I have made two attempts to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, succeeding on the second attempt. I gave up the first time (about a third of the way in) because there was ‘something’ wrong with the book, though I could not identify it. About half way through, on the second attempt, I realised what the problem was and identifying it brought a thought about what is wrong with Orwell’s 1984. The problems with these books are different, though caused by the same thing and I will explain what that is.

The Communist Manifesto calls for the abolition of the family. The communists want this because the family fashions bonds which are stronger than patriotism; and traditional, life-long heterosexual marriage is the sealing bond which keeps the family together. A communist state cannot have its subjects living like this because their first loyalty will not be to it, but to each other. This will never do. But a stroke of a bureaucratic-pen cannot abolish the family, as the manifesto demands. No matter how great the state apparatus is, abolishing the family can only happen in slow-motion, and it takes decades.

The first way to start the slow-motion change is to introduce sex ‘education’. Sex education was the idea of a man called George Lukacs. He was an education commissar during the Hungarian revolution. The point was to debauch the minds of children who were religiously brought up. That is why sex education exists. Do not swallow the pathetic and weak excuse about preventing unwanted pregnancy; the truth of sex education is the other way about.

Huxley made sex one of the key ways in which persons are conditioned in Brave New World. Babies and small children are encouraged to indulge in ‘erotic play’ and learn that sexual promiscuity is natural and normal. The exact opposite is true of 1984, in which females are coerced into the ‘anti-sex league’ and chant enthusiastically for the abolition of the orgasm.

Huxley understands that sex leads to children and that means continuing the existence of the family. He sorts this by having humans not born, but decanted, and this further allows the state controllers to tinker with the growing humans to determine their intelligence and class and so on.

Orwell’s proletariat simply live under tyranny and ludicrous intrusion into their lives by the big-brother bureaucracy; and, remember, the thought-police kick the doors in when Winston and Julia are together. No illicit love-making permitted in Airstrip One.

The methods of the two tyrannies are exact opposites of each other, in other words. The thought-police will torture and batter you with clubs, but the authorities of Huxley’s book play soothing sounds from loud-speakers and spray the rioting crowds with soma to deal with mass disorder.

I don’t think Orwell missed the connection between totalitarianism and the destruction of the family by encouraging sexual-freedom, but he was pushing the bureaucratic tyranny to it utmost, and that meant that sexual conduct had to be monitored and controlled, along with everything else.

I am unsure which regime is worse. Orwell’s slaves do not resist because they dare not – the power of the state is total; but Huxley’s slaves do not realise they are slaves to begin with. Both societies are horrid in different ways but for the same reasons, arrived at by different methods. And both writers make a mistake (in terms of story telling) which makes their societies less awful than they might have been.

Orwell’s mistake is to make his society a circle, not a pyramid. There is nobody at the top, living in luxury while the lower orders suffer. It is such a vast state-machine that it seems to function for its own sake; but there needs to be a hierarchy, a pecking order, because it is that which keeps those closest to the top loyal. They are waiting for their turn in the chair, and each person, on each rung, is doing the same, waiting to move up one place. That is how a hierarchy works. Orwell is honest enough to follow his logic and take things right to the edge, but in pushing it so far he reduces the horror slightly. The world of Winston Smith would have been worse if there had been man at the top, keeping power and devising ever more twisted ways of keeping it.

Huxley does the same thing, follows his start-point to its logical conclusion and reduces the purity of the soft-horror he envisioned. Some call Huxley’s book a utopia, or a negative utopia. You can call it whatever you like but it may not be called a dystopia; and it may not be called a dystopia for the very reasons Huxley tried to make it one: The abolition of the family.

Without love and loss, without heartbreak there can be no human tragedy. If everyone belongs to everyone, and can take whoever they like as a sexual partner whenever they fancy it, then no-one is special, no one is loved, and without those things, when persons have no family or emotional ties, there is no horror because there is no loss. Without horror there can be no dystopia.

Huxley, like Orwell, honestly followed his thinking to its conclusion and the book is certainly worth it for that reason, but the Alphas in Brave New World don’t have much to complain about it seems to me. The book is neither a dystopia or utopia, it is a work of social and science fiction theory.

Both could have been more horrific than they are; that they are not shows the authors were dealing first in testing ideas (and remorselessly driving those ideas forward until they ran out of road) and were writing fiction second, not for its own sake but as the medium of delivery for their thought experiments.


Scooby Dooby Don’t

There will always be some humans who say they have ‘the right’ to take drugs. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don’t. Which is it? One thing is certain, when a person claims ‘It’s my body, I can do what I like with it,’ there is a flaw in their reasoning.

Does the argument change when a person believes that they do not ‘have’ a body, rather they ‘are’ a body? Listening to some, it is clear the belief in the illusive ‘I’ is alive and well, and why not? The foregoing, when considered at length, can bring a chilly realisation…

One can see, straightaway, there will be (or should be) several other persons involved in our lives who would wish it that we take care of the body we have or are. My aunt is rapidly dying from lung-cancer and I would prefer that not to be the case.

If drug-taking is wrong, what makes it wrong? This is easier to answer if the drugs taken are illegal. One could find sanctuary within the walls of the law. But that’s far too easy, and dangerous. Who wants to be left holding the logic which states if something is legal it is morally right? Not me, thank you. Then again, who wants to argue drinking caffeine is morally wrong?

I am happy to be corrected here, though I remember reading that, on a chemical level, nicotine breaks down caffeine and a person recently free from cigarettes should also cut their coffee intake because without nicotine, the caffeine has a greater affect on their brains.

The affect might be greater irritability, insomnia or restless sleep – the affects of caffeine are well known, yet their affects are not considered a moral problem. Why not? Caffeine, the common name for trimethylxanthine, is a drug, a chemical a person freely ingests which has affects upon their brains they might not experience if they didn’t take it, yet it gets a free pass from any moral questioning.

That free pass could be because of the affects themselves. Ingest enough C8H10N4O2 and you might be less calm, but unlikely to be up for a spot of the old ultra-violence because of the mixture of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen you just ingested. We all consume chemicals which are unnecessary for survival, so if taking illegal drugs is wrong, I doubt it’s wrong because they’re illegal; taking them is wrong because of their affects and it’s the affects which make them illegal. It’s a small point, but it’s one which filters coffee and cola out of an argument they should not be in to begin with.

The moral questions come about, Peter Hitchens writes, when the affects of the drugs taken stupefy the taker into incoherence or dangerous behaviour they would not otherwise indulge in. This argument tends to bring up the question of alcohol. If booze is legal and is the cause of sickness, murder and other kinds of death – then why should certain drugs, especially cannabis, remain illegal?

Hitchens devotes chapter seven to this question, ‘What about alcohol and tobacco, then?’  He points out that this question is one of the key parts of the debate and states (with dry humour)

‘Once a substance is legalised, it is extremely difficult to declare that it is illegal. That is why we should be so careful about legalising cannabis and other currently illegal drugs. If this turns out to be a mistake, it will not be easily put right.’

