Posts Tagged ‘Cheltenham Literary Festival’

RT Asks People Outside Hillary Book Signing ‘What Went Wrong?’

October 17, 2017

I’ve put up a couple of pieces a few days commenting on Hillary Clinton’s appearance at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and how in her book, What Happened?, which she’s been touting at this and other events across the world, she blames everyone except herself for her failure to gain the presidency.

In this short piece, RT asks people coming out of another book signing, this time at the South Bank Centre, ‘what went wrong?’ A few people recognise that she stood on the wrong platforms and campaigned on the wrong issues. One individual remarks that you can’t win elections simply by promising more of what your predecessor did. One man also comments that it was ‘the Rust Belt, populism, you know, Donald Trump’.

Most of the women, and one or two men, reply that Hillary’s gender was against her. They state that America wasn’t ready yet for a female president, and possibly not ready for one after a Black man. A lady in a hijab states that American politics is dominated by White men, and so Hillary suffered what has always happened to women everywhere, and was ‘Trumped’ by a poorly qualified man. And a couple blamed it on the Russians.

One of the women questioned is the head of Democrats Abroad, or at least the British chapter of it. She blames Killary’s defeat partly on the voter suppression and gerrymandering that went on. And a couple of people simply blame Russians. Nevertheless, she still has her supporters, with one Black young lady still saying that ‘we have faith’ in her.

Now it is true that Hillary’s gender was against her. America is a very masculine society, and politics over there, as they are in most White majority countries, is dominated by White men. And Killary was the victim of some very bitter, anti-feminist rhetoric when she and her husband became the first family back in the 1990s. One Republican Pastor angrily declared that she was the ‘type of woman, who turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft, leaves her husband, and kills her children.’ And to a certain extent, some of those slurs have continued. There have been rumours throughout her political career that Shrillary’s a lesbian, and during Obama’s presidency these rumours became very specific. She was supposed to be having a lesbian affair with one of her advisors, Huma Abeddin. A male official, who had been sacked, also claimed that she and Nancy Pelosi were both man-hating lesbians, who delighted in humiliating men.

As for witchcraft, Alex Jones on his Infowars channel was coming out with all manner of complete and utter nonsense. He claimed that she, and Obama, were both demonically possessed. Or it could be that she was an evil alien, or under alien control. An invitation by a New York performance artist provided Jones with further ammunition to claim that she was involved in black magic. The performance artist specialised in ‘spirit cooking’ as part of her performances, which involved human blood. Jones pointed out that it was also what the black magician Aleister Crowley called his own vile magical cuisine, which used menstrual blood and semen. Hillary was therefore accused of performing various black magic rituals with this woman. In fact, she and Bill had been friends with her since the ’60s or ’70s, and as far as I could see, the ‘spirit cooking’ she talked about really was just weird performance art. It might have been inspired by Crowley, but as far as I could see it had very little to do with genuine occultism.

However, there are people in America more than willing to vote for a female candidate. I was told by one of the American postgraduate students on an archaeology course I did several years ago at Bristol Uni, that she was so sick and tired of every candidate being another White male that she would vote for anybody, who wasn’t. And the political landscape had shifted so much that she wasn’t the only female candidate for the presidency. The Greens put forward Jill Stein. As the candidate of a third party, Stein very much was an outsider, but she’s still blamed by Killary as part of the reasons for her defeat. In fact, as a feminist candidate, Stein was the stronger party. She was a doctor, who supported single-payer healthcare as well as protecting the environment, because her experience taught her that women particularly needed it.

Killary, by contrast, was very much a political insider. She was a professional businesswoman, who sat on the boards of multiple corporations. She was also very, very much in Wall Street’s pockets, having been paid hundreds of thousands for speeches she delivered at their various dinners. One of the companies she headed was Walmart, which does not recognise trade unions, and treats its staff extremely badly. Despite making a speech to trade unionists that she would defend their rights and those of their members, she had actually made no attempt to reverse Walmart’s union-bashing policy. And at a time more and more Americans were coming round to support single-payer healthcare, like the Germans have had for nearly a hundred and forty years, she blocked this and called it ‘utopian’.

People also remembered how racist Killary was. In her youth back in the ’60s she’d been a Goldwater Girl, supporting the pro-segregationist Republican Barry Goldwater. She and Bill were responsible for the 1990s legislation that led to a far greater proportion of young Black men being convicted of and serving longer prison sentences for drug offences that Whites. There was also a racist edge to her previous electoral campaign against Barack Obama. She promoted the whole Republican ‘birther’ nonsense, in which it was claimed that Obama, because of his Kenyan ancestry, was not born in the USA and was therefore not eligible to become president.

She also treated the traditional blue-collar Democrat supporters with a very obvious contempt. She stated that she wanted to appeal more to Republican voters, and was true to her word. She ignored, or only did the most cursory campaigning in traditionally Democrat strongholds, expecting the folks there to vote for her. Just as Blair and ‘Progress’ treated the British working class over here.

As for foreign policy, she boasted that she was proud to have Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s old adviser, as her friend and that she regularly spent her hols with him. This is the man, whose policy of backing Fascist dictators across the world, and support for carpet-bombing in Vietnam, has caused him to be denounced as the world’s biggest unindicted war criminal. He is really has shed enough blood, as Shakespeare put in MacBeth, to make ‘all the seas incarnadine, turning the green red’.

This was at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly war weary. People were becoming sick of waving their sons and daughters off proudly, only to see them coming back in coffins, or with shattered bodies and minds from a series of wars that seem to only profit multinationals.

In short, Killary was the consummate corporate and political insider. But she still claimed that she was an outsider, because of her gender. Well, her biological gender was immaterial. She was as hawkish as any of the men in Bush’s and Obama’s cabinets, and was responsible for much legislation that actively harmed women. Her claims of feminism rang very hollow to ordinary American women concerned about bread and butter issues. Like, you know, actually finding paying jobs, being able to afford to eat and have somewhere to live, pay the utility bills and being able to afford to see the doctor. Oh yes, and being able to see their daughters and sons go through college without being burdened by staggering amounts of debt.

As for the Russians being to blame, this is quite frankly a massive lie. Yes, Putin wants to influence what’s going on in the West. No, he wasn’t responsible for Killary’s defeat. Killary was damaged by the WikiLeaks revelations, which showed how she and the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fiddled the internal election process to steal the nomination from Bernie, as well as the incriminating documents which showed just how far she was in Wall Street’s and corporate America’s pockets. This had nothing to do with Russian hacking. They were handed over by disgruntled insiders within the Democrat Party. But Killary couldn’t admit this, and so has started a bogus campaign to blame Russian.

