Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Gap - Parts 1 to 10

The Gap is a story is currently being published on a episodic basis via my instagram and this post collects the first ten parts for those wishing to catch up...

Part 1

These are the places where worlds touch.

Oh, there’s nothing you can see but you can feel it.

For some people it’s little more than a vague shiver, a prickling on the back of the neck, but if you’re a sensitive then the feeling is altogether more intense. A knot that twists in the stomach. A certainty that all is not right here.

And you are correct.

These are the places where energies entwine, where dimensions kiss, where logic can break down in an instant.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I like to think Shakespeare was probably a sensitive, that he perhaps unconsciously felt just how much is hidden from us in our daily lives. But if he had known the truth, if he had known about the cold darkness that lies so close one can almost touch it, if he had known about The Gap, then I am sure he would have struggled to believe it.

You are going to struggle to believe the things I am going to tell you. And if it helps you to believe that this is just a story, just some fantastical piece of entertainment, then that’s fine as well. But the truth is different, the truth is darker.

Try to keep an open mind. And feel free to stop reading at any point. There is, after all, more than a grain of truth to the rumour that ignorance is bliss. Knowledge can’t be undone. You can turn a cow into mince, but not mince into cow. Remember that.

So, if you’re ready, come take my hand and let me lead you into a story that spans more worlds than our own; a story whose beginning has long since been lost to the mists of time but whose end may well be oh so very near…

Part 2

I have so much to tell you and so little time.

This is a story built upon secrets; secrets that have been protected for centuries and which continue to be protected to this day. So much blood has been spilled in their protection, but the moment at which the truth will out is nearly upon us.

There’s a part of me that wants to let the information I have pour forth from me like a geyser - The Gap, the extrusions and intrusions, The Department, Sui Generis – but I realise that this is too much for you to take in. I need to start slowly. I need to start where it all began for me. I need to start with the Rainy Man.

It all began in Barcelona and a girl called Reina. If she was ever really a girl at all.

I had arrived there for a few days after lecturing in Girona, and I’d met Reina by the harbour after a seagull had stolen my lunch.  We talked. We laughed. And there was that sense of instant chemistry and communication that happens so very rarely; that sense of being on the same wavelength so that everything about our conversation was so very easy.

She told me about the legend of El hombre de la lluvia, the Rainy Man, who preys on the lost. Except the Rainy Man is not a legend. The Rainy Man is real. And Reina, who saw the pain and loss that lay beneath my surface, she led me right to him.

I could have died there in Barcelona. I so nearly did.

Like a fly wandering into the spider’s web, I came face to face with El hombre de la lluvia that day. Stared into his jade green eyes, his hands holding me like ice cold steel; watched as his black tongue flickered from his mouth, impossibly wide and filled with teeth like a saw.

I should have died. But for a voice in my head of someone I loved. A voice that gave me the strength to break free.

The Rainy Man was where this started. The first step on the slipperiest of slopes that would peel back reality and unravel all the truths I once held dear.

I ran from Barcelona, ran back to the UK and tried to pretend it had never happened. But the Rainy Man had touched me, had tasted me, and so he followed.

And I realised, I could run from him no more…

Part 3

It was three months before the Rainy Man finally found me.

Life had begun to return to something approaching normality when I saw him beside a bus shelter. Rain pouring off his wide brimmed hat as he waited for me. I turned and walked away, told myself I was imagining things.

But a few days later I was getting off a bus and he was standing in the park watching me. A little nearer this time. He smiled at me. I closed my eyes and counted to ten, and when I opened them he was gone. But I knew that he was not simply a figment of my imagination. He had found me.

Two days after that I was in my car, stopped at traffic lights, when the heavens opened and rain began to hammer off my windshield. And he was there. Beside the car. So close that if I had reached my hand out of the window I could have touched him. He grinned at me, a smile of saw teeth. And then, as soon as it had started, the rain stopped and he faded away like ripples in a pond.

When I saw him outside my house later that day, I knew that running was pointless.  He would always find me.