Who says Hitchens has no sense of humour? He obviously does. Next he’ll be telling us that ‘alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, has been known to produce all the effects of drunkenness.’

It is to his credit that he uses humour this way. It might be a sign his arguments are so obviously sound that he can afford to inject a little humour here and there. A person could be forgiven for expecting a sermon or a bossy lecture from the chap. No doubt Hitchens is capable of that, but he doesn’t do it in this book.

There are other examples of his dry humour. On the question that a person has the right to do what they want to the body they either have or are, because doing so is a fundamental freedom, closely allied with freedom of speech and freedom of thought, he states

‘I realise that in our secular society, an appeal to the authority of Mount Sinai or the Holy Trinity is not likely to be decisive.’

Superb. He continues from humour to seriousness

‘It is perhaps hard to see how anyone who valued either speech or thought should wish to spread the use of a drug that fuddles thought and makes speech halting and incoherent, but it is so.’

That is a fair example of the book’s tone or style. You get simple, logical arguments, offered using plain English as their delivery system. Splendid.

Another example, after quoting several cases of cannabis users committing violent or mindless crimes – and to refute the idea that the drug ‘chills out’ (my phrase) its users, he says

‘I am making no claim here beyond these modest points: if cannabis is a peace-promoting drug then its effects are not always evident in its users.’

Well, quite. My eldest son has been far too fond of cannabis for some years and his behaviour when smoking the stuff is upsetting. He can be obnoxious, paranoid, needlessly argumentative, downright abusive and sometimes violent. During the periods he doesn’t smoke the garbage his behaviour is significantly different. Nothing else he ingests seems to have this effect on him. Without the example of my eldest son I might well shrug my shoulders and fall-in with the crowd who make the ‘what about alcohol?’ point, but I cannot. And I know my son’s mother has, many times, been anxious that he stop smoking it. My interest is declared.

I have never been fond of this country’s political class, at any level, from Westminster to ‘my’ local councillors. It is my belief they are – all of them – entitled to no privacy whatsoever and every aspect of their lives is a legitimate target for public scrutiny and press intrusion.

I should like to know what they do, where they do it and with whom, and how much of my money they spend doing it. (I have a good friend, a psychiatric nurse based in Cardiff, who told me he and his colleagues had been out on the town, more than once, on ward funds. Another friend, a finance officer in a school told me that, many times, school funds had been used to throw leaving parties for teachers and to buy presents for them and so on. Hardly is this Watergate, but it is significantly irritating.) Yet those politicians who are (possibly) not corrupt in that sense – don’t feather their own nests – but ‘tinker’ with the laws and carry out their social experiments on the rest of us, are perhaps worse than the politician who rakes off a few quid. Some of the characters within Hitchens’s pages – and not all of them politicians – are guilty of poisoning society in a sense. They might not have meant to do it, yet that says nothing about what they actually did do. You’ll have to read the book yourself.

The next time (if there is a next time because he seems to have sorted his life out at the moment) my eldest son punches holes in a bedroom door while his younger brother and sister are watching, I might invoice Paul Mcartney for the repair.

Stranger Danger

One repetitive lesson at school during the 80s became condensed into the catchy as ‘stranger danger.’ The advice was ‘don’t talk to strangers.’ I remember seeing (either a short film at school or an advert) in which a man pulls up at school and tells a young girl he has been sent by her mother to collect her; even though she recognises him she won’t go with him, so the advice went beyond accepting lifts from strangers. Even those you know might be deranged lunatics.

There is some humour to be had with this. There’s the old joke about a young boy, wearing an old pair of welder’s goggles, arms out-stretched playing Biggles: a car pulls up and the man asks the boy some sexually suggestive questions. The boy apologises and confesses he’s not a real welder. The other one has the car pull up and the man asks the boy ‘If I give you some sweets will you come in my car?’ The boy replies ‘If you give me the packet I’ll come in your mouth.’ The only defence for such jokes is that joking about serious things can be the sign of a serious mind.

When the David Bowie movie, Labirynth, was released, I went to the cinema to see it with a friend.

The auditorium was near empty, as I remember, and there was a woman sitting by herself waiting for the movie to start. She offered to buy us both an ice-cream. We knew – as 11 or 12 year old boys did – that you shouldn’t accept things from strangers and we had seen plenty of posters and short films advising us what to do if approached by a stranger. She asked if our parents were around. We replied no, we were by ourselves, and she changed seats to come a little closer. The offer of ice-cream was repeated and we both – being clued-up and educated – duly accepted her gratis cornettos and stuffed our faces. I think the offer then moved to some other kind of sweets or drinks, but we declined at this point, I think. Perhaps the mood shifted in the wrong direction?

I don’t want to make more out of this than was actually there, though who knows? She was probably harmless.

I did have an encounter with a male human round about the same time in one of my town’s amusement arcades. The encounter started with the same approach – the offer of a gift. This time the offer was money to put into the game machines. Again, being smart enough to not be too dumb, I accepted several goes on this or that machine, but the last game he paid for was when more than the mood shifted. I decided I actually needed to get away from this person because he was far too friendly and tactile for my taste. Arms round the shoulders might be bearable for a freebie, but leg-rubbing, quite high in the thigh, is probably pushing it. I made my excuses and left and caught sight of him as I left the area, wandering up and down the street looking into the arcades for who knows what.


Behaviour Injurious

I am trying to guess how many drunken nights out with the lads I have had. Actually, I have no idea, but one night’s drunken antics is much the same as another’s. One particular session does stick in the mind, if only for the miracle of escaping a nasty accident alive.

I was in my favourite position within any pub or night-club: propping up the bar with a ciggie dangling from my lips (John Major was PM, Big Brother hadn’t got in yet), pint in hand, looking at the women wandering and dancing about, wondering if any of them had recently read any Dickens and would be happy to recommend something. I was stood with a friend, James, and he was looking around at the women as well, no doubt hoping to find a fan of Jane Austen to chat to and tell her what his favourite passages were. There were more than the two of us out together. The other guys – at least three, I remember – were around in the dark somewhere, buying crappy cocktails or playing hit the ceiling in the toilets (a great drunken toilet game that all men should have a go at. There is also ‘swords’ and ‘piss flush’: the latter of these being my own creation, but these wonderful, urine-based games are taking me away from the point). The bar we stood at was a half-circle, sticking out from the wall like a huge neon tongue. Where the bar joined the wall on the left side were the doors to the male and female toilets. On the right, where we stood, was one of the fire exits: a big green sign across these double doors invited anyone interested to push bar to open.