And there’s more than a little bit of hypocrisy about this too. Killary’s got no problem with fiddling Russian politics. America poured millions into Boris Yeltsyn’s campaign to become president of the USSR during the 1990s, and so complete the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the privatisation of its state concerns. All of which were sold at knock-down prices. The results were massive profits for the oligarchs, who bought them, the complete melt-down of the Russian economy, a massive surge in mafia violence as organised crime tried to take over industry. Millions of Russians were thrown out of work in a nation that had never developed unemployment benefit, ’cause the state’s policy was to have everyone in work. Left without benefits and with medicine increasingly privatised, there was a massive increase in sickness and suicide.

And she’s continued meddling in Russian/east European affairs. The Orange Revolution in Kiev against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president was carefully stage managed by Shrillary and the state department, down to the orange clothing being given out to protesters. It was an astro-turf coup, which carefully resembled a popular uprising but which was scripted by the American state and western capital. As for the composition of the new Ukrainian government installed with Killary’s help, these include Nazi thugs from the Pravy Sektor, real Fascists, who wear SS uniforms and scream Nazi slogans, and who have a bitter hatred of Jews, trade unionists and real democrats.

She was also caught on tape moaning about how she regretted not fiddling the elections for the Palestinian authority to get the right party in power.

Hillary’s a very intelligent woman. I think some of the misogynist abuse directed against her is because she’s probably the brighter than her husband, Bill. But intelligence does not equate with morality. Trump’s a grotesque monster, but he made some of the right noises. At one point he said he was in charge of single-payer healthcare, and that he didn’t want to start more wars. He’s since gone back on these promises. But despite the fact that Trump’s stupid with a disgusting attitude to women, these are issues that did appeal to many ordinary people. 45,000 people a year die in America because they can’t afford medical treatment. Bush’s wars abroad have pushed taxes up for the state to be able to pay for it, and the burden has fallen again on the ordinary man and woman in the street, just as it has over here. And if you’re a parent wondering if your child will come back for his or her tour of duty in one piece and compus mentus, Trump’s promise not to put boots on the ground in Syria is welcome indeed.

For some people, these are life and death issues, and the grotesque personality of the person proposing them won’t matter. And especially not after Clinton’s own dubious affair with Monica Lewinsky, and the rumours of indiscretions, if not something far worse, with other female staffers.

And let’s put some of the blame for Killary’s defeat on a factor, that I haven’t heard she herself has cited: the American Constitution. As one of the speakers in the above video shows, Killary actually got more votes than Trump. But she lost because of the electoral college, an antiquated and byzantine electoral organ that was set up to give the slave-holding states a disproportionate amount of power in the 19th century. Slaves couldn’t vote, but were defined as being partial humans for the purposes of voting, and the electoral college set up so that the southern states could still successfully field presidential candidates against those from the northern states, which had a far greater proportion of free and White men, and so a greater voting population.

This isn’t the only problem with the American Constitution. It was drafted at the end of the 18th century by patrician White men, who were terrified that the Revolution would see power slip from the hands of the monied, landed elite to ordinary working Americans – the ‘leather apron men’, as they referred to the industrial craftsmen, who flocked to town hall meetings and provided the basis for American popular democracy. And so checks have been placed within the Constitution that make the kind of radical change now desperately needed impossible. The result is that millions of ordinary Americans feel disenfranchised, and so stayed away from the election.

Hillary has no-one to blame but herself. She was a horrible Conservative, serving a stifling Conservative political and social order, who was beaten by another horrible Conservative, but one who actually understood how to appeal to the public.

But it ain’t just in Britain that Killary’s touring, telling little lies. She also appeared on Australia’s ABC television station to tell porkies Down Under. Michelle, one of the great commenters to this blog, sent me this link to an article in Medium by Caitlin Johnstone exposing five of the lies she told in her interview with Sarah Ferguson.

View story at Medium.com

And if she’s done it in America, Britain and Oz, you can bet she’s doing it elsewhere, like an insane world tour of pathological lying.

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Clintonite Democrats Angry Because Bernie Sanders Invited to Speak at Forthcoming Women’s March

October 15, 2017

In the video below, Jimmy Dore, Steffi Zamorano, Ron Placone and Dave Riemitz comment on the Clintonite Democrats’ anger that Bernie Sanders has been invited to appear as the guest speaker on the opening night of a new Women’s March planned for the end of October. This follows the previous Women’s March against the election of Donald Trump. Dore himself states that the original lacked a focus, and so it became a protest against nothing in particular. He isn’t against it. He just thinks that it could be done better.

Dore notes that the march’s organisers, or at least very many of them, are women of colour, a fact which serves to refute some of the objections made by the Corporate Dems, and show up their own racial prejudices in turn. The veteran feminist, Gloria Steinem, made Sanders an honorary woman for the event, which, remarks Dore, should make his appearance OK. But Neera Tanden, one of the Clintonite Dems, objected on the grounds of Sanders’ gender, asking if no women could be found to open the event. To which Tamika D. Mallory, one of the Black ladies organising it, responded by saying that there were going to be sixty speakers, or whom only two were male. Stephanie Schriock, the head of Emily’s List, also complains about Sanders’ speaking at the event. Dore then shows what a hypocrite she is with a piece from about a year or two ago, in which Emily’s List invited Bill Clinton to speak at their gala dinner about the need for female leadership in 2016. Cue more crude and bawdy jokes about what precisely Bill meant for female leadership. Clearly, the Clintonite Dems don’t have a problem with men speaking at feminist events. They just have a problem with Bernie Sanders speaking. As for their complaint about having Bernie as their main male speaker, Mallory points out that Sanders isn’t. Their main, headline speaker is another woman of colour, Maxine Waters, and states she finds it strange that her presence at the event is overlooked by the Clintonites, who focus on that of a White man. And Nomiki Konst, one of The Young Turks reporters, in reply to the moaning from Schriock, states that Emily’s List is an institution that has been criticising for giving their financial backing to wealthy women, while raising money from young women and women of colour. Another commenter, Katie Halper, asks her audience to imagine what it would be like if neoliberal feminists were as offended by poverty as they are by Sanders speaking at the event.

And the final piece that blows their complaints out of the water is the fact that Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and two other ladies were also asked to attend, but turned it down.

Dore ends the video by stating that Clinton and her cronies are the type of people the Democrats need to get rid of. They should leave and join the Republicans. The Democrat party should be taken over by the Progressives, or it will die. And it’s pretty much dead already. But America’s most popular politician is still treated abysmally by the Democrats. Dore’s last comment is a joke that he expects Rachel Maddow, a very establishment Democrat broadcaster, will cover this.

