heathen, infidel, scab

I broke a strike on Wednesday. I’ve never done that before.

I’m breaking a lot of habits at the moment (for example, the habit of ‘not blogging’ that I’d fallen into). Even writing on this blog about Wednesday’s strike means breaking another habit: I usually make it a rule never to write about my day job.

But on this occasion I want to. It’s worth explaining, I think, why I’m a member of the National Union of Teachers but didn’t take part in the London-based strike on Wednesday.

For a start, it wasn’t for the money. I don’t feel good about breaking the strike and so I decided in advance – at the excellent suggestion of one of my students – that whatever money I earned that day will go to something worthwhile. Probably the strike fund (if only to keep on decent terms with some Union members).

It also wasn’t because I think the government’s current offer on pensions reform is any good. It is a big stinking heap of horseshit. Admittedly there’s a whopping great generation of homeowning baby-boomers about to enter the longest and most luxurious retirement any generation has ever, or ever will, be lucky enough to enjoy; but I’m not persuaded that this has to be paid for by the next generation of teachers, many of whom (certainly those in London) can’t even afford to get a mortgage and so will be doubly screwed with accommodation costs when we retire, half-dead, at 68. There’s a million other ways to pay for that generation’s retirement over the next 100 years and we have to find a fairer one.

Plus, even despite the economics there’s a question of contracts at stake. Nobody is saying that the baby boomers should have their obscenely generous pensions cut, because they are thought to have worked through their careers for those pensions and to remove them now would be to short-change them. But the government acts as if, since it would be a travesty to short-change that blessed generation, it’s the next generation that must be short-changed instead. (There’s been a lot of fuss made about the ‘Granny Tax’ since the budget, but actually the removal of income tax breaks for people over 65 is one of the few really fair things this government have done).

Either way, the fact that teachers in the UK get (or used to get) brilliant pensions was a pretty major factor in my decision to become one, and the same is true of many of my colleagues. It doesn’t matter how old you are – to employ people and commit them to a job based on certain terms of service, and then change those terms later on, is a dickish thing to do. So to change the rules on teachers’ pensions once many people of my generation have dedicated ourselves to that profession is outright nasty.

So why didn’t I strike on Wednesday?

Because striking wouldn’t have helped any of this situation, even if every school in London had been shut completely.

What the Unions seem to have missed is that Tory ‘modernisers’ like Gove and Maude actually want the unions to strike so that they can be discredited in some kind of moral battle in the minds of Middle Englanders. They want strikes so that they can face them with aggression – and probably violence, like Thatcher did – while making Ed Miliband look even weaker than he already is.

The government have deliberately put an insulting offer on the table, made token tactical concessions after last year’s strike in order to look like they’ve been reasonable, and then been pretty clear that what’s on the table now, crappy as it still is, is the best offer we’ll get, in the hope that the NUT and other unions will take the bait.

So, while it’s possible that some of the industrial action last year had some small effect on the negotiations (though probably not as much as the union leaders would have us believe), Wednesday’s strike was just playing into Michael Gove’s hands, and as a result would have achieved nothing good.

Whereas for my students on the other hand, a day of teaching lost with so little time to go before their exams in May could very easily have made the tiny difference between getting the grades they need for college/university and not getting them – with whatever future consequences that might bring. For me, it certainly would have been too big a potential loss to have risked it just so I could stand behind the NUT’s leader while she threw her toys out of the pram (having failed to get us a better deal in the pension negotiations).

So. I weighed up what would be gained from striking against what would be lost, and didn’t let religious dogma get in the way.

That’s right. Religious dogma.

When I told my colleagues I wasn’t striking, and explained my reasons, pretty much every single one of them said the same thing: “but what about the principle of solidarity?”

So I should make my position on this clear: ‘solidarity’ amongst groups who are doing the wrong thing is bullshit. Doing the wrong thing – ‘but doing it together’ – is not admirable. It’s foolish. It’s that kind of uncritical herd-like behaviour which drives lemmings off cliffs, countries into wars, and humans into death camps. The principle of solidarity for its own sake is not to be admired.