A fellow James and me both knew, Simon, spotted us in our corner and decided to come over and say hello. Well, that was what he thought he would do; but his mind, pickled in alcohol, was having none of that. We heard him before we saw him, his shouting grabbed our attention. What he shouted I don’t know, it was lost in the slurred, drunken delivery and the loud music.  Whatever it was, it made sense to him at the time. We recognised him instantly as one of our tribe and our defences were relaxed. Shields were down. Closer he came, a big wobbling mass of drunken blubber, arms outstretched, ready for the few seconds of male bonding that would commence when he reached us. I was smiling, and James probably was to – we knew the guy and liked him.

There is a bizarre visual effect created when strobe-lights flick on and off quickly. If you watch someone dance or wave their arms when this light is on them, they appear to be moving in slow-motion. A similar effect must have been created as Simon came closer, either by the lights, the darkness or the cigarette smoke. Something conspired against us because we both underestimated the speed at which he approached. When he was only a few feet away, he was close enough for us to hear his voice over the music.

What he was shouting, when translated into sober English, would have been something like: ‘I say, I really have a great deal of affection for you two splendid chaps.’ As it was, a rush of hot air with the distant promise of a syllable was all we got. A second later he charged into us like a pissed-up Sumo wrestler. James and me were shoved backwards with surprising force. We stood no chance. All three of us smashed into the fire exit, and the double doors gave way as soon as we hit the bar.

On the other side, at the bottom of thirteen cold, unforgiving concrete steps was the scene of the accident. Simon somehow managed to stop himself taking a dive, proving beyond doubt there is no fucking justice in the world. James and me were lumbered with the thin end of the wedge, or rather, the bloody sharp edge of the concrete. Not only did we crash down the stairs, we had the pleasure of setting off backwards.

The fall must have taken no more than two or three seconds in reality, but in my mind it lasted a little under six months. Each impact was felt and considered in detail. Every lump of flesh that left my body was felt as it was gouged out. Patches of skin on my elbows, shoulders, shoulder-blades and neck were worn away to damp red patches of raw, weeping flesh.

My head was my brake, but the momentum meant my legs wanted to keep going. Had I been in the same position, but laid comfortably on a sofa, it may have looked like I was trying to kiss my own penis.

James was the first to stagger to his feet. ‘That was fun’ he said, and I’m sure I could hear sarcasm in his voice. I flopped over and groaned, slowly got up, and felt the pain running up my spine and across my shoulders.

We trudged up the stairs back to the bar. Security didn’t seem too bothered; the club staff didn’t either. Simon was nowhere to be seen, but the rest of our friends and forgotten their crappy cocktails and toilet games, and wanted to know what had happened. One guy, Chris, had seen it all happen from a distance. He stopped laughing after roughly an hour. ‘I wish you could have seen your faces,’ he said, tears streaming down his, ‘I would give a million pounds to see that again.’

Simon eventually showed himself; his eyes blood-shot, not from booze but from laughing so hard. I showed my friends my injuries and this caused more laughter. I can’t complain, I would have laughed the hardest and longest if I were in their place.

The pain was subdued by the alcohol in my system. I dread to think what the experience would have been like had I been sober. I would have tensed up much more; maybe the booze relaxed me enough to prevent a fracture or two?

Had I picked up a fracture or a breakage I would have coped admirably, I’m sure. I have experience of dealing with injuries and trips to the hospital.

My first bit of accidental bone damage came from kneeling on a plastic train while at play-school. I chipped a small piece of bone, and can remember kneeling down onto it but not much else; I would have been about four years old when I did this so I have forgiven myself the lack of details. A little while later I managed to break both my arms – at the same time, by the way – by jumping off my garden wall.

I stood on it, looking down at the grass. It was no more than a five foot drop, and five measly feet, let me tell you, is fuck all  to a reckless little boy. The best jumping from that wall could be had by starting the run-up from across the road. I used to sprint across, right foot hitting the top of the wall (which from the road side was only about a foot high) and launch myself over. The drop to the grass was the best bit: the second and a half of flying through the air then landing perfectly, rolling over and legging it back up the garden steps to have another go.

My family seem to think I attempted a somersault from a standing position atop the wall, landed badly and broke my arms; this is untrue. I did jump from a standing start, but attempted a mid air-pirouette, not a somersault – the rest they had spot on. The hospital plastered both arms.

August of 1979 I was hit by car and got myself a broken leg for my trouble. I simply walked out into the road without looking. My sister yanked me backwards and the car hit my leg rather than dragging me along under it or flipping me over the top. I remember one visit from the woman who was driving – but there may have been more – to check I was okay and apologise for running her half-ton death machine into me. (She had nothing to apologise for, obviously.) The hospital plastered my leg. The plaster-cast was drawn on, signed and decorated by family and friends. The only message I remember is my Uncle Doug’s effort. He wrote: Johnny car-basher – black belt! He drew a car chopped in half which had jagged edges where the two halves were once joined.

Not all injuries I inflicted upon my self when a child needed plastering up. We had a tree in our back garden and climbing the thing begged to be done. As I shuffled along an upper branch, reaching for my next hand-hold, I missed the grip I was going for and fell out of the damn thing; landing, quite safely, on my head. I opened my eyes to see a man wearing a dark peaked cap staring back at me. I heard the sound of an engine and knew I was in ambulance on my way to hospital. I assume the hospital plastered my head.

Our bathroom faced the rear of the house and my dad was in there at the time I fell past on my way to head-butt the ground. Lucky for me, I think. (Years later I fell from a considerable height from a tree in a school-friend’s garden. I hit every branch on the way down and landed on his neighbour’s wall without so much as a scratch!)

Trees were only one danger, though. Bikes and go-karts could be lethal as well. One lad who lived across the road from me, Brett, had a go- kart and we all took turns in it. The best turns were when you could get another kid to push you. Fast. And those turns were even better when the driver, and the scruffy, two-legged engine behind you, had someone to chase!

This type of game is great fun when you’re in the driving seat, but a bit rum when you are forced to sprint for your life, or at least your ankles.

I recall racing down a steep footpath in a church-yard close to my house. This path was two long straights, joined by a vicious hairpin corner halfway down. Take this corner too fast, and you were over the edge onto a steep grass slope with a grave as a landing mat.

Once – but only once – I took this corner too fast. I yanked hard-left on the steering wheel and the go-kart tipped up onto its right-side wheels. I parted company with the vehicle and was sent down the grass slope toward a grave which I thought was about to become my own. Sliding flat on my stomach, one arm outstretched like Superman, the palm of my hand ploughed a furrow in the grass as I went, slowing me down to a stop before I cracked my head on some poor corpse’s headstone.

This steep pathway / race-track was for those people too scared to take the steps – the quick way down to the grave yard’s lower level – but I had no such problem. No-one ever suggested driving the go-kart down the steps – they were very steep – we had to take this challenge sensibly. That meant stealing a green bread tray from the back of the supermarket, flipping it upside down, and using it as a toboggan!