I’ve put this up because Killary was in Cheltenham today at the Literary Festival, trying to sell her book to the British reading public. Well, Dore remarks in the video that perhaps Clinton turned down her invitation to appear at the women’s march as she couldn’t sell her book. The Women’s March in America was accompanied by similar women’s marches in other countries across the globe, including ours. And just as the Clintonites tried to smear Sanders’ supporters as a misogynist, so the Blairites in the Labour party tried to smear Corbyn and his supporters.

As for Hillary herself, she’s a corrupt corporatist, who represents only extremely rich, entitled women like herself. The neoliberal policies she and her husband have championed have caused nothing but poverty in America and abroad. She’s also a hawkish warmonger, who is not ashamed to boast that she count Henry Kissinger, who has the blood of untold millions on his hands, as a friend. She and politicians like her, regardless of their gender, should be thrown out of power, and replaced by those, who genuinely do understand and want to improve conditions for the poor and working people. And if the Dems had chosen Bernie instead Killary, we just might now have him as president and not the genocidal maniac inching the world towards nuclear holocaust.

Killary Appearing at Cheltenham Literary Festival Today – But Will They Ask the Really Awkward Questions

October 15, 2017

Hillary Clinton was due to appear at the Cheltenham Literary Festival today, 15th October 2017, undoubtedly as part of her tour promoting her book, What Happened? In it, she tries to examine and explain how she came to lose the American presidential election to the orange maniac, whose now bringing us just that little bit closer to war with Iran, and nuclear Armageddon. Various American progressive and radical news shows, like The Young Turks, the Jimmy Dore Show and Secular Talk have extensively reviewed her book and ripped it to shreds very effectively. Some of the videos are quite long, but the problem with Hillary’s campaign can be summed up very simply: her. Clinton is a horrible person, and a horrible candidate. She is part of the corporate elite, personally corrupt in the sense that she is very much in the pocket of Wall Street and big business, and a warmonger, who was ramping up international tensions with Russia and China unnecessarily even before she lost the election. Now it’s even worse as she and the other corporatist Democrats try to cast the blame on Russian interference, rather than look much closer to home to the weakness of Clinton herself. She is massively out of touch with ordinary, working American people.

A majority of the population now want single-payer healthcare, like the rest of the Developed World. And which the Germans have had since Bismarck’s ‘Socialist Law’ of the 1870s, when the real Iron Chancellor tried to crush the rise of Germany’s Social Democrats by stealing a bit of their thunder. While Bernie Sanders has shown how America could easily afford it, and it would be cheaper both for the state and for ordinary Americans, Killary herself has declared that it’s ‘utopian’. Which is why it been working very well in Germany and the Scandinavian countries for more than a hundred years, and the French and Swiss have similar systems which mix state payment and private insurance. But this is still too far-fetched and difficult for the world’s only superpower.

Her record gets much worse when it comes to Black Americans. Bill Clinton was so popular with America’s Black population, and had the same easy charm that many of their politicians and celebrities have, that he was hailed as ‘the first Black president’. But Bill and his wife were responsible for putting in place the legislation that’s seen a massive proportion of Black men jailed for drug offences. She drew an artificial distinction between crack and ordinary cocaine, to make it appear that the one favoured by Blacks was a greater threat than the other, and so deserved greater punishment. Pushing this legislation, she talked about the threat of ‘superpredators’ at a time when this term was nearly exclusively used to describe young Black men.

On the world stage, she was responsible for arming Islamist rebels in Libya so that they overthrew Colonel Gaddafy. Gaddafy was certainly no saint. He was a dictator, who tortured and locked up his political opponents. But he kept the nation together and made sure that his country was paid a fair price for their oil after it had been run as an Italian colony from the late 19th century onwards. During the decades of his people’s struggle for independence, one third of the population was killed. It was a secular state, albeit one where the official ideology, as laid out in his Green Book, was a mixture of Islam and Arab socialism. There was free education and free healthcare. Libya was the most prosperous African country, and Gaddafy himself stood up for the continents’ rights in global affairs. And while he used the Islamists to assassinate his political rivals elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East, they weren’t allowed to terrorise his people.

After Gaddafy was toppled, the country descended into civil war between rival factions, including the Islamists. It is still divided between two completing authorities. Its education and healthcare systems have been destroyed, and the Islamists have seized control of large parts of the country.

And then there’s the issue of the coup in Honduras. Up until 2012 or so, this had a liberal president, who actually wanted to raise the living standards of the peasants and urban working class, who were desperately poor, as well as protect the land and livelihood of the country’s indigenous peoples. And, as usually happens in South and Central America when the establishment is faced with the threat of a liberal regime, he was overthrown by a right-wing coup. This installed a Fascist dictator, who started rounding up, imprisoning, killing and torturing opposition leaders, activists and trade unionists. America has legislation designed to prevent it from supporting foreign coups. Killary decided to get around this by officially declaring that the coup wasn’t military, so that America could continue giving aid to the Fascist government.

And in her own party, Hillary was in cahoots with the head of the Democratic National Convention, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so that Democratic nominations were fiddled to steal the nomination from Bernie Sanders. Sanders was by far the better candidate, with far greater appeal to working Americans. But he’s a self-declared ‘Democratic Socialist’, who wants single-payer healthcare, a renewed American welfare state, stronger trade unions, and an altogether better deal for America’s poor and working people. And unlike the Clinton’s, Bernie has genuinely taken an interest in promoting the welfare of America’s ethnic minorities. He was one of the first, if not the first, mainstream American politician to go to the reservations of America’s First Peoples to seek their views on improving conditions for them.

But this was all too much for Hillary, whose entire electoral strategy consisted of turning against the party’s core constituency amongst blue-collar workers, Blacks and other minorities, to appeal to Republicans. Just like the Clinton’s mate, Tony Blair, pursued the Tory vote as the expense of the British White working class over here.

But Killary can’t accept any of that, and so blames everyone else in her book except herself, including Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party. Clinton’s tried to present herself as some kind of feminist, whose victory in the election would somehow be a step forward for America’s women, despite the fact that she would do nothing for them. Bernie was much more popular amongst the female population, because he promised women – and men – work and proper healthcare. As did Jill Stein. Stein was a doctor. I put up one of her election broadcasts I found on YouTube, in which Stein talked to a group of women about the necessity for a single-payer healthcare system. She stated unequivocally that it was especially needed for America’s women. And I don’t doubt for a moment that Stein’s absolutely right. From what I’ve seen, the cost of giving birth alone under the American private medical system is tens of thousands of dollars, so much so that American couples have to spend years saving up and then worrying if it’ll bankrupt them before starting a family. It’s a situation that also shows how hollow the Republicans’ concerns about the falling American birthrate is. Their solution is to try to ban abortion. I think Mussolini in Fascist Italy also did that. But he also passed legislation to give Italian women state aid in raising a family. It was part of the Fascists’ reactionary campaign to take women out of the workplace and back in the home and the kitchen, but even then it was far less reactionary in its methods than that of contemporary Conservativism.

