in a minute, surely? Then the screen fades to black and a voice, firm but authoritative, says “Ladies and gentlemen, Please leave the room in an orderly fashion.” Wait, what? The end credits are running over a black screen. How…? But…

Right at the end, Daniels pops up again. Ah, he’s OK. Standing there with a barn owl. “This was recorded yesterday, and all I can say is I hope the last illusion goes well!” And there’s a cheeky wink, and he’s gone again. But… is he dead or not?

Trauma. Did I just see someone die on live TV? Why wasn’t the continuity announcer worried about it? What just happened? Did it really happen? We had to wait until after Monty Python’s Flying Circus (I believe it was Sportscene in Scotland) to find out. That was a half hour of terror. Were we going to go to a grim-faced newsreader telling us about how Paul Daniels had died, and how we’d all seen it at home, and how we felt terrible about it? No. Up popped Daniels again, next to the iron maiden we thought had killed him, telling us he was perfectly OK. Oh, the relief.

It might seem really strange now but, looking back, you could only really get away with this sort of thing, including TV magic without some lummox traipsing into the comments and spoiling it for you, before the internet. You just had to take on trust what you were seeing. In so many ways, this Halloween shocker provided the platform for Ghostwatch to go and do even more amazing things with it a few years later (- Sarah Greene slammed into a cupboard, seeing a ghostly man with bleeding eyes in front of a curtain, or did you? There was no way to rewind -) when it led to dozens of angry letters and a promise that, no, the BBC would never be naughty like that again. It was all thanks to Daniels paving the way, and doing it with style.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Uncategorized