Clack-clacking down, with your head flopping about as you picked up speed with each step, and praying (while grinning) to keep the thing straight long enough to reach the bottom without crashing over the edge, was a great way to pass the time. It seemed normal. That was what fun was made of for me – speed, danger, thrills and excitement.

I am amazed I didn’t kill myself when I was a child (actually, I would have if my sister hadn’t saved my life by yanking me out the way of that stupid car), and it came close a few times, but I had only one genuinely serious accident.

It was a race, and I was racing a girl, Samantha, and racing a girl meant I had to win. I’m powering down a hill on a borrowed BMX – in the middle of the road, naturally – I kept taking quick glances to my right to see how I was doing against my enemy. I was peddling like a lunatic and my right foot slipped off the pedal and my foot was scraped along the floor, causing a wobble. Then, avoiding the warning signs, and after skillfully (or luckily) regaining control – I did it again. The second time was bad news. The last thing I remember was the road rushing toward me as I soared over the handlebars. Luckily for me my landing was cushioned by my face.

The walk from the scene of the accident back to my house would have taken no more than ten minutes, and I have no recollection of the first nine. My memory starts as I approached my house, with no idea how I got there, dripping with blood and my head feeling as if it was on fire. I had taken an almighty whack. I was a very unhappy eleven year-old.

Samantha won.

Sometimes, however, jumping off a moving bike was the point. The game Ghost Rider is the perfect example of this type of fun.

All you need is a grassy slope, an old bike, and, as I found out to my cost, balls of steel. The trick is to get the bike up to the perfect speed: fast enough for the thing to keep going after you jumped off the back, but not so fast that you couldn’t get off in the first place. I took my go at the top of a hill in a local park. Two friends, Darren and Chris, stood behind waiting to see if I could get the thing to run along on its own for longer than they had managed. Off I went, peddling down the hill. As I reached the optimum speed for the bail-out, I made sure the handle-bars were straight because the bike would roll along further if they were, then I jumped off the back. Everything went wrong from that moment.

The tatty pair of jeans I was wearing became caught – unseen by me – around the saddle. As I jumped backwards, a few strands of denim made sure I didn’t get very far and the rear tyre did its best to grind my testicles out of existence. Suffice to say I suffered in those few seconds before the front wheel hit a tree and what was left of my testicles hit the seat post.

Darren and Chris were curled up on the grass in fits of laughter. Chris wouldn’t laugh at me again with such teary-eyed enthusiasm for another decade, when he would claim watching me and James fall backwards down a flight of concrete steps was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

Having these accidents can be character building. You can learn you are capable of great agility; you can learn your head is a lot harder than you think, and your face will grow back if you scrape half of it away. Hanging and dropping from trees may not be good for your ankles, but it is good for your heart.

The Non Miracle

I have had the experience of watching two children born, and while the experience is interesting, to have it twice is probably twice as many times as a fellow should have it. I mean to say – and this has been said many times before – there really isn’t much for the man to do, and the event seems best left in the hands of the womenfolk.

What was certainly agreeable about the two births I’ve witnessed was that they took place in the labour-rooms on the maternity wards of hospitals. This is where the next generation should be born. Not being a cretin, I don’t consider conception, gestation – and certainly not the birth itself – as ‘miracles’ or any sort of spiritual occurrence. I confess to being irritated by those who do. As would be expected of someone with my crusty, old fashioned views (I am elderly 41 year old) I’ve no time for the sandal-wearing vegetarians who want ‘baby’ (where’s definite article?) to be born at home in a birthing-pool filled with natural yoghurt while dad – naked himself, obviously – offers bowls of lentil-soup to his mother and his wife’s lesbian ‘birthing-partner’. If common sense prevailed the father would at his club sinking a few snifters with the chaps, or at least down the pub with the boys.

The first of the births witnessed by me brought with it auditory hallucinations of crying babies which lasted for several days after my son’s entrance into the world. The first occurred in the labour room prior to his appearance. The midwife had suggested the female might want to stand up (a gravitational ‘helping hand’) for a few moments. She duly did, and as she did so I looked sharply over my right shoulder, into the opposite corner of the room, for the source of the crying. I had heard it as clearly as I heard the midwife’s voice. Before the little one made his entrance, I turned – it was almost an automatic reflex action – several times, looking for the crying baby in the empty corner of the room. The mind does play some odd tricks. Here’s another one: we had been told that the female was carrying a girl and we had told friends and family what we were expecting. After his entrance I looked at my son thinking ‘Aw, how cute, a girl with testicles…’ It took several moments to realise a girl with testicles was actually a boy.

The little one had been home for a few days when – with the female out of the house – I heard loud crying coming from the (there’s the definite article) baby’s room. I took the stairs two at a time, muttering to myself ‘okay, okay – give me a second’ while the crying got louder, and I opened the door to find the room in darkness and silence. The little chap hadn’t stirred at all. I had been convinced the crying was real; so certain, in fact, that the darkness and the silence rendered me speechless for a few moments. I have no idea if these odd hallucinations were due to some part of my mind being anxious about something, but by the time the second one was due I was laying in the labour-room sucking on the gas and air that was freely available from above the bed.

I Spy A Patriot

I cannot remember when I first heard of the Cambridge spies, though I am sure it was my mother who first mentioned them to me when I was (probably) a teenager. (She is a committed admirer of John Le Carre’s novels.) Because I cannot date this exactly the names Burgess, Blunt, Maclean and Philby became, like many others’ names, names  I had ‘heard of’ without knowing all that much about them or what they had done short of being spies and, more importantly, traitors.

There is an affect that that word, ‘traitor’, has on the person speaking it. It seems not to be possible to speak it without wrinkling the nose and the voice acknowledging at least a mild disgust. I have heard terms such as ‘murderer’, ‘rapist’ and ‘child-abuser’ uttered with complete indifference by the speaker to what they are describing, yet ‘traitor’ seems to pull out from the throat or the gut some emotional phlegm or bile to help the word along. Is it worse to be a traitor than a rapist? It seems to be.

One can murder and rape and all the rest; can lie to family and friends and cheat them and steal from them, and these crimes come with defences, not all of them satisfactory, but they exist. Betraying one’s country, it seems, cannot be justified and appears to be the highest act of wrong-doing, the one ‘crime’ of which all seem to despise. Well, perhaps not all but certainly a majority, and I would hazard a guess that many persons take the view that ‘my country, right or wrong’ is a perfectly good basis on which to decide their ultimate loyalties.

If you tell a person that they are made of different components: skin, blood, muscle, hair and all the rest and they told you that they were not those things, that they were a ‘person’, you could be forgiven for being a little irritated. It is unlikely that any person you said this to would reply in that way. (A well-known journalist pointed out recently – and for some reason, chillingly – that we do not ‘have’ bodies, we ‘are’ bodies.) Love for a person seems rational and sensible, yet love for a collection of cells and a few yards of skin seems less so.