The electorate knew that Hillary wasn’t going to do anything for ordinary women, and so voted for the other candidates. And so Killary responded by trying to smear Sanders as a misogynist, just as the Blairites in the Labour party tried to smear Jeremy Corbyn over hear. It hasn’t worked.

And Killary’s still trying to present herself as some kind of feminist ‘everywoman’. When she appeared on America’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon a few days ago, the show’s female writers and a tearful Miley Cyrus also appeared to write ‘thank you’ notes to her praising her for being such an inspiration to them. The Humanist Report produced the video below rightly critiquing not just Hillary, but also the other mainstream comedians, who have politicos on their show, whether the comedians are Fallon, Bill Maher or whoever. He attacks them because they are using their comedy to promote a corporatist agenda regardless of whether the politicians are from the Democrats or Republicans. The Report’s presenter urges his audience to watch intelligently and critically. They can’t and shouldn’t censor, but they should hold presenters and broadcasters, even himself, up to a higher standard.

I am very definitely not a Humanist, but it’s an excellent point that can’t be repeated too much. Here’s the video.

I wonder just how many of the really tough questions have been or will be put to Hillary at the Cheltenham Literary Festival today. My guess is that they’ll ask some awkward questions, but nothing too hard or likely to make her feel uncomfortable.

As for Hillary’s appearance in Britain, I was talking about it to a friend of mine in Cheltenham the last time I was up there a week or so ago. He told me that one of his American friends had wondered what she was doing over here. The obvious answer is that Britain has a special relationship with America, and American politics directly affects this country, and indeed the rest of the world. But his reply was different. He said: ‘Because you owe us an apology’.

When George ‘Dubya’ won the election in 2000, Americans went on social media to apologise to the rest of the world. I think something similar is needed now. But instead of ordinary Americans apologising, it should be Hillary apologising to the ordinary Joes and Josies across the US for being such a transparent corporate shill that she lost to someone as bigoted, stupid and murderous as Trump.

Losing Patience with the Anti-Corbyn Bias in Private Eye

August 7, 2016

I’ve finally lost patience with the persistent bias against Jeremy Corbyn in Private Eye. I read the magazine regularly, and much of it I agree with and admire. It has over the years published some superb pieces attacking privatisation, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the persecution of the severely disabled by Atos and its successor Maximus. It has also shown itself quite willing to challenge British foreign policy. For example, it has published numerous pieces rebutting official claims that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, and instead pointed the finger at Syria, who were not accused as George Bush senior needed their help during the first Gulf War. It has also done admirable work defending the bereaved relatives in the Deepcut inquiry, challenging the official story that all of the victims committed suicide and attacking the Army’s and police’s apparent cover-up of what looks very much like murder on an army base that was out of control, with rampant bullying and the sexual abuse of female squaddies.

And yet, despite all this, the magazine has joined the rest of the press pack in attacking Corbyn as ‘unelectable’, mocking, smearing and denigrating his leadership at every turn. For the past few weeks, it has been running a strip, ‘Focus on Fact’, which appears to have been written by the Blairites, and mostly revisits spats with Jeremy Corbyn and the extreme Left back in the 1980s. They’ve also published other pieces firmly showing their pro-Blairite bias. For instance, in this fortnight’s issue, there’s a piece defending Angela Eagle’s claim that Corbynistas threw a brick through her window, and attacking the good folks on the internet that have attempted to refute it as ‘conspiracy theorists’. They’ve also decided to criticise Corbyn because – gasp – he’s dared to appear on RT and Press TV. I intend to blog more deeply about both these issues. However, for now I’ll just say that the story about the brick thrown at Eagle’s office is false. It didn’t come through her window, and the area is marked by vandalism. There’s no evidence linking it to the Corbynites, and the entire accusation just comes from Eagle. As for RT and PressTV, this is more or less a return to the ‘red baiting’ of the Thatcherites in the 1980s, when they attacked Ken Livingstone and his group as Communists. This included members of the left-wing Tribune group, who had written articles for Soviet and Marxist magazines, but were themselves not Communists. RT stands for Russia Today, and is the Russian state broadcaster, while PressTV is run by the Iranian state. Both of these are extremely authoritarian countries which are notorious for their persecution of independent journalists. But I’ve used material from RT, because it gives a genuinely left-wing perspective on politics and events in America and the West, such as American imperialism and the exclusion of radical voices from official American politics. Very few others broadcasters are going to discuss these issues, with the noble exceptions of internet programmes like The Young Turks and Democracy Now. They put on the stuff that you won’t read about in our papers, or see on BBC TV, and increasingly not on Channel 4.

So what has prompted the Eye to attack Corbyn? I can’t be sure, but it strikes me that it’s probably due to the very upper middle class background of the magazine itself, and the fact that, despite its excellent record in many areas, none of its founders were in any sense radicals. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and John Wells were all stout fellows, but they were very ‘establishment’. They were public schoolboys, a point I can remember being made by the panel at an event on the late Peter Cook one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. John Wells, who in my opinion was one of the funniest of British comedians and comic actors, was the former French teacher and headmaster of Eton. You don’t get much more establishment than that. I once heard Humphrey Carpenter describe Auberon Waugh as a ‘Tory anarchist’, presumably meaning he that he was instinctively a man of the Right, but was also acutely aware of their stupidities and failings as well. I think this characterisation probably applies much more to Peter Cook. Cook seemed to me to be resolutely cynical in his politics. When he was at university, he joined all three mainstream political parties so he could laugh at them equally. By contrast, Waugh, who also wrote columns for Private Eye, always struck me as just a sarcastic right-winger sneering at the Left. Ingrams was notorious for having a bitter hatred of gays. After leaving the editorship of Private Eye, he founded the Oldie, a magazine for the elderly. I asked my mother once if she’d read it. She had, but didn’t like it, declaring it to be ‘snobby’. The only genuine left-winger on the team was Paul Foot, and he fitted in because he came from the same privileged background, and had the same very upper-middle class tastes in food and drink as the rest of them.