I decided that I would run no more. I would make my stand here and fight him. I didn’t know how; after all, last time I had encountered him I had barely escaped with my life. But I knew that I had to try.

I did my research, read everything that I could find online about the supernatural. Most of it seemed crazy, but then everything since Barcelona had been crazy. So I followed the advice I’d read and spread lines of salt along my windows and doors. I even dug through the boxes up in the loft and found my grandfather’s WWI bayonet.

And, as the black clouds began to gather overhead, I sat down in a chair facing the front door and waited. Knuckles white as I held the iron bayonet tightly in my right hand.

A knock sounded at the door…

Part 4

Bang. Bang. Bang.

I flinched, and the door rattled in its frame, with each knock; the bayonet in my hand suddenly feeling wholly inadequate to deal with what was on the other side.

And then silence.

I waited for a few seconds and was about to get up from my seat and peer out of the window when the lock slowly started to turn by itself. Someone or something was opening the door from the outside. I pressed myself a little further back into my seat.

The door swung slowly open.

A tall man dressed in a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat stood framed in the doorway. He looked down at the floor, at the line of salt that I had carefully ran across the width of the doorway, and shook his head.

“Salt?” he said in the kind of upper class English accent I’d only ever heard in movies as he stepped inside the house.  “Really? You’ve been watching too much Supernatural, I think.”

“Who are you and what the hell are doing breaking into my house?” I managed to splutter.

“The name’s Stark,” he replied, pausing to sweep his gaze across the room. “Alexander Stark.”

“Which still doesn’t explain the whole breaking into my house thing.” I said, as indignantly as I could muster.

He took a wallet from his inside pocket, held it out in front of him and let it drop open to reveal a picture and some kind of badge.

“I’m with Department 9.”

“Department 9?”

“No time to explain now,” said Stark angling his head to look at the window, where huge raindrops had begun to splash against the glass. “I take it you’d prefer to get out of this alive?”

I nodded.

“Then I need you to sit in that chair and, whatever happens next, don’t get out of it...”

Part 5

The rain outside became heavier, the drops rattling off the glass like pebbles, and the sky grew black.

“Localised weather phenomena,” mused Stark, his long fingers steepled beneath his chin, “would seem to indicate we’re dealing with at least a Category 3.”

“You know, you can feel free to tell me what the hell is going on anytime you like…”

He ignored me and pulled something resembling a smart phone from his pocket. Jabbed at its screen. Cocked an eyebrow.



“This could,” he said, turning from his phone to look at me, “be something of a rough ride.”

A gale had begun to howl outside, the wind seemingly whistling through every gap that it could find, while the blackness had grown more threatening until it seemed as if it was pressing itself against the glass like a physical thing.

Something black and gaseous began to drift beneath the crack of the front door, a swirling amorphous shape that brushed the salt aside and then reared up into a black column of smoke. I dropped the bayonet, my hands clutching the sides of the chair. Stark needn’t have worried about me getting out of the chair; moving was simply not an option for me.

And then the Rainy Man was here. Hat dripping wet. Long coat streaked with mud. Green eyes glittering all the brighter in the dark. Water pooling on the hardwood floor at his feet.

For a second his face distorted into a twisted smile and I felt the cold heat of his gaze, but then he turned as if noticing Stark for the first time.

“Hello there,” said Stark, his voice calm and collected, “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.”

Part 6

The Rainy Man turned to fully face Stark and, for a few seconds, the two of them simply stared at each other. Stark coldly dispassionate; The Rainy Man seething with malevolence.

The thought of trying to make a run for it briefly flickered through my mind but then I remembered Stark’s words and stayed firmly planted in the chair.

“Do you know what I am?” asked Stark.

The Rainy Man said nothing, simply swaying on the spot in the middle of the room as if in some kind of a trance.

“I know what you are,” continued Stark, “I know what happened to you.”

The Rainy Man hissed but didn’t move.

“There was a time, long ago, that you were human,” said Stark. “Before the darkness touched you. Before The Gap claimed you.”

The Rainy Man snarled, lip curling up above its razor sharp teeth; its hands arched into talons. It felt to me as if pressure was building, as if the storm was about to break on us.

