Monday, March 29, 2004


As the oh-so-clever title suggests, on Sunday, lacking anything better to do, I went to the National Portrait Gallery. Prior to being given it as a Thing To Do, I had no real interest in the place, but I actually quite enjoyed it. The first thing I did was to go and look at the very good, but very small, exhibition of Gerald Scarfe caracatures. It really should be done on a larger scale, because they are highly entertaining, giving a cynical view of just about everything. After that, I tracked down various people that I'm interested in (interestingly, all of them were 19th or early 20th Century): T.E. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, Aleister Crowley, and Sir James Brooke (who really needs a film made about him). All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon!

I can also stop panicking quite so much about the AHRB form: Cyprian tells me that he has it, and the Results forms are being processed by Nottingham and UCL. With a little luck, I should actually make the 4 May deadline.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Misapplied Force

Recently, partly for academic purposes, I’ve read John Newsinger’s Dangerous Men: The SAS and Popular Culture. In many ways this is an interesting book, exploring the unique warrior-cult which British society has formed around the SAS. Newsinger convincingly argues that this cult stems from a Thatcherite attempt to resurrect popular militarism: the SAS has existed since 1941, but it was only following the Iranian embassy siege in 1980 that the unit was celebrated in popular culture.

There are, however, some serious flaws with the book. I felt that much of its analysis was too superficial, or that analysis was simply lacking. This is particularly apparent in the chapter on SAS fiction, which Newsinger spends masquerading as a literary critic rather than doing any sociology. I had already guessed that most SAS novels are appallingly written, and that the film Who Dares Wins is so mind-destroyingly bad that it might explain why Britain no longer makes action films. What I wanted more on was what relevance and role the warrior-cult has in a modern western society.

In fairness, these questions are addressed to some extent, but the answers given are so obvious that you probably don’t need to buy the book: backlash against feminism, desire to solve complex international problems through brute force, desire to see the existence of a national/racial elite. What goes unanswered is why Britain has this warrior-cult, while other nations seem to lack it – as far as I am aware, French popular culture does not worship the Foreign Legion, Russians do not idolise the Spetznatz. Comparisons with other nations are, however, almost completely absent from Newsinger’s work.

In addition to this, there are some worryingly simplistic segments of analysis. For example, when discussing the SAS deployment in the Malayan Emergency (1948-1958), Newsinger claims that the SAS role was ineffective in that they only killed 108 of the 6000 Communist guerrillas who died in the conflict. The equation of “most effective = kills the most people” is misleading and gung-ho, which, had the claim been made in an SAS biography, Newsinger would have been the first to point out.

Newsinger’s understanding of how people work also seems somewhat skewed. His model of British society in the 1980s goes as follows:

1) Thatcher tells people things.
2) They believe her.

Thus, in this analysis, all Thatcher had to do to resurrect British popular militarism (dead since the failure at Suez in 1956) was to point to the SAS as being efficient at the Iranian embassy, and win a bizarre colonial war in the Falklands three years later. However, it is impossible for popular culture to be dictated from the top down. While the political leadership can influence popular culture, there has to be a receptive audience. This is the flaw at the heart of Newsinger’s work. Nowhere can I find a reason why the British people took to popular militarism again in the 1980s. Here’s a half-baked theory of my own though: after the disaster of Suez in 1956 the popular perception of the British military was that it was brave but incompetent. Therefore, Britain would have to rely on American power for protection during the Cold War. However, the Vietnam War showed that the Americans could also fail - the unforgettable fall of Saigon in 1975 (a mere five years prior to the Iranian embassy siege) going out via mass-media. It is possible, then, that the British public now saw that America could fail, and perhaps felt that Britain needed to protect itself. Such a mood would be highly receptive to the muscular military nationalism promoted by the Thatcherite Conservative Party.

Reading the above back to myself, I appear to have thoroughly disliked this book. That isn’t true. Newsinger does effectively destroy many of the myths which have sprung up about the SAS, and provides some telling analysis: I was much taken by his claim that the classic image of the SAS, clad in black chemical-warfare suits and gas-masks, resembles nothing so much as fetish gear! The discussion of SAS involvement with counter-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland, and how they may have served to prolong rather than end the conflict, is highly interesting given the current world situation (the book was published in 1997).

In conclusion then, Dangerous Men: The SAS and Popular Culture would serve as a useful initial textbook for “SAS Studies” (does that course exist yet?) As a sociological work, however, it is too shallow in its analysis to be truly useful, and so merely provides a useful jumping-off point into other works.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

My Life Is A Series Of People Saying Goodbye

Well, last night was my last ever Gamesoc, and I’m going to miss it tremendously. It occurs to me that the main reason why I stayed in London was actually to be near those guys: all my other London friends had moved away, and I had nowhere to go, except home. That’s the tragedy of being young: you constantly have to throw everything away and leave it, perhaps just when you were beginning to get into the swing of things.

Over at Peat’s weblog, he says some rather nice (if factually incorrect – I’m not going to Liverpool to do a PhD, I’m going to Heaton Chapel to sleep) things about me. He also offers to be my adventuring companion, which he’s welcome to be. The county towns of England won’t know what’s hit them.