Ian Hislop, the current editor, is no different. He’s very public school, and his father was some kind of army officer or colonial administrator in Nigeria. And he also shares other parts of the accepted political wisdom. A few years ago on Have I Got News For You he declared that, regardless of the attacks the Tories were getting for their austerity policies, Labour would also be required to cut spending on the welfare state. This is very much the standard view, which is also followed slavishly by Beeb broadcasters. The Kushners attacked it, and the media consensus surrounding it, in their book Who Needs the Cuts?, which contains numerous examples of BBC broadcasters and journos uncritically repeating what is basically Neoliberal propaganda. Hislop wasn’t mentioned, but he was clearly another who had uncritically accepted this view.

And Corbyn isn’t the only Left-wing politician to be have been unfairly attacked by the Eye. Tony Benn was regularly pilloried as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, despite the fact that the people, who knew him said that he wasn’t a fanatic, but a thoughtful man who carefully considered what the people around him were saying and consulted their opinions before reaching a decision. But the received, Fleet Street wisdom in the 1970s and ’80s was that Benn was a fanatic and a madman.

As was ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was also attacked as a ‘Communist’, despite the fact that he wasn’t. He used them, and occasionally used the same type of language, but wasn’t, in fact, a Marxist. But hasn’t stopped the Eye from calling him Ken Leninspart. And most of what Livingstone talked about in his interviews with the press when he was head of the GLC was boringly mundane. However, this was routinely ignored, and the only parts of the conversation – which in actual fact were only very small parts of what he said – which were printed and repeated were those which presented him as an extremist – profoundly anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-gay. Which was too much for a Britain that was much more traditional and conservative in its attitudes towards race and gender than today. This was a time when the Black and White Minstrels were mainstream TV with a mass audience, despite being based on 19ith century parodies of Black, slave entertainment.

Benn and Livingstone were both attacked by the media because they were left-wing Socialists. Benn advocated extending nationalisation to a further 25 companies, as recommended in a report by his own party. One journo for the Sunday Times said that this was probably the reason why the press hated him, because editors and proprietors feared that eventually he would nationalise them. And ‘Red’ Ken was similarly reviled because he was in favour of industrial democracy and worker’s control, which shocked and outraged the media. The press did not, however, try to refute their ideas, and so took the tactics of sheer ad hominem abuse. My guess they were afraid to, because either they couldn’t, or they were afraid that simply discussing them would make them popular with the proles.

And I think this is true of the press today and its attacks on Corbyn. They’re motivated by the same fear of genuine Socialism after the neoliberalism and privatisation of the Blairites. And this terror is shared by Hislop and Private Eye, which despite its subversive tradition of satire and exposing abuse of power, isn’t really a radical magazine. Hislop and no doubt many of his contributors come from the upper middle classes, which own industry and continue to expect to take a leading role in British government and society. Jeremy Corbyn threatens them, just as Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone did before him. And so Private Eye joins in the abuse sneering and smearing him.

William Blum on Right-Wing Coups in Greece

December 28, 2015

This is another interesting piece from William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report. Blum is a long-time critic of American imperialism. I’ve already reblogged several of his pieces. In issue 137 of his Report, he comments on the election of the new Syriza government in Greece. A number of the commenters on Mike’s blog wondered how far Syriza would be allowed to go in defying the Troika and its economic diktats before they were overthrown by the Fascist right, all in the name of fiscal responsibility, properly paying off the debt, Greece honouring its international obligations, and so forth.

They weren’t alone in fearing for Greece’s future as a democratic country in the face of pressure from the EU and the international financial and industrial nexus. Blum also wondered how long they would last, based on the historical precedents. After the War, Greece was forced into the Western, capitalist bloc following the agreement Churchill and the Americans had made with Stalin at Yalta. The result was a bloody civil war fought against the Communist partisans, who had done the most to stop the Italians and had fought hardest against the Germans. Then, in 1964, when the liberal Papandreou came to power and began to pursue an independent line, he was overthrown in a coup, backed again by the CIA and the Americans. Blum writes

American historian D.F. Fleming, writing of the post-World War II period in his eminent history of the Cold War, stated that “Greece was the first of the liberated states to be openly and forcibly compelled to accept the political system of the occupying Great Power. It was Churchill who acted first and Stalin who followed his example, in Bulgaria and then in Rumania, though with less bloodshed.”

The British intervened in Greece while World War II was still raging. His Majesty’s Army waged war against ELAS, the left-wing guerrillas who had played a major role in forcing the Nazi occupiers to flee. Shortly after the war ended, the United States joined the Brits in this great anti-communist crusade, intervening in what was now a civil war, taking the side of the neo-fascists against the Greek left. The neo-fascists won and instituted a highly brutal regime, for which the CIA created a suitably repressive internal security agency (KYP in Greek).

In 1964, the liberal George Papandreou came to power, but in April 1967 a military coup took place, just before elections which appeared certain to bring Papandreou back as prime minister. The coup had been a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek military, the KYP, the CIA, and the American military stationed in Greece, and was followed immediately by the traditional martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, and killings, the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied by the equally traditional declaration that this was all being done to save the nation from a “communist takeover”. Torture, inflicted in the most gruesome of ways, often with equipment supplied by the United States, became routine.

George Papandreou was not any kind of radical. He was a liberal anti-communist type. But his son Andreas, the heir-apparent, while only a little to the left of his father, had not disguised his wish to take Greece out of the Cold War, and had questioned remaining in NATO, or at least as a satellite of the United States.

As far as I can tell, all of this is correct. Misha Glenny, talking about his book on the Balkans at the Cheltenham Literature Festival back in the ’90s, stated that the division between the ‘east’ and ‘west’ bloc countries was entirely artificial, and was made according to the interests of the great powers, not the people of those countries themselves. The Communists were far stronger in Greece than in Romania, for example, but geopolitical considerations decided that Greece ended up in the West, and Romania in the Communist bloc.

The full article can be read at: http://williamblum.org/aer/read/137. The article’s entitled, Some Things Not To Forget, Which the New Greek Leaders Have Not’.

SF Author Bob Shaw and Comics Artist Bryan Talbot on Granada TV 1981

May 11, 2015

I found these two videos featuring the great Science Fiction author Bob Shaw and the comics artist and creator, Bryan Talbot. They’re actually two halves of Granada’s literature programme, Celebrations, broadcast in 1981. The show consists of interviews with Shaw and Talbot discussing their career and work, and then a very short play specially written for the programme By Shaw, and illustrated by Talbot. In between sequences of the play, the actors discuss it and the issues it raises.

The producers clearly didn’t have any money for any special effects whatsoever, only for the costumes and period props used by the actors. Hence the illustrations by Talbot, which stand in for live action effects sequences.