“I want to help you,” said Stark.

Everything that happened next occurred almost too quickly for the eye to see.

One second they were stood facing each other. The next, the Rainy Man was surging across the room in a blur, his claws slicing through the air towards where Stark stood. But, as quick as the Rainy Man was, Stark was quicker. He drifted sideways, evading the attack almost nonchalantly, and in the same motion catching the Rainy Man at the wrists; forcing it backwards across the room.

A wind began to twist and turn, with the Rainy Man at its epicentre. Paintings flew from the walls, cups and plates shattered, papers swept up into a whirling mass; but the two of them remained locked together in the middle of the room.

But Stark no longer seemed to be pushing it back, instead it seemed to me that the claws of the Rainy Man were slowly but inexorably moving towards Stark’s face. The wind roared louder as the Rainy Man poured ever more power and rage into their conflict, Stark taking a step backwards for the first time.

And in that moment, I knew what I had to do. Heart pounding in my chest, I took hold of the bayonet and stood up…

Part 7

I squeezed my eyes shut against the flying debris and pushed forward against the force of the wind, each step like wading through treacle. The bayonet suddenly feeling as if it weighed fifty kilos in my hand.

The Rainy Man and Stark were still locked in their fierce embrace and I forced my way across the room towards them, every inch a battle. Heart pounding, lungs aching; adrenaline coursing, fear briefly contained.

I drove the bayonet hard towards the Rainy Man’s torso; the blade cleaving through the air in what felt like slow motion. My senses heightened in that fraction of a second. The fabric of the Rainy Man’s coat, the mottled colour of its skin, the open eyes of Stark that seemed to betray some kind of panic.

The bayonet struck home, the force of the blow driving the blade cleanly through the folds of the coat and deep into the side of the Rainy Man’s chest.


The wind died instantly.

The Rainy Man stood static in the middle of the room, hands lying limp at its side

Stark looked at me and grimaced. “You idiot.”

For a moment my brain tried to process what it had just heard and convert it to the thanks I had been expecting to receive. But, as if reading my mind, Stark sighed loudly.

“You bloody idiot.”

The Rainy Man twitched slightly, its head suddenly jerking violently to one side with a loud cracking sound. One hand moved up its body and seized hold of the protruding bayonet, tugging the blade gradually loose until it emerged with a vague sucking sound. It dripped black with foul smelling blood.

“Now you’ve gone and made it angry….”

Part 8

The Rainy Man let the bayonet fall to the floor.

It stood there for a few seconds, its head down as if in silent contemplation. Stark used the time to circle around it towards me, and took hold of my arm.

“We need to go,” he said, in a low voice that was edged with steel, “Now.”

But it was already too late; something was beginning to happen to the Rainy Man.

Looking back at that moment, I understand so much more of what it was I was seeing that day. But at the time, it seemed to me that the Rainy Man began to dissolve from the extremities; as if its hands and legs were turning into spirals of black dust and smoke. But there was more than that; within the whorls of smoke I could see undulations and movements, vague hints of something sinuous and tentacled.

I felt myself becoming entranced. It was if I was staring deep into one of Dante’s visions of Hell and yet I couldn’t bring myself to look away.

Stark grabbed me by the right arm and pulled me bodily back across the room, away from the Rainy Man and through the doorway leading to the kitchen, but something black snaked out of the living room from behind me like a whip, seizing hold of my left hand at the wrist.

There would be times later when I experienced worse but, right then, it was the most painful experience I’d had in my life so far. I tried to pull it away from me with my right hand, but it held me effortlessly and slowly constricted. I could feel it burning my skin, dissolving flesh. I wanted to scream but the pain was so intense it felt as if my breath was frozen in my lungs.

Stark drew a cylinder from his pocket and squeezed it in his palm. It transformed, instantly, into a glowing blue dagger.

“This might sting a little,” he said, and brought the knife down on my forearm…

Part 9

The blue blade scythed through my forearm effortlessly and I watched, disbelieving, as my left hand fell away and was then snatched into the living room by the black tendrils, where it was crushed in a brief red blossom.