I have a lot of respect for Trade Unionism as an ideology; that’s why I’m a member of one. I think it’s a necessary and important counterbalance to the tendency of employers to exploit their workers, and the conditions that workers would have to suffer if they had no possibility of grouping together to improve those conditions does not bear thinking about.

Trade Unionism – like any human political ideology – can be useful when it is guided by what James and Dewey would have called a melioristic motive: that is, when its values are genuinely guided by an empirically-informed attempt to improve the world, to make our experience of life better and more satisfying. In other words, the principle of union solidarity has value when following that principle will make a real improvement to our lives.

But in my view, the point at which ideology becomes religious dogma is when it loses that meliorism and starts to consider its values as having some intrinsic value – not as a means to some end, but as ends in themselves. When the principles, for example the principle of ‘solidarity’, become more important than whatever end they were originally meant to achieve.

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to know when that has happened, because people find it hard to recognise when the original melioristic end has become unattainable. But when the original melioristic end does become unattainable, it vanishes from view; the principles alone take on the appearance of ends which can apparently justify any means. At this point a religion is born, and sane individuals start behaving in ridiculous ways in order to follow the principle without really understanding why.

Nevertheless, they still hold these principles to be the most morally necessary thing possible, and are proud to express disgust at those who don’t. They even create new names for them: ‘heathen’, ‘infidel’, ‘scab’. And they follow this principle and this logic to the end.

Like lemmings.

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the things art does

Yesterday my mum came down to London. I like it when that happens – we get to go to galleries and exhibitions all day and then eat nice food. I’ve got Tate membership and she’s got Royal Academy membership and an Art Card, so between us we get to see pretty much everything.

Yesterday we started at the National Portrait Gallery for the Glamour of the Gods exhibition. It’s essentially three or four rooms of black and white pictures of movie stars of the 20s-60s. The trouble for me was that, whereas these were film actors that my mum grew up knowing (many of them weren’t quite her generation, but they were icons all the same), I didn’t recognise half the people there.

I mean, there is always some fun in looking at a good picture of Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers. And Buster Keaton’s extraordinary face, of course. And there is no doubt that Clara Bow and Marilyn Monroe were beautiful.*

But generally, looking at black and white pictures of a bunch of faces not doing very much had limited appeal for someone who hadn’t seen the films. In fact, I think this is ultimately why I don’t go to the National Portrait Gallery very much; portraits of people I don’t know, without action, can’t refer to very much for me. They don’t do much apart from exist as images that refer only to themselves. As a result they are little more than pure form; and there is limited interest in that to non-Kantians.

And as for making me do anything – well, it takes a really really exceptional portrait of a really really exceptional face to have any kind of perlocutionary force (I’m talking Mona Lisa/Pope Innocent X exceptional), and without that, what’s the point of an artwork? Heresy perhaps, and I’m deliberately overstating the point. But even so, I don’t think portraits generally tend to do a lot. Which is why the best use of photography is not portraits, but reportage and invention.

The next thing we went to, the exhibition of Hungarian photography at the Royal Academy, is packed with both.

In particular, I stared for ages at Capa’s photograph of the Falling Solder. This is it:

Obviously there’s some debate about whether it’s staged or not, whether the soldier died at all, whether it was actually Capa that got him killed, etc. The Mail, perhaps unsurprisingly, ran this ridiculous piece not long ago.

But what that debate misses is that none of that matters. Capa knew that literal truth isn’t as important as what the photograph does; he knew it was art, and it was art that represented the fact that anarchists and republicans were getting killed – killed nobly – in the Catalan foothills. It worked to recruit support for the Republican cause and to make the rest of the world aware that something was kicking off in Spain that would spread throughout Europe, ultimately throughout the world.

That picture isn’t a good portrait. It’s blurred and you can’t see the soldier’s face clearly. But the point is that as well as provoking admiration, that picture terrified and it warned. Good art is not just there to be pretty or to be an accurate depiction – good art does something. That picture – there is no denying it – did something.