When I hear a person say that they ‘love’ their country, I cannot prevent myself from feeling a small knot of annoyance in my gut, and it happens every time. After the knot loosens and its sensation fades, I then feel pity for the person in question. It’s a pity that one might have for a wretched and filthy starving person, or an educationally sub-normal child; by which I mean, the pity is mixed – in a 70/30 split – with disgust.

Whatever patriotism is, it is dammed effective. It would be, if it remained in the shallower parts of the psyche, quite harmless and would sit alongside sentimentality; yet this would leave states without the nose-ring to tug along their people when those states decide that they need the support of the majority. Governments need to force patriotism further down into minds to a place from which it can never be removed; so deeply inserted into the mind that even the blood pumping through the veins carries a patriotic hue. Patriotism, to be most effective, needs to be not a choice for the individual, but something which is assumed to exist automatically and considered normal and healthy: A loyalty which is presupposed.

There have been occasions when I have been involved in discussions with those who say that they are patriots because they ‘support’ their country or their country’s troops while those troops are involved in dangerous adventures abroad. I have noticed that patriotism is usually mentioned when ‘our boys’ are discussed. It seems to me to be perfectly correct to support the troops by calling for their return home, where they can spend time with their families and friends and enjoy their time on the earth, rather than becoming hideously maimed or killed for whichever disgusting politician sent them there.

Correct patriotism, at least to me, is a question about culture and lifestyle and the defence of them from another culture which seeks not only to sit side by side, as an equal, but seeks to rid the world of the other. The basics of western culture should be the thing which patriots show their devotion to. The English, French, Germans – all countries in Western Europe – have individual national differences, differences within their borders, yet the governing principle which overarches these countries remains the same. The persons in those countries can vote in elections, stage protests and call public meetings and so on. The food might be different but the freedom tastes the same.

When an Englishman looks about the place and decides he loves his country he might not be able to say precisely what he loves or why he loves it. A similar thing occurs when the armed forces are discussed. An Englishman knows that Britain has the ‘best’ armed forces in the world. But what exactly does that mean? The best at what? The best in what way? Does it mean the best Generals, tacticians and so on? Does it mean the best training? The bravest men? The best fighters? The best equipped? Are our soldiers better shots than soldiers from other countries? Does it mean best after checking the historic record? If Britain has the best armed forces in the world (and I am not saying Britain does not, I cannot know that) what makes it so?

I am, I think, making points which I have already accepted. It is my belief that Britain has excellent armed forces: well trained and motivated with a professional attitude to any task they are given, but the same could be said for most countries’ forces.

What interests me are those who are patriotic to the point where they have abandoned logic and reason, which brings me back to the Cambridge spies. The question I keep being drawn back to is this one: must a person show loyalty to the state which governs the bordered land-mass within or upon which they were born by accident? The first answer, from the point of view of government, is no. Why should a person show loyalty to a government they did not vote for and do not believe in? But the argument gets trickier after that. The questions then transcends government and it becomes a question of state, of nation and, ultimately, of national interests. The patriot might argue that a person is free to criticise the government, but they should never act against their own national interest. That is superficially attractive, and seems to make sense but remains a position which demands loyalty without question and assumes that one’s ultimate interests must be the same as the country they were born to. Why?

Take Kim Philby as an example. He was a communist. The Soviet Union was under communism, and, because he believed in it, he supported the Soviet Union; indeed, he worked for the Soviet Union for almost all of his adult life as an officer of their intelligence agency. He did not consider himself disloyal to ‘his’ country because he did not support the system of government which ‘his’ country was run by. He rejected the notion of automatic loyalty and decided to choose for himself. This seems admirable and the ultimate example of independence of mind. Many persons who have little interest in political philosophy and high ideals – might say he was a traitor, and no doubt they would say it with all the hate that that word can carry with it. It helps the hate if the person being discussed was upper-class: it makes hating the person more fun.

The point, of course, is not the evil nature of Stalin’s Soviet Union, but the question of loyalty, demanded without argument. I do not believe that ‘my’ country has any right to demand loyalty from me; rather, I have the right to offer my loyalty to it, as and when I choose, on whatever topic takes my fancy. To support the ‘national interest’ without question seems to me no different from keeping to the party-line or whatever policy is spewed out from the Central Committee. Ultimately, with patriotism, loyalty is more than demanded, it’s assumed to already exist. This is disagreeable if a person demands the right to choose 100% of his opinions.

Oh My God It’s SO Unfair!

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anesthetic from which none come round

  • Philip Larkin ‘Aubade’


I’m unsure Larkin was right about what we fear. On the surface of things he seems to get to root of the matter. The idea of not existing is a troubling one. But are there ways of thinking about not existing which might make the idea bearable?

One of the (so-called) ‘new’ atheists, Sam Harris, said – and was quite amusing when he said it – that if a person really can’t imagine the world without them in it, then it must be just from want of trying. There were a few laughs from the audience. In the example I’m thinking of Harris suggested the crowd think about the city of Paris, and how Paris was getting along just fine without anyone from the crowd in it. He certainly had a point. Another way of putting it is to ask people to think about the world before they were born. The person’s town or village was getting along happily, and so were the cities and other people in it. It seems correct to think about matters in this way, because the world was getting along nicely before you were born, but thinking this way doesn’t quite dissolve the problem.

The idea of not existing could mean several things to a person. That you can even have the idea means you exist. So it appears – after thinking about Paris and the years before you were born – that the problem isn’t quite a world in which you don’t exist, the problem is more a world in which you don’t exist after having existed. That seems to be closer to the point, and it’s that idea which needs examining.

Larkin was an atheist, and the last four lines are odd ones for an atheist to have written. The last line – especially the word ‘anesthetic’ – carries a thought which could have been pushed further. An atheist might fear what Larkin describes, but an atheist also knows he won’t actually experience being dead, which means there is no reason to have this fear: if you have fear you know you don’t need to have, then you are choosing to have it because you prefer having it. I mean to say, why fear something you know you will never experience? This ‘fear’ of something you won’t and can’t experience, then, might not be ‘our’ problem. It’s more likely that the real point is as I described it, or as the late Christopher Hitchens put it ‘You get tapped on the shoulder and told, “the party’s going on without you, and you have to leave.”’

(He then amusingly offered the religious version for comparison: ‘The party’s going on forever, and you can’t leave.’) But why do we care if we won’t know we’ve left? It doesn’t make sense to ‘fear’ not being at the party because we know we won’t know we’re not there: we won’t know we’re missing anything. Is what Larkin calls ‘fear’ really a form of cheap resentment, a type of childish foot-stamping? Is the ‘fear’ an expression from a part of the mind which hasn’t grown up? One can easily imagine an irritated child having a little tantrum ‘Oh my God it’s so unfair! when told that playtime’s over.