My hand had just been cut off.

I felt dizzy, felt nauseous, but what I didn’t feel was any pain. And, despite the fact that my arm had just been neatly severed in two, neither could I see any blood.

“You cut off my hand.” I said to Stark, pointing at the bloodless stump with my remaining hand.

“10 out of 10 for observation,” said Stark and pulled me hard out of the kitchen door and into the back garden.

“You cut off my hand.”

“We have bigger problems right now,” grunted Stark, pushing me roughly to one side before using the tip of the blue dagger to etch a symbol into the lid of my garden BBQ.

I looked at the very empty place where my left hand had been until a few seconds earlier in the forlorn hope that I had somehow imagined it.

A cracking sound caused me to look up and at the kitchen door, through which was spilling a mass of black coils which twisted and turned at impossible angles. The door frame contorted and stretched, the windows alongside it exploding in a shower of glass.

A small voice in my head was busy opining that I was not, thus far, having the best of days.

Stark thrust the palm of his right hand over the symbol he had carved on the BBQ before turning his head to look at me. “Close your eyes.”

I closed them. By this point I’d stopped trying to make sense of things…

Part 10

There was a noise that sounded much like I imagine thunder would sound if you happened to have your head wedged into a cumulonimbus, followed by a shockwave that blew my hair back and peppered my face with grit. I waited a second longer, then gingerly opened my eyes.

Where my mundane terraced house had, quite happily, stood for the last century was a huge and perfectly symmetrical hole, the edges of which were blackened and charred. I realised I could see all the way through to the other side of the street, where a throng of curious onlookers had begun to gather. Of the Rainy Man, there was no sign at all.

“What a bloody mess,” said Stark, looking around as neighbours began to hang their heads out of the windows to see what was going in. He pulled the smartphone-like device from his pocket. “I need a Level 3 cordon at my position. Give me a full clean-up crew and jam all electronics; the last thing we need is this clusterfuck livestreamed on Instagram.”

My house; everything I owned, every memento. Everything that was me, was gone. The realisation hit me like a punch to the stomach; everything that I had left of Ellie was in that house; the letters, the books, the pottery she had made. In comparison, losing my hand felt like little more than an inconvenience. I felt something knot in my chest.

“You do realise this is all your fault?” said Stark.

I wheeled around to face him, raw agony lacing my words. “You destroyed my house, you chopped off my fucking hand, and this is MY fault?”

“If you’d not gone all Rambo with the dagger, I’d have incapacitated it,” said Stark, ignoring my anger. “Think of my first approach as a taser, designed to stun it. But then you made it angry and that approach had to go out the window, leaving me with no other option but to use lethal force.”

“Lethal force? Lethal force? You blew up my house!”

“Trust me, the alternative would have been a lot worse.”

I stared at the still-smoking-hole-that-had-been-a-house and tried to imagine what much worse would have looked like it. I could hear the sound of sirens approaching.

“What now?” I asked, feeling suddenly and utterly deflated.

“Now we clean this up and make it go away,” said Stark, “By tomorrow this gas explosion barely makes page three of the local paper.”

“Gas explosion?”

“My team will be here in a few minutes. By the time they’ve finished here, trust me, this will be whatever I want it to be.” He paused and looked at me hard. “And then you and I, we’re going to have a little chat…”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eurovision Drinking Game Rules 2017

It is so nearly that time again...

I know, I know; it seems like only yesterday that we were all waking up with the mother of all hangovers but it's nearly here. Like an iceberg looming over the horizon ready to take the Titanic entirely unprepared, the Eurovision Song Contest is quietly sneaking up on us. And, thankfully, the Eurovision Drinking Game is here to offer you the kind of alcoholic support that might (just) get you through the night mentally (if not physically) unscathed.

Now, this year - as well as few minor updates - there is also going to be a Dutch specific rule (assuming they make it through from the semi-finals) due to the fact that one third of this year's Dutch entry (the band O'G3NE) is one of my former students. I know, clear favouritism on my part. I can only hope that they haven't read the rules and decided to perform in a manner that breaches too many rules...