We finished the day at the Courtauld Gallery, which I have, unbelievably, never been to but if you have never been YOU HAVE TO STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING RIGHT NOW AND GO THERE. Why had nobody ever told me before that it is pretty much the world’s most perfect little art collection?

I mean, the exhibition we were ostensibly there to see – the Toulouse-Lautrec pictures of Jane Avril – was not very interesting (maybe because the intended perlocutionary force of those pictures were just a little too crude: “go and see this woman do the cancan,” they say, and that may have worked at the time but for obvious reasons doesn’t work now). But it was worth it just to see the rest of the gallery.

At risk of getting the intentional fallacy chucked in my face, I do wonder, when I see a lot of art, how much intention (conscious or otherwise) there was from the artist that the work does things. And I wonder how subtle those intentions need to be before the work becomes really good.

With stand-up, there’s such a delicate balance – the work is intended to get laughs. But what other things must it do – while still getting laughs – in order to be the really great artform some of us aspire for it to become?

—-

*OH MY GOODNESS CLARA BOW WAS BEAUTIFUL LOOK AT HER FACE!

some rhetoric

I know I haven’t posted much here recently (mainly because I’ve been a bit busy with research that is far too dull to post here), but thought I’d upload this exerpt from a debate paper I wrote. It was originally in response to a lame question like, ‘Is religion the cause of the worlds problems?’  but it provoked some quite neat expressions of my position on some other issues. For the record, I was writing for the opposition (No) side.

…With the Middle East conflict, as with all conflicts, there are two conflicting sides. But the real divide between sides is not between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Arabs. Which of those sides one might take is, to a large extent, irrelevant. The religious divide is not the real divide. The real divide is, as always, between those who think it is possible to justify violence against innocent people; and those who do not.

The first side – which has held the balance of power for too long – believe that there are circumstances under which there are sufficient reasons for innocent people to be violently harmed. ‘Harm’, in this case, might involve blowing people up or shooting at them; but it can also be taking their homes, throwing rocks at them, kidnapping them, stealing from them, refusing them medical supplies. (It’s important to note, as John Stuart Mill does, that ‘causing offence’, unless there is good reason to believe that offence will provoke violence, does not constitute actual harm. If it did, then we would have to put health warnings on debate chambers, comedy clubs and anywhere else where people are free to voice their opinions).

Those who lie on this first side of the divide use many means to justify violent harm (or to explain it away). Generally such justification means invoking past events, tribal differences, or, admittedly, religious metaphysical claims – for example, the will of a God or Gods. And, it is true, those who base justification for harm on such metaphysical claims often do the most terrible harm of all, because there is nothing in the physical world that can disprove their reasoning.

But that is not the same as saying that religion is the dividing factor, let alone the cause of harm. Many people hold metaphysical beliefs without ever feeling the need to cause harm as a result; and so we must conclude that religion does not always divide people. However substantial the specific differences of their metaphysical beliefs are, how real that divide feels to many people, it is in fact only a superficial dividing line; far from being divided by religion, those on the side of violent harm are in fact united by their mutual taste for, or tolerance of, tribalist inhumanity.

Now, on the other side of this divide are those us for whom nothing in this world, or beyond it, can justify violent harm to an innocent person.

We do not attempt to defend any military action which harms non-militants.

We do not consider any past event to be a justification for killing in the present or future.

We stubbornly refuse to lay blame along tribal lines, and we firmly believe that one must publicly condemn the violence of one’s own tribe just as vocally as one condemns the violence of another: failure to do this is equal to justifying the violence of one’s own tribe.

In the Middle East, We are not crudely ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Palestine’. We are, in fact, pro-Israel because we are pro-Palestine, and we are pro-Palestine because we are pro-Israel: we recognise that neither will have security, economic development and a good quality of life until both do, and every act of harm committed against a non-combatant from either tribe can only further endanger those on the other.

And certainly, we seek to explain and understand the psychology of violence, but we never do so in order to justify it. We will not be held responsible, as those on the other side of this divide are, for violent harm to innocents of any religion or tribe – except in our failure to condemn and hold to account those who have caused that harm.