To ask a person ’Do you believe in God’ could get you any number of responses, though a common one is the one which says ‘Well, I don’t believe in God but I do believe in something. I don’t think this (motions to surroundings) is the end.’ It’s a barely disguised way of saying ‘I don’t like the idea of death, so have told myself we don’t die.’ Larkin’s fourth line is true of all religions. I don’t know any religion which says the universe was created by a loving god who answers prayers and what not, yet has designed things so that – although he loves you while you are here – death is the end. Such a religion wouldn’t catch on.

All religions are predicated on the survival of death. Licensing that idea, allowing it to be reinforced through groupthink (or ‘worship’ if you really must), is what you get in return for your critical faculties, money and obedience. Yet if Larkin’s ‘fear’ is a form of intellectualised, disguised tantrum, then it’s certainly true that atheism is not an automatically superior worldview to the religious one. One could say of the atheist that he isn’t confusing what he believes is true with what he hopes is true, but doing that, and on its own, might not make you the full grown up.

Is there a difference between knowing you are going to die and accepting it?

Legitimate Political Violence

Imagine the six counties, Devon, Cornwall , Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire were not part of England, but were occupied by France, governed by Paris, and policed by M. Gendarme.

I’m confident many Englishmen would find that arrangement disagreeable, and not all of them would be skinheads, blackshirts or Sun readers.

Further imagine that, when the natives got a bit miffed at the behaviour of the frog fuzz, the Foreign Legion were despatched to kick in a few doors and crack a few heads. You get the idea.

Would you support a group of Englishmen organising themselves into a secret resistance, the task of which was to carry out specific, targeted assassination of French police, soldiers and politicians in an attempt to try to force the French withdrawal from those six counties?

You might or you might not support that, but if you didn’t agree that such an organisation’s methods and aim were at least legitimate then I’d worry about your mind.

(I mean to say, you’d have to argue the French Resistance was an illegitimate organisation and the Nazis were legitimate in their occupation. Or that Boudicea should have ‘assimilated’ into Roman culture. If you have no ‘line in the sand’ then you wish to be a slave.)

I would support such an organisation, and am forced to accept that political violence can be legitimate. Legitimacy depends on what is done why. In the above scenario, the aim and the method are legitimate, hard as that is to accept, but both could easily not be.

If such an English resistance took to blowing up French civilians then it would lose its legitimacy because killing the innocent, the non-combatant – actually targeting civilians – strips all the moral force from the action. Such persons are outside the chain of command which supports the occupation. Even though the aim would remain a legitimate one, the method would not be. Only the fanatic, or the lunatic, thinks the ‘end justifies the means’.

Many persons will say they won’t be told what to think, yet many will accept being told what to think when the topic is patriotism, the armed forces, or questions about a person’s ‘loyalties’. The orthodoxy tells you what to think, takes it for granted you will obey, and public opinion quickly snarls and snaps at those who don’t follow the groupthink line. (My ‘line in the sand’ is actually drawn on the inside of my forehead; this makes me sound very accepting of state power, almost a friend of it who will put up with rather a lot, while refusing it entry to the piece of territory it wants more than any other, thereby making me its enemy.) To claim the right and freedom to decide 100% of your own opinions, even when the question is about patriotism or loyalty to ‘your country,’ can leave the claimant in an exposed position. It is a price worth paying for the only (genuine) freedom a person will ever get.

The state can force itself on you in many ways. It’s quite true that an Englishman’s home is his castle until the state takes it from him via compulsory purchase. It’s quite possible for a person to change their citizenship (or the state’s ownership papers) for a replacement citizenship, but there is no way a person can renounce their citizenship, or even gently hand it back. The citizen is the property of the state, and if one is to talk about ‘freedom’ then the question ‘freedom to do what?’ presents itself.

Legal Blasphemy

There are persons who say they support ‘freedom of speech’ so long as the speech contains no ‘incitement to violence’. This is interesting. This is how The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘incitement’:

 The action of inciting or rousing to action; an urging, spurring, or setting on; instigation, stimulation. Also, the condition of being incited

One simple point is this. Just because ‘the law says’ ‘incitement’ is a real thing with a real effect doesn’t make that true in reality. Sometimes – and I hope this doesn’t shock or distress anyone – the state makes laws for the benefit of it, not the citizen.

Given the definition, those who claim to support freedom of speech, so long as the speech doesn’t incite violence, are refusing to support a prime minister’s rousing wartime speech designed to urge, spur or stimulate the population of fighting age to violence in the defence of the country. I’m sure that no true Englishman (after thinking about it) would agree that’s what he actually meant. He would probably say he supports freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t incite criminal violence. In doing so he opens up another debate entirely, one which might contain some ironies at the expense of that Englishman.

What I’m interested in is whether there is a causal aspect to incitement. If there’s not, then why might there be laws about incitement, and why might intelligent persons risk sounding silly when they say they support freedom of speech with qualifications?

If you ‘support’ freedom of speech, but not if it does such and such, then you don’t support freedom of speech, you support limited speech. It’s true that your qualification is a minor one, but it’s there: it changes what was a principle into a soggy relativistic lettuce.

If there’s no causal question, it means that a person, though they might be ‘urged’ or ‘spurred’ or ‘roused’ to do something – or whatever word you want to use – are not ‘made’ or ‘compelled’ or ‘forced’ to do it. There is a simple conclusion, then, that if a person is not forced to do the violence, they must have chosen to do the violence, and they chose to do it, then what’s the problem with incitement? On this logic, incitement is no more than giving someone an idea, and yet there are laws against this? Are intelligent persons saying they support freedom of speech so long as the speech doesn’t give anybody ideas about violence? That would be absurd. Nobody would be able to watch Tarantino movies because the violence in them would give some viewers ‘ideas’ about violence.

I’ll sum up my position. I think a person should be able to speak or write anything – no matter if it’s racist or ‘offensive’ or calls for violence – without having the law being involved. Such a person could be publicly ridiculed, slow-clapped or suffer massive career damage and other consequences, and perhaps rightly so, but I can’t accept the idea that certain thoughts should be illegal. That is totalitarian. It is grotesque. There is no such thing as incitement. Even the most persuasive language doesn’t ‘make’ a person act, the person acts because they want to. The persuasive speaker does not do magic to the person’s mind or their power to choose. The person could hear the persuasive language urging him to beat-up the Jew, the black or the immigrant, or whoever, and respond to the persuader by saying ‘No.’ If the speech, persuasive or not (and how do you measure that?) doesn’t ‘make’ a person act, then you have a situation where certain thoughts are just illegal and mustn’t be expressed, even though they don’t cause bad things to happen. This is legal blasphemy – another grotesque idea loved by crypto-nasty state-worshippers everywhere.