Shaw was an Ulsterman with a background in aeronautical engineering. He describes how his studying at school to go to university was ruined by his discovery of Science Fiction in the form of the American pulp magazines. He states it was as mind-blowing as an LSD trip, with the exception that LSD wears off. And so instead of studying properly at school and paying attention, he was at the back of the class writing his own SF fanzine on carbon paper.

For those too young to know what that is, it’s the mucky stuff we had to use before the invention of computer printers and widespread access to photocopiers. It’s a form of the process you can make transfers and copies by rubbing a pencil over one side of a sheet of paper, pressing it down on another and then drawing on the other side of the first sheet so that the design comes out on the second. It was messy, and if you didn’t watch out, your hands, clothes and anything else in contact with the stuff was left black.

Shaw states that Science Fiction is only the genre that still isn’t accepted as proper literature. It’s sneered at, and when literary writers use it, somehow their work isn’t Science Fiction, but ‘literature’. He gives Orwell’s 1984 as an example. It’s clearly Science Fiction, but not considered as such because of its status as a work of proper literature.

This dates the programme, as the attitude has changed somewhat. The SF author Simon D. Ings had his own column in New Scientist back in the 1990s. I read one of the latest books by M. John Harrison, the author of the Viriconium novels, now regarded as SF/ Fantasy classics, after it was given a good review in the I. Nevertheless, Shaw’s comments on the low status of Science Fiction as literature do retain some truth. Again, back in the 1990s I remember when the literary novel, GUT Symmetries, came out to high literary acclaim. It took its name from the Grand Unified Theory physicists and cosmologists like Stephen Hawking are seeking, which will unify Quantum physics with the normal, relativistic physics of the ‘macro’ world. The plot involved parallel universes. Looking at the brief descriptions in the literary columns, I was struck by how much it resembled other works of genre Science Fiction, particularly that of Lisa Tuttle. Yet Tuttle and the other SF authors exploring similar themes weren’t mentioned.

There was much discussion in the SF fanzines at the time about the way non-genre, respectable literary authors were appropriating themes from Science Fiction. They were applauded by the literary crowd for their ground-breaking new work, while SF was still despised and confined in a kind of literary ghetto. The late Terry Pratchett, speaking one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, described how the organisers of the Festival looked at him as if we he was going to give a lecture about mending motorcycles. Despite the eminence, popularity and literary skill shown by Pratchett, he and the genre he wrote in still weren’t quite acceptable in respectable literary company. As well as a very funny writer, Pratchett was a funny and witty speaker, and the fans crowding the room loved it.

Shaw also speaks about how he attempts to ground his SF in scientific reality, but states that nothing dates faster than today’s science. The example he gives is of an episode of the old Flash Gordon film serial, then being shown on British TV. There’s one episode where Flash and Dale Arden have to abandon a stricken spaceship falling out of the sky. As they are about to bail out, Flash shouts out that they must check that they’ve got their anti-gravity belts and ray guns. They do so, and these look suitably futuristic. Then Dale remembers that they’ve forgotten the portable radio. Radios at the time were things the size of small tables, and so when she returns, she’s got something of that size strapped to her back. The writer knew what size portable radios were, but couldn’t imagine them being any smaller. And so his failure of the imagination, his inability to see that one day radios would shrink to a more manageable size, dates the whole show.

As for Bryan Talbot, the show mentions that he began his career as a comics illustrator in the underground commix of the drug counterculture. It shows some of the work he did for the Luther Arkwright comics series. This was set in a multiverse of parallel worlds, and was strongly influenced by the novels of Michael Moorcock.

The play itself, ‘Encounter with a Madman’, is about a time traveller from a sterile and dying Britain, poisoned by chemical and nuclear waste, travelling back to the early 19th century to meet Dalton, the discoverer of the atom. She explains to Dalton that, through his discovery, he will ultimately be responsible for the ‘ecodeath’ that has destroyed Britain and is slowly leading its last survivors to extinction. Dalton himself is torn, unable to decide whether the visitor is a madman, uttering blasphemous nonsense, or just might be telling the truth, no matter how bizarre that is. The gamekeeper, however, shoots her in the belief that she’s a French spy. She arrives back in the poisoned wasteland of nearly two centuries into the future, and dies, clutching a single flower.

Shaw and Talbot aren’t the only famous faces on the programme, as the traveller herself is played by a very young Jenny Éclair, now one of Britain’s top comediennes.

Unfortunately, as the programme was shown on ITV, the videos also contain some of the adverts. They’re mostly instantly forgettable, though they do contain one of the Cinzano Bianco adverts with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. They’re now held as comedy classics in their own right. They weren’t much good as adverts, however, as everyone remembered how funny Rossiter and Collins were, and completely forgot what the product was.

Here’s part 1:

And part 2:

I’ve got an idea I read in an interview somewhere that Shaw left Northern Ireland for Britain. He said he did so because in Ireland, you got everything, including books, from the local corner shop. He was just about one of the very few readers of Science Fiction in Ireland at the time, and was sick of people looking at him and asking, ‘What are you reading that rubbish for?’ when he went to pick up the latest SF paperback or mag.

Anti-NHS Privatisation Rally at 1.00 PM Today, Stoke on Trent

May 4, 2015

I’m sorry this is somewhat late, but it’s only just come through my inbox.

Gail Gregory, one of the campaigners against the privatisation of the NHS, and particular local hospitals in Staffordshire, has been part of a team organising events this Bank Holiday weekend. She has sent out another release letting everyone know that there is another rally today at 1.00 in Stoke On Trent. She writes

Dear friends,

I know you may not be able to join us, but I though you would like to know just how amazing the March we have helped organise is going. We set off from Burton on Saturday morning – and before we reached the finish line we had Harry Leslie Smith confirm he would like to speak in Stoke on Monday (today) and welcome us across the finish! What a day. We will put footage up online for you – but in the mean time here are the details of the final day and the speakers we have!

Cancer Not for Profit Announce STAR speaker for May Day Rally!

Star speaker line up revealed for finish line rally of the 3 day, 30 mile, M’aide May Day March For Our NHS in Hanley Park, Stoke on Monday 4 May at 1pm:

Harry Leslie Smith – author of ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ and 91 year old survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and an activist for the NHS, the poor and for the preservation of social democracy.

Lord Philip Hunt – Labour Spokesperson for Health in the Lords

Sarah Perry – Cancer Patient and 38 Degrees Campaigner

Professor Ray Tallis – Co Author of NHS SOS

Tristram Hunt – Labour Stoke Central PPC and Shadow Minister for Education

Christine Venables – Save Our NHS Campaigner – South Derbyshire

Paul Walker – East Staffs TUC Chair and cancer patient

Representatives from the CCGs have been asked to attend but are unfortunately unavailable on this occasion.