Now, many of us, too, hold religious convictions. I am not one of them. But  for those of us who do, these convictions frequently confirm their belief that the innocent must be protected. Religious and political ideologies can only support this belief; they do not harm it.

Nor, for the record, is it either a left-wing nor a right-wing belief. It is a belief in the value of life, the rule of law, and decency towards our fellow humans, which unites both side of the left/right divide, as well as uniting religions.

Still: a divide exists – and all of us are either on one side or the other. But the divide is more significant than mere politics, and more urgent than religion. Religious and political affiliations are used as a tool used by those on the side of cruelty in order to drive a wedge between us. But we must recognise that while innocent lives are at stake, these supposed divisions are not what really divides us.

It is for all of us – religious and secular – to recognise what really divides us, and which side we really want to be on.

(andrew’s fault)

So while I’m trying to decide whether to start posting my obscenely over-academic university research on here (and finding out if I’m even allowed – I have a feeling it might be the property of the University and thus unpublishable anywhere else), here is a very lengthy response I posted today to this post on Andrew Watts’ superb blog. His basic point is that socialists don’t have the ability to be decent people themselves and want the state to do it for them; and that’s why socialists don’t give blood. I thought I’d repost my response here because it ended up being quite a neat little autobiographical statement of political philosophy – but you should read Andrew’s blog first; as a rule it tends to be funnier than mine anyway, and that’s the important thing…


The last time I tried to give blood, they wouldn’t let me. They looked at me, weighed me, and then said I wasn’t allowed. Your BMI is too low, they said. Really, I said? Yes, they said. If we let you give blood you could have a heart seizure. You should see a doctor actually, they said.

So I went to see my GP, and my GP told me I should try eating meat and stop being such a big (well, small) vegetarian nancy. So, for the sake of my health, I learned to be harsher and not to feel so much remorse for the suffering of less fortunate creatures when it interferes with my own self-interest.

That was ten years ago. From there, it was only a small step to becoming a fan of Nietzsche, who recognised exactly how cruel humans can be if it’s in their own interest, and of course inadvertantly influenced a string of idiots like Rand and Hayek, and indirectly, Thatcher. She’d been long out of office, but I was able to recognize then that I had hated her through my childhood for the wrong reasons. I had mistakenly hated her, for the reason most people, as you say, still hate the Tories – for being cruel. But she wasn’t a bad Prime Minister because she was cruel; she was a bad Prime Minister simply because she had, if anything, much too positive a view of humans – she thought that if we were freer to be independent as entrepreneurial capitalists, then we would also be freer to be responsible and kind to each other as individuals. But what happened under Thatcher was social carnage; her liberalism was too radical and people who were suddenly able to make a lot of money didn’t bother to look after those who were less able, or those who didn’t regard the acquisition of wealth as being the telos of human existence.

For a while, I admired New Labour then; they recognised that if the wealthy were going to actually contribute anything of substance for the less advantaged, they were going to need a bit more encouragement. New Labour weren’t socialists because they didn’t want to compel the advantaged to help the disadvantaged – or at least, Blair didn’t – but they did at least try to come up with ways in which it could happen: academies, foundation hospitals, PPPs etc. But these were never going to work: when organisations with their own interests (whether that is profit or religious influence) get power over things like transport or education or healthcare, they were never going to act primarily in the interests of transport or education or healthcare as being intrinsically worthwhile; they were always going to use those things as instruments of their own interest (generally profit). So rail fares become unaffordable; academy schools get more obsessed with exam results in the short term and will lose good teachers – and possibly their buildings – in the long term.

This might not be intentional, it might not even be conscious most of the time, and it’s not that people aren’t ‘kind’; it’s that when kindness gets in the way of their own immediate goals, their own goals come first. This is because people are, at bottom, selfish.  And this is what socialists understand.

As much as it might seem to go against the Sixth-form-common-room debate of “wouldn’t socialism be nice/no it won’t work because people are selfish”, in the real world socialists are the ones who DO recognise that people are selfish. 