As with all the previous years, some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1 and 26 and knock back two shots before you get started for good measure. Or, watch it on BBC and pretend to be British for the night so you to can feel our pain.

Finally, I need to issue my customary word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for your health (or lack of) if you stringently follow the rules of my game and drink yourself into oblivion. Play this game entirely at your own risk…


1. A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get overexcited).

2. The national drink of Ukraine is, perhaps unsurprisingly, vodka. If you want to be a purist, then you can find some rather fine Ukrainian vodkas out there, including Staritsky & Levitsky. However, I would suggest that you feel free to play hard and loose with the rules in this respect and pick something suitably alcoholic and to your tastes...

The rules are really very simple. You take a sip of your chosen spirit if:

1) Any time the British entry - Lucie Jones - is mentioned.

2) Any time the Dutch entry - O'G3NE - are mentioned. If it is mentioned that they entered Junior Eurovision in 2007, take a shot. If any kind of ABBA comparisons are made, knock back two shots immediately.

3) The host(s) attempts to sing.

4) The host(s) pretends to be surprised at something that's going on in what is clearly a vaguely-rehearsed piece of improvisation.

5) The host(s) loses track of their autocue or mess up their timing.

6) The video shown before an act manages to put you off the act before they've even taken the stage.

7) You are not entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man.

8) The singer is barefoot.

9) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world. Drink an entire shot if a country is represented by what seems to be a random person (or persons) scooped up off the streets and then pushed out on stage.

10) The act involves people on stage banging large drums or objects acting as large drums.

11) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

12) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

13) The act possesses a large moustache.

14) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

15) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (for example, English words in a song by Ukraine). One sip per language. If in any doubt, just take a sip.

16) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

17) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage at any time during the song.

18) There are dancers on stage who, by their movements and lack of synchronicity, appear to have perhaps had three dance lessons as a child and have never heard the song before tonight. Take a shot if they're wearing an especially outlandish costume.

19) People are pretending to play instruments on stage. Drink an entire shot if they take a pretend solo.

20) Every time there's some kind of pyrotechnic on stage.

21) Every time someone employs the use of a wind machine.

22) If the act attempts to distract attention from the paucity of quality in their offering by getting some kind of celebrity on stage with them (for reference, see Germany in 2009 who employed the services of Dita von Teese to no effect whatsoever).

23) If there is some kind of random digital animation going on in the background that seems to have very little to do with the song that's being sung. Take a shot if something goes badly wrong with this during the performance...

24) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

25) Every time one of the people reading out the results of a country’s voting attempts to secure their 15 seconds of fame by babbling on incoherently and generally delaying things and winding a few hundred million people up.

26) Every time it’s "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!". Drink a shot each time, at the end of a voting round, the UK is in last place overall.

27) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons.

28) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth...take a sip!

At some point in the next month I'll rustle up a printable version like I did the in the last five years. Oh and I would suggest that, in order to maximise the chances that your rules survive the night's entertainment, you may want to think about laminating them!

Have fun and please don't blame for the pain and misery you will have to endure...not to mention the hangover the day after!!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

An Unlikely Saviour

So, the following story was inspired by a writing prompt on reddit posted by the user crimsonpuppet that went as follows: Aliens give you a camera and say "only those you photograph will live." You have one year. It was prompt that immediately fired up an idea and, since it went down rather well, I thought I'd post it here as well...

Alien abduction, let me tell you, is nothing like the movies. So if you were expecting a story of flying saucers, of bright blue beams of light and levitation, you are set to be rather disappointed.

It began with the sudden appearance of a black, metallic dodecahedron about the size of a garbage truck in my back garden. I had been pottering around the kitchen, making myself a cup of tea; one minute, the garden had been empty save for an ugly rosebush in the middle of the lawn that I'd never got around to digging out; the next minute, there it is was.

I think I must have squinted at it for a few moments, trying to think up a rational explanation for its intrusion upon the lawn, but it seemed a little too large to have come over the fence from the neighbour's children and so I quickly put rationality to one side and shrieked. Which was the moment that I realised that everything had stopped.