Health Campaigners Cancer Not For Profit and East Staffordshire TUC are calling on the public to join them at the FREE event on, Monday 4 May at 1pm, to hear stirring speeches from famous NHS campaigners and why we need to fight the privatisation of our NHS in Staffordshire.

The M’aide, May Day March for our NHS began on Saturday in Burton on Trent with a 10am rally where 50 concerned health campaigners, members of the public and patients set off for Uttoxeter in a bid to highlight the privatisation of the NHS in Staffordshire. On Sunday 3rd May the NHS crusaders were joined by more supporters as they left Uttoxeter for Blythe Bridge to complete stage two of the march. On Monday 4th May the final stage of the march between Blythe Bridge and Stoke on Trent will culminate with a mass rally with expert contributions from prominent NHS campaigners as walkers arrive in Hanley Park at 1pm.

The biggest potential NHS privatisation in history still looms large for Staffordshire, with the £1.2 billion contract for of Cancer and End of Life care for 800,000 residents, yet to be decided. The bidders in the running include five private companies and only two NHS Trusts however since the 2012 Health and Social Care Act 70% of all contracts have been awarded to the private sector.

Virgin Care have recently won a controversial contract in East Staffs to provide Elderly Person Care worth around £280 million for 6000 frail elderly and 38,000 patients with chronic diseases in East Staffordshire as awarded by East Staffs CCG. Campaigners have condemned the contract fearing care will suffer as private companies seek to make profit out of an already cash strapped NHS.

38 Degrees are supporting local efforts to stop NHS privatisation with more than 60,000 people signing the petition to stop the sell off of Cancer and End of Life Care in Staffordshire in the past month. This adds to previous efforts which have secured more than 15,000 signatures from Staffordshire residents who presented concerns to the County Council in October but failed to secure enough support from the chamber to stop NHS privatisation, instead residents’ concerns were referred to the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

Monday 4th May

Blythe Bridge Rally point 10am Blythe Bridge Library ST11 9JR

to Hanley Park, Stoke On Trent for the final rally at around 1pm by the Bandstand

For full route and timings please see the website: bit.ly/NHSMayDayMarch

Enjoy your bank holiday if you do not join us – once again thank you for making this campaign happen!

Best Wishes,

Gail

This is very far from my home in Bristol, but I wish her, the event and the speakers every success.

One of the speakers, Ray Tallis, is a former neurologist and Humanist, who has written and spoken extensively on the mystery of human consciousness and cognition, as well as art and philosophy. I heard him speak last year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and he is well-worth hearing.

Vox Political’s Personal Tribute To Terry Pratchett

March 13, 2015

Yesterday Terry Pratchett, one of Britain’s greatest and most prolific writers of genre fantasy, shuffled off this mortal coil. Mike over at Vox Political has posted his personal memories of meeting the great man, and the inspiration he gave him for pursuing a career as a writers. It’s simply called Personal thoughts on the legacy of Terry Pratchett and begins

You’re probably wondering how this ties in to politics. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

I first met Terry Pratchett at Forever People on Park Street, Bristol, on the afternoon of September 20, 1986 (if I recall correctly). It was the day of the big fire at the Fowler’s Motorcycles outlet on the Bath Bridge, which makes it an easy date to check. My recollection is that the blaze had not really got started as my brother (the blogger Beastrabban) and I on our way into town, so ‘that Discworld guy’ was much more interesting.

We arrived early, which meant nobody else had arrived by the time Terry did. This was 1986, remember – he was only just getting started. This meant we had him all to ourselves for a good few minutes before anybody else appeared to hesitantly proffer a copy of The Light Fantastic for his squiggle – and nothing’s going to make as great an impression on an impressionable adolescent trying to work out how to make it in the world as a few minutes with the undivided attention of someone who has literally just worked it out.

This was before Terry evolved into the personality he became – the bald beardie with the big black hat and the weakness for banana daiquiri. Obviously he was bald (genetics) and he was bearded (aesthetics) but the rest was yet to reveal itself (unless the memory cheats).

We talked about ideas, work ethics, how to keep people interested (basically, it has to interest you first). By the time we – reluctantly – left, the motorbike place was blazing like Ankh-Morpork in the very first Discworld story (The Colour of Magic) and we had to take a detour to avoid it. My brain had already taken a somewhat longer diversion that would lead to amateur journalism, professional newspaper reporting, and eventually this blog.

I also remember first seeing Terry Pratchett with Mike back in 1986 at Forever People in Bristol, though I’d completely forgotten about the fire at Fowler’s. Forever People was one of those small, independent comic shops that existed before Forbidden Planet expanded to just about corner that area of retailing. It has, unfortunately, vanished. It was how I think comics shops should be – stuffed full of the mainstream and the bizarre, with the weird novelties in the windows, role-playing games and TSR miniatures of wizards, warriors and orcs on tables on the ground floor, and rubber monsters and plastic models of artefacts and creatures from SF movies hanging from the ceiling or adorning the walls. It was also slightly disreputable. It was permeated with a musty smell from old comic back issues, and was also regularly raided by the police for stocking magazines and literature on drugs.

Terry was on the second floor, signing copies of his books. I can’t remember now whether Mike brought one he already had, or picked one up while he was there and had the great man sign it. I think it was the latter. What I do remember was catching sight of Terry himself, sat behind the desk, saying to the person in front of him, ‘Well, the Bambleweeny 47 sub-meson brain is important’, while the long queue snaked away. The shop was packed, though that wasn’t particularly hard as nearly every inch of available space stuffed full of books, magazines and merchandising. I was amazed! He was a fan of Hitch-Hiker, just like I was! Mike duly took the book to the counter, got it signed, and we left.

I saw Terry several times again over the years. As Mike says, I went to College in Cheltenham, which has a massive literary festival at which Terry became a regular speaker. The first time I saw him I think he was speaking at the town hall. He appeared wearing his characteristic broad-brimmed, black hat and the black ‘Tel-shirt’ with death strumming a guitar. Just as he got to the lectern and was about to begin speaking, someone came up to him and gave him a banana daiquiri. He thanked them, and explained that it came from a question he and Neil Gaiman had been asked when they were together writing Good Omens. They’d both been asked what they would most like to be given. Gaiman said simply, ‘Money’, while Pratchett said, ‘A banana daiquiri’. He joked that since then, he’d got seven banana daiquiris, and Gaiman hadn’t seen a penny. So there, if someone asks you that question in future, keep to the drinks. You just might get what you want that way.