And so I actually do accept your premise that socialism is about outsourcing your kindness – although actually I think it’s about outsourcing responsibility for your kindness – but if it is, it’s because they recognise that otherwise the kindness won’t get done. Capitalism would never have been so successful if the rich had noticed people were starving and done something about it.  

Now personally, I’m not a socialist because, having become a flesh-eating Nietzschean, I don’t see any obligation at all in moral kindness. For the sake of basic human decency and my own safety, I’m in favour of personal responsibility – but it needs to be given gradually, not thrust upon us. And in the meantime, we need to be compelled by law to help the less fortunate, otherwise they won’t get helped and then they’ll revolt.

So, the consequences of this: a few years ago I abandoned the Labour Party, whose tribe I had, in the first place, been indoctrinated into by my mother, a high Anglican from Liverpool, who quite correctly regarded Jesus’ agape-or-hell law/compulsion as being profoundly socialist in nature. Jesus, too, thought that people are equal in the eyes of God, but basically selfish and need compelling to be kind: and socialism is the practice of positing the (empirically false) claim that all people are of equal value and then, as you say, adding that the more well-off must be compelled, by the threat of punishment (ie hell) if necessary, to be kind as a result. And hell is a pretty tough punishment for breaking the only human law Jesus set out and not loving your neighbour.

Anyway, I deserted the Labour Party but didn’t give up hope: individual people CAN be decent to each other without such compulsion;but you can’t do it by just taking all the support away and leaving them to it. It will take a long gradual time to get there, but it’s possible; the state should be dismantled very, very slowly, and give plenty of practical transitional support in the meantime. I like to call this ideology Pragmatic Gradualist Anarchism. Some people, I think, call it Liberalism.

So this year – regrettably, now – I decided to join the Liberal Democrats, and I even campaigned for them – in a Liberal vs. Labour seat. I did that because they seemed to be pretty sensible about gradually pushing against state authoritarianism while still providing support for people to be decent to each other. (And also because, having taught Politics for a few years now, I’ve become deeply, deeply dissatisfied that the FPTP voting system is representative of what people actually want and so doesn’t provide proper legitimacy.)

So, to answer your point: the reason I’ve been bombarding facebook with annoyed messages is not because I want my kindness to need outsourcing, or because I’m opposed to the idea of personal responsibility and lower taxation and so on. I’m angry at the spending review because the party I campaigned for have done the political equivalent of promising to help us build a plane and learn to fly, and then joined up with a bunch of people who like pushing people off cliffs and pushed us all of a cliff. And we’re going do hit the ground hard, our most vulnerable parts first.

The people who hate the Tories for that aren’t wrong to point out that they are so personally wealthy that they are cutting things they will never personally have to depend on. And they aren’t wrong to point out that George Osbourne smiled a lot during and after his Spending Review speech, and seemed proud of the cuts to quality of life that he’d made on other people’s behalf.

Personally, I’m glad I wasn’t allowed to give blood. Because I’d only have done it so that I could take the credit, but it would have really hurt.

But I wonder if perhaps Osbourne wouldn’t give blood either if he could get a poor person to do it and still take personal credit…

ramblin’ man

I woke up yesterday morning in a backpacker hostel in King’s Cross. It was the fifth bed I’d woken up in since the previous Monday.

To be honest, it’s been a challenging week. The first week back from Edinburgh always is, but I don’t usually try to do it homeless. Also I don’t usually drink so much and make so many bad judgments.

Unlike the weeks before Edinburgh, when I quite enjoyed the whole travelling thing, I’d quite like to go home now, if only I had one to go to. Since I woke up – massively hungover – in the empty Edinburgh flat last Monday, I’ve slept in my sister and brother-in-laws’ spare room, my mother’s house in Northampton, Loz’s house in Stoke Newington, and last night’s hostel bed.

The hostel was quite nice, in fact; and perversely, the nights you’d expect to be the alcoholic ones (the backpacker hostel and the night I met Loz in the pub and stayed at his house) have been the most civilized. It was pretty great to see Loz because I missed him in Edinburgh – he was busy getting engaged instead, which is kind of beautiful and also kind of terrifying because he and his girlfriend have always been glowing beacons of successful cohabitation. It means there’s more steps to settling than I’m anywhere near.