The cup of tea, which I had dropped in surprise, was still in mid-air, splashes of tea frozen like brown petals around it. A large fly, wings static, hovered in the air a few feet from my face. I reached out one hand, finger outstretched, and prodded the fly; it moved back a few inches but stayed resolutely suspended in the air. From what I could tell, with the obvious exception of myself, time had completely stopped.

"Terribly sorry about this," said a small voice from my left, and I looked down to see what looked like a small blue teddy bear standing by the kitchen door. "Time is of the essence or I'd not have to resort to such crude methods."

"Crude methods?" I asked.

"Mmm," said the bear and clicked on a small box he held clutched in his right hand (paw?). "Follow me."

Now, let me explain. At this point my mind was thinking "you must be joking, I don't know what is going on here but I can tell you one thing I know for sure; and that is that I am not going anywhere with you" but - despite this - my body said "sure thing, mr. blue bear."

And so, despite my mind desperately shouting orders to stand still, my body plodded out of the kitchen on auto pilot, traipsed barefoot into the garden, and then trudged up a ramp and into a portal that had opened on the side of the dodecahedron. The inside of the craft smelled strangely like burnt toast; which was the last thing I had time to notice before everything went suddenly black.

"He's coming round," said a small voice to my right.

"I don't think he is," said a small voice to my left.

"No, look, his eye coverings are all twitchy."

"Oh yes, so they are," there was the sound of furry paws clapped together. "Wonderful!"

I cracked open one eye, hoping this had all been some kind of terribly strange and not particularly pleasant dream. But no; I was lying on a flat surface, staring up at a featureless but lit ceiling, and two small blue teddy bear-like creatures were peering down at me.

"Oh bollocks," I said, "this isn't a dream is it?"

"Afraid not," said the bear on the right.

"Please tell me this isn't the bit where you anal probe me," I said, a degree of desperation creeping into my voice.

"Anal probe you?" said the bear on the left.

"What kind of perverts do you think we are?" asked the bear on the right.

"Well, I've just heard you aliens like to do that sort of thing," I mumbled, sheepishly.

"Sorry to dash your hopes," said left bear, "but anal probing isn't on the menu."

"No," said right bear, "We have brought you here because you have been chosen to save mankind."

"What?" I spluttered, "Me, save mankind? Are you sure you've taken the right person?"

"Oh yes," said the bear on the right, "It's definitely you. We ran the algorithms 393 times to be sure."

"But save mankind?"

"Oh, not all of it," laughed the bear on the left, "Oh dear no, that would be a silly thing to ask."

"No," said the bear on the right, "We need you to save the best of mankind. The very cream of the crop. Our analysis has predicted that you are the single most objective person on the entire Earth."

"But why?"

"Well, I don't know," said the bear on the left, "It could be purely a product of genetics, although I'd imagine parental upbringing and environmental factors also contributed to your objectivity..."

"No," I interrupted. "I mean, why do I need to save mankind?"

"Oh that," said the right bear, "Yes, we should probably have mentioned that. Gamma Ray Burst. Big One. Heading this way; going to boil the planet to a crisp."


"366 days from now."

"Only a year?"

"A year and a day."

"But can't you help us stop it?"

The bear on the right grimaced slightly, "Would love to, really I would, but there are protocols for these sort of things and - frankly - we're bending them a bit going this far."

"But how many people can I save?"

"Well, not everyone, as we mentioned; but quite a few. At least if you want to."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Got a soft spot for the place," said the left bear, "Would be a shame to see all you humans gone."

"And how do you expect me to save them?"

"Oh, you'll like this," said the bear on the right, "you have to take their photo."

"Their photo?"

"Yep, you photograph them and we'll make sure they're scooped up before things go thoroughly tits up around here."

"And that's all I have to do?"

"Well," said the bear on the right, "You only have a year. 365 days and everyone you photograph we'll save. Relocate you somewhere nice and altogether less Gamma Ray Bursty."

I began doing calculations in my head. 365 days. It was a lot. I could travel, I could take pictures of people in sport stadiums. I could take pictures of people at concerts. I could take pictures of heaving cities. I was sure, even with the limit of a year, that I could save millions. Maybe tens of millions.