I’ve decided to call off my hate campaign against the Royal Mail (instigated when the mindless bastards managed to loose my AHRB form), as the new copy has officially been delivered to Cyprian, and they didn’t loose the two other forms which I had to send off.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


I have, as readers of "We Eat A Nut And An Insect" will know, been challanged to perform 25 of the 50 things on my list of things to do. Well, the other day, I did actually go to Westminster Cathedral. While I didn't actually half-inch one of St. John Southworth's limbs, I did buy a postcard of him, which is the next best thing. Does this count as a Thing Done?

The Mortal Remains of St. John Southworth, Yesterday

There was more insanity in the news when Chris The Medic informed me that henceforth he should be addressed as "Dr. Godeseth". Congratulations to him!

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Results Are In...

Here it is, the Big List Of Things That Stephen To Do. I am amazed, not only by the number of talented comedians that I know, but also by the amount of extra informatrion I got from people: that I should ignore whatever suggestions a certain correspondant made, that "The Name of the Rose" is shit, that one of my friends is being hassled by "tank-top wearing hippies", and that the main disadvantage of the National Portrait Gallery is that it is not in any way offensive.

I've added a few items of my own, both for the purposes of comedy and to get a nice round number.

1) Why not come to visit us in Brighton?
2) Why not hike the South Downs Way?
3) Why not perform chalk drawings on Stockport pavements?
4) Why not dye your hair?
5) Why not knit a giant blanket?
6) Why not study a foreign language?
7) Why not read some Thomas Hardy?
8) Why not do some voluntary work?
9) Why not cycle across the Pyrenees to Barcelona, camping on the way (but not in the Keith Richards sense)?
10) Why not feck off?
11) Why not go to Westminster Cathedral and steal one of St. John Southworth’s limbs?
12) Why not meet me for a drink?
13) Why not spit on Enoch Powell’s grave?
14) Why not visit The National Portrait Gallery?
15) Why not watch the films “Reanimator”, “Necronomicon”, and “Dagon”?
16) Why not incur massive debt?
17) Why not meet an old Yank friend?
18) Why not invade Abyssinia?
19) Why not kill an animal with your bare hands?
20) Why not visit every county town in England?
21) Why not write the Great American Novel?
22) Why not become a close personal friend of Sting?
23) Why not construct a fictitious persona and go on holiday playing that person?
24) Why not learn how to unicycle?
25) Why not get thrown out of a “Lord of the Rings” film by shouting “Now that’s what I’m Tolkien about!” every time an orc gets killed?
26) Why not pretend at parties that you’re learning to unicycle?
27) Why not invent names for unicycle stunts that don’t exist?
28) Why not star in a short film where you play a world-weary film noir detective partnered with an exuberant sock puppet?
29) Why not perform situationist comedy at English football grounds – throwing a Chelsea Bun onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge, hiding at Hyde United, and so on?
30) Why not get Liechtenstein nationality, play for their international football team, and become famous for kicking famous, highly-paid professional footballers in the crotch?
31) Why not become Irish?
32) Why not think of something to do with a tainted Feng-Shui statuette?
33) Why not burn the master tapes to “Birds of a Feather”?
34) Why not visit all of the very small countries of the world?
35) Why not write a short story/film called “The Limehouse Cut”?
36) Why not get a massage from the “Massage Parlour” on Green Lanes?
37) Why not visit Peniston with Andy? (NOTE: Not a euphamism)
38) Why not form a band made up entirely of Billy Idol impersonators?
39) Why not learn how to cook?
40) Why not learn how to massage?
41) Why not learn how to dance?

(These last three come with the advice that they will make women melt at my feet, which sounds fun. If likely to make my shoes all sticky.)

42) Why not legally change your name to “Johnny Foreigner”?
43) Why not go to work dressed as T.E. Lawrence?
44) Why not deliberately score own goals?
45) Why not use your AHRB application to make veiled threats?
46) Why not flamboyantly spunk some research?
47) Why not buy a pet frog, and give it the name “Aristophanes”?
48) Why not buy a Japanese schoolgirl outfit for a friend?
49) Why not grow a beard, but wear a fake beard over it?
50) Why not party like it’s 1899?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Blog Writes Me

What with me leaving work and London at some point in the next month, I’ll have a bit of spare time. And what better way to spend that time than by doing things that my friends suggest? It can be like an ultra low-budget reality show, but with considerably less Tabloid coverage. Send me your ideas for what I should be doing, and hope to see my exploits recorded here in the Blog. All ideas will be considered, even if they’re gratuitously offensive. Perhaps even especially...

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Quod In Aeturnum Cubet Mortum Non Est, Et Saeculis Miris Actis Etiam Mors Perierit.

A while since I last posted, so I should keep people updated. I'm currently wading through the AHRB and University of Liverpool paperwork neccessary to try and get a PhD place and funding. This takes much longer than one might think.

I do have a little time to indulge my quirks, though. Today, for example, I went out and bought De Profundis, the role-playing game of writing letters to people. I think it'll be more exciting than it sounds, honest. I also got a copy of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I remember my Dad once reading it but giving up, claiming to be perplexed by all the maths. If I can successfully complete it, I will be officially be Better Than My Dad. As pop-psychology tells me that that's what all us males are really up to, I can't really turn the opportunity down, can I? I wonder what happens when you officially become Better Than Your Dad? Do you spontaneously combust or something?

I have also posted a random fragment called "Green Lanes Blues" over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T.