His topic was the nature of comedy, and how repetition and deliberate references can be used in humour. He said that his style was influenced by P.G. Wodehouse, and gave as an example of how repetition can b4e funny he gave the example of an incident one of the great explorers gave of one of their party telling the same, unfunny story every night until the rest of the party started falling about laughing. It was the story of a man, who left to go to work, but didn’t pack his lunch. When it got to lunch time, he looked for his lunch box. It wasn’t there. He was stupid. That’s more or less the entire story, as it was told. Terry described how the first time it was told, nobody laughed. The next night, there was something like a giggle, the night after that a few more pieces of weak laughter, until at the end of the week people were falling over themselves laughing at what was really a pathetically weak story.

He also discussed the way he deliberately put in references to other bits of popular culture in his books. Like in Guards, Guards!, one of Ankh-Morpork’s finest points a crossbow at one of the villains and says, ‘I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire five bolts or six. Well, frankly I can’t remember. Do you feel lucky, punk?’ He also talked about the inspiration for the dragon in one of his other books. These were taken by a group of young women, who appeared at one convention at which he was speaking. They were all Anne McCaffrey fans, and had stuffed dragons sitting on their shoulders. He said it was obvious that McCaffrey’s dragons were a feminist metaphor, and very good thing too. But it also struck him that the problem with a dragon that sat on your shoulder would be that its fiery breath would singe one side of your face, while it would also defecate down your back.

The next time I was him at the festival was a few years later. He described how Fantasy was still very much looked down on in literary circles. One of the festival’s organisers when talking to him had looked at him as if, in Pratchett’s words, he was about to talk about fixing motorcycles. His talk was on the nature of Fantasy, and he had some fairly forthright comments about Tolkien. Like if when you’re thirteen, you don’t consider The Lord of the Rings to be the greatest book in the world, there’s something wrong with you. And if you still consider The Lord of the Rings to be the greatest book in the world when you’re 33, there’s something really wrong with you. It was in this talk that he described some of the class bias in Tolkien’s work, such as the idealisation of the Shire, while the Orcs were foul and nasty and ‘almost as bad as people from Birmingham!’ One of the speakers on BBC’s The One Show said a few years ago in a piece about Tolkien and the local places that inspired the geography of Middle Earth, that one of the emotional factors behind its writing was Tolkien’s own fear of the urban sprawl from Birmingham overwhelming the semi-rural suburb in which he grew up. It was at this talk, that Terry made the point Mike mentioned – that the ending of the Lord of the Rings is quite daft, because in conquering Sauron they’d destroyed the industrial base for half a continent. But hey, it’s alright, because they’ve got a king back!

He also said that magic itself was actually quite boring. It simply did what it did. What he found really fascinating was the organisational magic by which people came together to produce nails, and other items, which other people then went on to use to create further objects, quite without the planning of the original producers, and which all led to the complexities of modern life and culture. At that time he was also pessimistic about the state of Fantasy literature. This was several years before J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman came forward to re-invigorate it with Harry Potter and the Amber Spyglass. I think he thought at the time that it was more or less dead. I certainly remember him describing himself as ‘a big, hairy maggot crawling over its corpse’. Of course he was far from that.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Pratchett and his work a little while ago, and he surprised me as he’d also met him. This particular friend is a fan of Role-Playing Games. He’s written several game books himself, and knows personally many of the people behind some of the games companies. He’d met Terry a decade or so previously, when one of his friends was looking for inspiration behind a line of Fantasy figurines he was crafting. He was looking for a character on which he could base a wizard, and so wrote to Terry asking him if he could use Rincewind. Terry agreed. He later met Terry along with the rest of the RPGers in the pub. He liked and admired Pratchett personally, because he was also good to his fans. He was protective of them, and seemed genuinely grateful simply that there were people who read and liked his work.

He was also very used to the kind of weirdness that might have other people running for the hills. At one of the Cheltenham festivals he talked about how he encountered a group of Viking re-enactors while out walking with his small daughter. As they were going through the countryside, they noticed a group of young men in chain mail running up and down and hitting each other with swords. One of them came running up to him, and asked him if he could lend them a cup. They’d been fighting for a little while, and were now thirsty. Terry said, yes, and got out his daughter’s Asterix the Gaul lunchbox, and gave them the cup from her Obelix flask. The Viking warrior thanked them, went off to a nearby standpipe, and he and the other Norsemen duly quaffed deep of the water before returning the cup to Terry and his daughter.

Later that day, Pratchett met them in the pub. They were curious about him. Most people, they said, took one look at them when they were out fighting, and fled in the opposite direction. But he hadn’t been at all bothered. Why? Well, said Terry, it was because he reasoned that anyone mad enough to do what they were doing was obviously far too mad actually to harm anyone. He went on ‘Nobody ever says when they find a serial killer, ‘Oh, we knew he was a bad ‘un, because he had a wardrobe full of uniforms and last week he went to a convention. No! They always say, ‘He was a quiet one. And then they find the load of human skulls in the sink.’

He also wasn’t afraid of bikers either. At one convention he was warned by others in the crowd that there were a group of Hell’s Angels in the queue. Well, he met them, and they weren’t. He said they were just a group of polite young men, who wanted to talk about his book and liked motorcycles. Perhaps this is where the Cheltenham literati got the impression that he was going to talk about fixing bikes.

In his fiction, Pratchett created baroque worlds with wit and good humour, taking the motifs of genre literature and then transforming them again to bring out something fresh, producing a bizarre, comic cavalcade of strange gods, wizards, witches, trolls, warrior women, warriors and mobile, predatory luggage. Oh yes, and people from the Counterweight Continent selling In-Sewer-Ance Polly-Seas, all infused with an equally bizarre logic. For example, in Pyramids he concluded that camels have to be experts in quantum physics because of the mathematical intricacies of the way they walked. The world he created with words, and which his illustrator, Josh Kirby, painted, was one of colour, absurdity, and laughter. Although the strongest, and most obvious influences on his work were Tolkien and Conan, it was also like the very best fiction in that it appealed to people of all ages. It wasn’t only children who read them, but also their parents and grandparents.

Mike says in his piece that it kept him sane while he was at College. I think that’s probably true of a lot of people. The world can be a horrifyingly grim place, and there is a lot of pressure on young people. It was certainly the case when I was at school, and things seem to have got worse since then. It really doesn’t surprise me that one quarter of all university students will suffer from depression or some mental health problem during their time at uni. Pratchett’s fiction offers an escape from all that, away from grim reality into a unreality that may also be grim, but is at least comically so. And like good fiction, it isn’t just mere escapism, but often makes a serious point while making you laugh at the same time.

RIP big man. May you rest with the great bards in the celestial realms as one of the great, modern skalds of Middle Earth.