People talk about a ‘change of mind’ because they heard this or read that. I understand this. It’s a conversational convenience, a habit of mind and language use, but if people really thought about the process of ‘changing their mind’ they would realise the mind doesn’t change, as such, it discovers it agrees with something it didn’t know it agreed with. And if the thoughts are already there when a writer writes himself to a ‘change of mind’ there is every reason to believe the idea, thought and so on, was already in the head of the person who finds he agrees with the persuasive speaker. His mind wasn’t changed: he just realised he thought something he didn’t know he thought.

If people said that they ‘think something else’ instead of saying they’ve ‘changed their mind’ they would be quicker to see this point.

Tarantino Six

In the opening scene in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino gave us what was something of a novelty at the time. His characters were talking. That’s not the same as having characters exchange dialogue to further the plot. His characters talked to each other. From the speech about the subtext to Madonna’s Like a Virgin to the bullshitting about tipping, the easy, realistic dialogue made us another character at the table: we were listening to ordinary folks talk, and because we’re ordinary folks, an invisible wall was removed and we were sat having breakfast, too.

The dialogue is one of the immediately recognisable things in a Tarantino picture. The exception to this rule, the Tarantino movie which isn’t rammed with Tarantino dialogue, is Inglorious Basterds, but that movie still has two scenes which are two of the best scenes in the Tarantino canon.

So what are six of the best scenes in Tarantino’s writing?

Reservoir Dogs in not going to be included in the six scenes. Why should it be given what came after it? On the fair logic that the more you do something the better you get, Dogs should be his worst film, right?

This list runs in no particular order and I’m not bothered about the release sequence. The list is simply six of the best scenes and why I like them.

 True Romance (1993)

Drexel Swings the Lamp

This scene is beautiful because Tarantino understands Drexel’s savagery, and also how a savage thinks. Those thoughts are demonstrated by the dialogue. In this scene Christian Slater has gone to the HQ of his new girl’s pimp to get her stuff and tell him Alabama – the peachy chick in question – isn’t coming back. She’s had to tell him that old Drexel is only just human, and that’s a compliment. He sniffs out Christian Slater instantly, and knows he should have nothing worry about.

The whole psychology of the scene rests on the Chinese food. Drexel invites X to sit down and have a bite, and that’s a move to see how confident Clarence is. Tarantino has Drexel explain this to us. He shines the lamp at Clarence and tells him ‘You’ve already given up your shit.’ Straight away, we wonder, what? How’s that? And that’s when Drexel explains had Clarence sat down for food, and acted like he wasn’t worried about anything, then Drexel might have thought Clarence didn’t have anything to worry about, and the implication is that he would have then started to wonder why not – and begin worrying himself. It’s a beautiful bit of psychology which shows the instinct developed by animals like Drexel and the innocence of old Clarence. It reminds me of an old wildlife documentary I saw where two tribesmen jogged right towards some lioness and her cubs, and she picked them up and ran from these two skinny humans. It also strongly implies that Drexel is not just quick, but fucking dangerous.

Which he is.

It’s written beautifully. The audience starts off with Clarence’s POV because we don’t know what to expect, either. Clarence’s first look at Drexel is ours, too. When he’s explained the psychology of Chinese food, us and Clarence both know there’s a wild animal sat over there, but we don’t know what Clarence has planned. Then we shift over to Drexel’s POV, as we don’t know what’s in the envelop, either. When we and Drexel see the envelope’s empty, and Drexel correctly updates his assessment of Clarence and states we’ve got a ‘mother-fucking Charlie Bronson’ in the room, we’re primed for action.

And we get it.

Clifford Smokes a Chesterfield

Clifford is Clarence’s father, a security guard and former police officer. The clichéd Italian mobsters (possibly clichéd because wrote them that way on purpose) interrogate him to find out where his son has gone with Drexel’s drugs. What’s important, here, is Clifford refusing a Chesterfield to begin with, then asking for one a little later. In between these moments, he’s decided the gangsters are going to kill him and there remains a possibility he was mistaken about that.

Upon thinking he’s about to be topped, he asks ‘Can I have one of those Chesterfields, now?’ He then delivers the famous ‘Sicilians are descended from Niggers’ speech. This is not a ‘racist’ speech, there is depth, here: the speech is actually a condemnation of racism. The kind of casual racism Tarantino is condemning here is the kind Eddie Murphy brilliantly jokes about in Raw when he does the sketch about Italians after just seeing Rocky. Eddie Murphy is taking the piss, but Tarantino isn’t. He’s going for the throat with this speech, and the whole speech is clearly motivated by a hatred of racism, and aimed at one category of casual racist.

When I first watched this scene, I didn’t understand what was happening until Clifford began smoking the cigarette. It was the sound of it burning as he sucked it, and bits of ash flicking off it, that made it clear he was really fucking enjoying this cigarette, enjoying it like it was his last, and that’s when I ‘got’ what was going on. The scene ends with the tragic irony that the whole speech was a waste of time because, although Clifford keeps his mouth shut about where Clarence and Alabama have gone, they leave their address on his fridge, so it was all for nothing. At least he got the Sicilian speech in.

 Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Landa Drinks the Milk

This is the entire first scene to Inglorious Basterds, which begins with Landa’s strangely pleasant manners and ends with the murder of the Dreyfus family who are hiding under the floorboards. Talk about a scene having an ‘arc’.

What actually happens, here?

The film begins with a dairy farmer and his daughters going about their normal business, when a Nazi staff-car – with motorcycle outriders – approaches the house. The farmer, Perrier La Padite, tells one of his daughters to get him some water and go inside, but not to run. Running looks ‘guilty’.

The man in the car is Col. Hans Landa of the SS, and he sits at the table. He is offered wine, but – and this is oddity number one – Landa, because he’s on a dairy farm, chooses milk instead of wine, and drinks his glass down with theatrical pleasure, praising the farm and its cows for the delicious milk. What does drinking the milk do?

Drinking the milk is one way we learn something about Landa’s character. He’s on a dairy farm, so he drinks milk. He blends in with his surroundings, in other words, and he makes something of a show of enjoying it. This is important.

What follows is a pantomime.

Landa questions La Padite about the Dreyfus family – a Jewish family, hiding from the Nazis – and wants to know what La Padite has heard about what happened to them. La Padite tries to shrug this off by saying he’s heard ‘only rumours’ and this animates Landa, who says he loves rumours because, whether they are true or not, rumours can be revealing. La padite then, as he lights his pipe, says he’s heard ‘rumours’ the Dreyfus family escaped into Spain . Landa asks, ‘So the rumours you’ve heard have been of escape?’ I would have liked to have seen Landa’s face when he gives this line, but the camera stays on La Padite and drops slightly to show the pipe in La Padites’s mouth looking like Pinochio’s nose. We already know they are under the floorboards, and now, thanks to the ‘rumour’ about their escape, Landa is now convinced they are, too.

I think this is the confirmation he needed, as he always was suspicious. Consider the information he asks for. What number of children in the family? Ages of the children? He doesn’t ask for more than that because he’s not really there to find that out, he just wants confirmation that they are under the floorboards.