Hell, I don’t even have a house.

More importantly, I don’t really have a home. My mother’s flat in Northampton feels kind of homely and very loving, but I’ve never lived there and I can’t seem to relate to Northampton at all any more. I know I was born there, but my parents weren’t and I might as well have been born in Leicester or Salisbury or Tewkesbury for all the ancestral attachments I’ve got to the place. Getting off the train into the sunlight and the familiar smell of hops from the Carlsberg factory was nice, but people do often feel strange genetic links to places (whether it’s from unique climates or from generations of their ancestors eating from the soil or whatever) and I don’t feel it with Northampton. It’s just a big, weird suburban sprawl in the middle of England, and to cope with being there on Saturday I had to get stupendously drunk in the kind of bar where everyone drinks cocktails out of coconut shells and pretends that their lives aren’t being wasted.

In fact, the only really fulfilling thing that I’ve got out of Northampton this week was finding out from my mum that its greatest ever MP Charlie Bradlaugh (who is one of my all-time political heroes) supposedly once had an affair with Ellen Terry, (who – as well as being a distant relative of mine – was also supposedly the greatest actress of the Victorian age). It just seems like the perfect Politics/Showbiz match-up and I like that there’s some of my genetics in it.

But neither Terry nor Bradlaugh ever stayed put either, partly because both had dangerous habits of getting involved in both foreign and domestic politics. And Northampton’s such a dodgy Middle England swing town now that it would never return someone as ballsy as Bradlaugh even once, let alone four times. That town can’t be my home.

The closest place I have to a home is London. Well, specifically Crouch End. But the only evening I’ve spent there this week, I accidentally crashed a party, missed my train and ended up learning things that maybe would have made me act differently a long time ago if only I’d realized them when it wasn’t all too late. Then I shot myself in the foot again the next day via email.

Ah, well. Things appear and things disappear.

Anyway, the point is that I do love moving around all the time, but I’ve done it for a few months now and I think I need to stop somewhere. I never thought I’d be a settling-down-white-picket-fence-kinda-guy. But I’m homeless and tired right now, and perhaps I could be persuaded.

day 21: too tired to be that great

It’s getting near the end of the run, and I’m so tired.

I drank nothing more than orange juice the night before, so I felt pretty good but still exhausted when it came time to go and see Dave Gibson’s early afternoon ‘Ray Green’ show. Now, Dave is a man with a great comedy face. His expressions are just so good and his show, while perhaps a little over-reliant on video clips, is superb. No doubt I’d rave about it more if I hadn’t seen Eric and Sanderson the previous day, but hey – context is everything. Still, Dave is brilliant and his show is an absolute cracker. Particularly the puppet bit at the end.

Then, after Fraser took Rik and I for lunch, I went off to the book festival to see my old university friend Steve Bloomfield talk about his book.

Annoyingly I couldn’t hang around because I had to go and flyer for the showcase, even though I wasn’t intending to perform in it. I had a show to go and see – more on that in a minute – and I thought that if I flyered enough to get a good audience in, booked Mark Restuccia to open, and left the rest with Timmy then everything would be fine.

It wasn’t. The few audience who turned up were idiots, and in particular there were some drunk mouthy scots at the back who kept shouting abuse at the stage. When I left, Timmy was into his tenth minute of valiantly trying to MC some life into a cold, hostile room, and Stooch was quite reasonably looking concerned.

I heard later that after the hecklers left, things were better, and that David Mulholland had actually had a pretty good headlining slot.

Still, at the time I had other things to concern me – namely, going to see Lady C at the GRV.