"So, you up for it?" asked the left bear.

I nodded.

"Brilliant, well we'll see you in a year then," smiled the right bear, before looking slightly downcast. "Sorry about this again"

The world went black.

I opened my eyes and the tea cup smashed loudly on the kitchen floor, china flying in every direction.

For a second I thought it had just been a dream, a momentary bout of imaginative lunacy, but then I caught the faint whiff of burnt toast and I noticed the camera that was sitting on the kitchen worktop.

I looked at it. Then I laughed.

I had 365 days to save as much of mankind as I could photograph. And the blue teddy bear aliens, in their wisdom, had chosen to give me a 35mm Kodak Funsaver camera.

27 shots to save the world.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The UK descends into dystopia...

Originally, I intended to record this as my first ever vlog; but a combination of bad lighting (last week) and an annoying cold (this week) put paid to that idea so I decided to simply rework the text for my blog...

Now, if you're reading this in the UK then - congratulations - your Internet Service Provider is now recording the fact that you have visited Blogger, and how long you stayed here, and they will be holding onto that data for the next year. Not only that, but there are 48 different governmental bodies that can now freely access the records of your internet data.


And what's even better, those 48 governmental bodies can do so without even requiring a warrant.

Now, if you're wondering how it is that the UK has managed to catch up on 32 years of missed time and drag us all into a digital version of Orwell's 1984, then you perhaps missed the fact that last Tuesday, after having been passed by the House of Lords in November, Royal Assent was given to the Investigatory Powers Bill - also known as the Snoopers Charter - making it law.

This was a bill heralded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, as a "security nightmare".

Edward Snowden - who let's not forget worked for the NSA, hardly an agency known for its snowy white morals - described it as "THE most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy".

So, obviously, with a bill of such importance, the day after the House of Lords had passed it the papers were absolutely awash with news on it.

The Sun led with '3 Lions Team in 4am Bender'

The Daily Mail wondered 'What is going on in our jails?'

And the Daily Star brought us the earth shattering news that Danny Baker thought that Paul Gascoigne could win I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!...that's if he were to actually enter it...

Yes, that is correct, absolutely ZERO coverage in the popular press.

Every man, woman, and child in the entire country is going to have their internet habits catalogued and searchable by any one of 48 different government bodies and yet the press hardly made a peep.

And if you're wondering exactly WHO has the power to find out all about your internet habits - how long you spend on Facebook and Netflix, the news sites you visit, the porn sites you visit...

...although the Digital Economy Bill - passed in the House of Parliament last Thursday - is trying its best to cut out such smutty behaviour among Britons by forcing them to submit to a new age verification checking system and the attitudes of the UK's current government towards porn is perhaps expressed by the Culture Minister, Matt Hancock who said:

"I appreciate that for those who really want to access porn online then if they are really intent on doing that then there is a big challenge in stopping that.

In stopping that.

It's like the Conservatives won't be happy until we're on a one way trip back to Victorian prudishness.

But I digress.

Who gets to see all this? Who gets permission to dig through our (potentially dirty) digital laundry?

Well, obviously the police. And the Ministry of Defence. And the Secret Intelligence Service. And GCHQ (although, according to Snowden they didn't exactly bother waiting for permission). Oh, and the Home Office.

Because - let us not forget - this is all being done to protect us from terrorists.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was clear that "The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge."

Which is obviously why the Food Standards Agency is one of those 48 bodies.

Wait, what?

Why on Earth would the Food Standards Agency need to access people's internet records??

"The Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK"

Food Standards Agency. Terrorism.

So clearly connected.

And the Food Standards Agency is just one of many nonsensical agencies on the list. Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service? Check! Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Services Board? Check! Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust? Also check!

Without a warrant. They just pass their request over to a unit with no oversight and - bang - your internet records are in their hands.

And let's be clear - using terrorism as a hook to hang this on is complete and utter bollocks.

Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing. But the level of clear and present danger it represents is hugely overplayed by the media. Because it sells papers, because it gets people watching the news, because it's a great narrative.