It’s here that Landa gives his ‘rat’ speech. He tells La Padite that if the German shared any characteristics with a beast it would be the predatory cunning of the Hawk, and if the Jew any characteristics with a beast it would be that of the Rat.

It’s here that he explains why he drinks milk while on a dairy farm.

He engages the farmer on his dislike of rats, and suggests the farmer wouldn’t be too kind if one scampered in the door. The farmer agrees, then Landa suggests that any filth spread by a rat a squirrel could equally carry, and he also points out that rats and squirrels, aside from the tail, look quite similar, yet he bets La Padite doesn’t have the same feelings for squirrels as he has for rats. La Padite has to confess he doesn’t. Landa then explains that he can ‘think like a Jew’ and that he understands the kind of behaviour a person is capable of after they have ‘abandoned dignity.’ It’s this ability which allows to work out the family are under the floorboards.

Landa is probably a homosexual, and therefore member of a minority persecuted by the Nazis, and he’s hiding by acting like an enthusiastic Nazi. This is how he knows how to ‘think like a Jew’. He knows how persecuted minorities think, and what a person will do to stay alive.

Donny Swings the Bat

This is one of the most memorable scenes from Inglorious Basterds. A German soldier is questioned about the positions of his comrades stationed ‘up the road a piece’ and he refuses to reveal their locations. He is told, quite simply, that Sgt. Donny Donowitz, the Basterd nicknamed The Bear Jew, is going to beat him to death he if doesn’t talk. The Sgt theatrically raises his hand and respectfully refuses, while touching the Iron Cross he got for bravery.

In one version of the script I read, there’s some backstory shown of Donowitz getting his Jewish neighbours to sign the baseball bat he’s taking to Europe to beat Nazis to death with. It’s an American kind of brutal death, being battered with baseball bat, Imagine if Donny was instead Donald, and English officer who used a Golf club or a Cricket bat. Would it have worked? I don’t think so. In addition to having this very American death imposed, the Americans are seen scalping the dead Germans, like the ‘Indians’ did to some white Americans. In one simple stroke, Tarantino equates the holocaust of the American ‘Indians’ with the genocidal doings of the Nazis. So while the American punishment is being dealt to the heads of the captured Nazis, we are reminded that Americans have their own ‘history’ to remember, so perhaps we shouldn’t take too much of the moral high ground.

I think he was going for a small act of moral fairness with the German Sgt by having him sit calmly and with immense bravery while The Bear Jew comes out the tunnel swinging. Indeed, he stabs at the Iron cross on the German’s chest and asks if he ‘got that for killing Jews?’ showing a little bit of obsession on Donny’s part. ‘Bravery’ he replies, sitting as like a Buddhist.

Donny looks almost sad as he tees up the bat, ready for the first blow. But by the time the German’s head is battered this way and that a few times (which is shown in a long-shot which is somehow unsatisfying) old Donny’s blood is flowing to where it’s needed, and he’s shouting about ‘Teddy fucking Williams!’ whose knocking one out the park and so on.

There’s no attempt to hide or in any way sweeten the near psychopathic violence of the Americans, and it’s this which is important, too. How do you deal with Nazis? You can’t talk to them, or reason with them in any way. You just gotta kill the fuckers.


Death Proof (2007)

Mike offers Pam a Lift, not a Ride

Consider the following scene. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) throws his car keys along the bar because Pam (Rose Mcgowan) asks the bartender if there is anyone he will vouch for to give her a ride home. It’s a classic western shot. Most of the time what gets slid down the bar is a shot or bottle of whisky, but this is a modern movie, so it’s a bunch of car keys. (Pam actually asks Mike if he’s a cowboy.) There is irony there, and it’s at the expense of Pam, who knows less than the audience. Of all the guys to ask for a lift, Stuntman Mike is the last dude you’d want driving you home. She doesn’t know it, but we do.

(Think of all the movies you’ve seen where the scream queen wanders down to the cellar without a torch. It’s a cliché. It aint believable, but it’s popular. It works. Why does it work? It works because an audience enjoys knowing more than the characters on the screen. Knowing more than the characters do is irony in action.)

That’s one type of irony, but what about other types? This is where things get a little complicated.

After the car-key slide and a little conversation Pam asks Stuntman Mike if he is offering her a ride home and whether he’ll be okay to drive later. (For completeness ‘icy-hot’ is a logo on the back of Mike’s jacket.)

Follow the conversation closely:

PAM: So, icy-hot, are you offering me a ride home?

MIKE: I’m offering you a lift if when I’m ready to leave, you are too.

PAM: And when are you thinking about leaving?

MIKE: Truthfully, I’m not thinking about it. But when I do you’ll be the first to know.

PAM: Will you be able to drive later?

MIKE: I know looks can be deceiving, but I’m a teetotaller. I’ve been drinking club-soda and lime all night and now I’m building up to my big drink.

PAM: Which is what?

MIKE: Virgin Pina Colada.

Notice that Stuntman Mike corrects Pam. It’s not a ride he’s offering her, it’s a lift. Once you get that the rest of what this exchange actually means should fall into place and allow you to see where old Stuntman Mike is coming from.

Run the same conversation again, but have them say what Tarantino actually means. Pam is just checking if old Mike is going to be getting ‘friendly’ later:

PAM: Do you want to have sex with me?


PAM: Will you try to have sex with me later?

MIKE: I know looks can be deceiving, but I’m a dickless virgin who’s terrified of women. I’m not really interested in you because I’m building up to my big crash scene.

PAM: Which is?

MIKE: The virgin’s penis collider.

So the irony is double layered. There’s what the conversation really means, and in addition there’s poor old Pam who has no idea just how unfriendly Mike is going to become.


Django Unchained (2012)

Django takes the Dynamite

This wonderful scene comes toward the end of the movie, and by this time, we know Django is heading back to Candyland to have a word or two with the white folks over there. This scene is splendid for a few reasons. First, it allows the murdered King Shultz to be proved right, even after he’s dead. He tells Django to keep the handbill of his first kill for luck, and it’s this handbill Django uses to get the interest of the guys taking him to the mining company, so it’s nice that Schultz’s wisdom is in play after he’s dead.

Django sells the idea of going back to capture the outlaws, and shoots the men transporting the slaves. Well, one of them gets blown up. Just as he’s about to ride back to Candyland, he goes to the slave cage where the slaves have been watching him go about his ruthless business, and takes the dynamite. It’s here the scene is superb. What does Django say to the slaves? What bit of inspirational pep-talk do they get which will change their lives for the better?


Django takes the dynamite, rides off looking like an Indian, and leaves them there; and it’s in his silence that he fucking roars at them and us. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t wait around for anyone’s permission. Django’s speech is conspicuous by its absence. This is smart because, had he spoken, what half-assed motivational bullshit could he have spewed? Much better to say it by showing it.

Get off your own ass.