There is at least one adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover at the Fringe pretty much every year, and I have a personal tradition of trying to see them if I can. Not even for simply pervy reasons, either – surprisingly few adaptations contain anything close to explicit sex scenes or nudity, and the ones that do are generally either repulsive or hilarious or both. But I do really like the book, and seeing amateur adaptations of it has become a kind of weird hobby, like a collection. But Lady C wasn’t really an adaptation of the book; more a discussion of its publishing history and its effect on modern sexuality, done by three actors, often in the nude. It was also without doubt the most deliberately erotic Chatterley play I’ve seen, which made it a successful production, but only to the extent that that kind of thing can be. And I am led to understand that there are cheaper places to watch people stripping in Edinburgh, if that’s all people were there for. I was a bit disappointed that when one of the performers asked for a show of hands for who had actually read it, very few of us put our hands up. And the social politics of the book – without which the sex doesn’t really make much sense – was swept over a little too quickly. And sex without a wider politics attached to it is not really that sexy at all.

Still, it was at least more entertaining than watching my friends die onstage at the showcase.

I came out of Lady C with just enough to time to grab some chips and get down to meet the rest of the Flashback at the caves to finally see Doctor Brown’s show Because.

And what a show it is. I’d seen the end of it so many times but you need to see it from the start. It is really a work of genius. Everything I was saying about surprise and confidence the other day is played out so beautifully – the show is full of surprises. His tech, Jon, is also some kind of magician (he gets a lot of laughs just from his lighting and sound before anyone even appears onstage). By the end, I’d enjoyed the show so much that I didn’t even care that it had overrun or that I’d just found out how many laughs are gained from the bit that created the branflake-sweat-spore pond. In fact, it was a pleasure finally watching the mess get made at last…

In fact, I think we’d all enjoyed it a little too much. The Flashback show was fine, and the audience were a lot more generous than they had been the previous night; but it was possibly the least sharp performance for a while.

Ah well. I knew we’d pick it up for Friday. As long as we got enough sleep…

DRAW

day 12: capital vs. magic

Apart from more visits from London, Tuesday was the worst day yet. I spent most of the day picking up the visitors (Nan and Jennifer) from the train station; but then the showcase was crap. I sucked – the crowd was small and I just didn’t have any energy, so none of my jokes hit and after a while I just felt like I was boring the audience. Jay Foreman had to cancel, because the constant gigging has wrecked his fingers (Linus Lee made a very good replacement but he wasn’t Jay). And Nick Sun wasn’t up to his usual brilliant form either. I left feeling disappointed.

Then the Flashback show was wrecked by a whole bunch of things that weren’t our fault: Dr. Brown overran again, though it seems that it’s not entirely his fault because the Big Value showcase that runs before him keeps overrunning too. By the time we got into the room and started the show, we were half an hour late. That really makes a difference to audiences after midnight, because people have to leave to get back to babysitters etc. Those who stay, and have had to wait in the bar, are usually either so tired or drunk by then that it wrecks the show.

Then we had the problem that half of the Just The Tonic venue staff – flyerers, bar staff, etc. – were in the bar right outside the room, getting drunk and making a huge amount of noise. To add insult to injury – literally – one of the venue staff was outside making sarcastic comments about the show (despite having never seen it) to people coming in.

I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of the venue staff, either. They don’t seem to understand how performance art venues work, what they do or what their value is. They are mostly kids on an insulting amount of money, whose training seems to consist of being given an A4 sheet of paper telling them not much more than that they need to take tickets, collect glasses, and show people in and out of the room.

That’s not it. They need to be made to understand that performers have paid thousands of pounds to the venue to put on the show, but the reason they’ve paid those thousands is to create magic because they believe in it. But what the venues care only for their profits, so they don’t bother to tell their minimum-wage staff that it’s a magic that only works if other people believe in it too.

If the audience go into a show believing that they will have a good time, most of the time they will. If they go into a room half an hour late, having been told by a drunk young man outside that they’ve wasted their money, then they probably won’t enjoy it so much. And the performers are screwed, not just financially but in terms of their credibility as artists and as the people they are trying to create themselves as.

Capitalism doesn’t always fuck art. But in Edinburgh, it frequently does.

And the worst thing is that, as always, the victims are turned against each other. I was so angry that I gave a bollocking to a member of the venue staff who had actually done her job quite well that night, just because she was there.

It’s not fair on anyone.

LOSE.