In an average year, about 650 people in the UK die falling down steps or stairs. But it's not a great narrative, so we see very few of those 650 deaths make the papers.

Terrorism is a terrible thing but the fact of the matter is that in the 21st century, more people in UK the have been killed by cows than have been killed by terrorists. If you don't believe me, look it up.

And so I'm more than a little concerned that the government should use 'heightened security' and 'terrorism' as a pretext to completely stripping an entire country of its right to privacy.

And maybe you're thinking well, it's not THAT big of a deal. So, the Food Standards Agency can see how often I order from Domino's pizza. But to do so misses the fact that by accepting this you are accepting a slow erosion of your human right to privacy.

Because make no mistake, this is likely to be just the first step. If people accept this, then the restrictions to freedom are only going to keep coming. How long before we see bans on encryption? How long before our every email, our every message are there to be scrutinised by any government body with even a smidgen of power? How long before we're being told if we've got nothing to hide, we've got nothing to fear?

The Investigatory Powers Bill got through because everyone took their eye off the ball and were to busy frothing about the, then upcoming, Brexit referendum. It got through because we currently have an opposition party - in Labour - that is so utterly lacking in cohesion that it seems more concerned in shooting itself in the foot than doing anything useful to actually oppose. It got through because too few people shouted about how bad this was and even less people listened.

So what can you do now? It's law, after all. Well, what you can do now is to pressure your MPs to put this right. What you can do now is to make sure that - even though the media seemingly aren't interested in you knowing how many of your civil liberties are being stripped away - the word is spread about what is happening in the UK. Because the only people who can make this right, the only people who can pull Britain out of this downward spiral its currently locked into, are you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eurovision 2016 - Time For A Change!

So, Eurovision 2016 is over and it's pretty obvious to me that something needs to change in the voting system.

Now that the dust has settled and the alcohol has been placed at a safe distance, all that is left to do is reflect a little on things. Reflect on the fact that Ukraine managed to win with an upbeat little number that opened with the lines "When strangers are coming. They come to your house. They kill you all". Reflect on the fact that the new voting system - while certainly making things more tense - also managed to reveal all the more clearly how overwhelmingly political the voting of the national juries is...

Looking at the top three songs this year (Ukraine, Australia, and Russia) it is possible to see from the voting that there were huge discrepancies between how the five person juries and the public voted. This is obvious when considering the jury allocated points (211, 320, and 130) compared to the public allocated points (322, 191, and 361), however when you examine things closer those discrepancies become even larger.

If we examine the juries, we can see that there three juries that didn't give any points to Australia, 17 juries that didn't give any points to Ukraine, and a whopping 21 of the 41 countries' juries didn't give Russia any points.

Looking at the public vote and it's a different picture altogether. While four public votes failed to give any points to Australia, only one public vote (Iceland) failed to give Ukraine any points and not a single public vote gave less than three points to Russia.

In total, there were seven countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Slovenia, and Ukraine) whose juries gave no marks to Russia, but whose public gave them either first or second place. For Ukraine, this was even more pronounced as eight countries (Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, and Russia) had juries giving no marks and the public giving them either first or second place.

But the sheer volume of countries whose juries didn't give any (or who gave very low) points to Russia means that it is Russia that has the greatest variance overall. Whereas Australia received an average of 3.15 points more from the juries than the public, Russia received an average of 5.63 less from the juries than from the public.

To put it into perspective; while 31 national juries awarded more points to Australia than their public, and 13 national juries awarded more points to Ukraine than their public, only 3 national juries awarded more marks to Russia than their public.

The question has to be asked why the opinion of five, quite possibly (and often seemingly) biased, individuals should be worth the same as millions of public votes. Millions of paid for votes. Don't forget, the public are paying millions to register their votes, but their voice is worth only the same as that of five 'industry professionals' who - as can be seen by Saturday's results - are fairly out of touch with the opinions of their public.

Isn't it time we scrapped the juries and make this a wholly public vote? Let's get rid of the political voting and get back to just voting on the music!!