The idiot machine

Until he’d filmed a suicide victim hanging lifelessly from a tree in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, I’d never heard of Logan Paul. If someone had mentioned his name to me, I would’ve assumed they were talking about a budget hair salon located on a traffic-choked high street between a 99p shop and a Dixy Chicken. I never would have guessed they were talking about a YouTube ‘mega-vlogger’ with more than 15 million subscribers and a hairstyle that sits somewhere between Farrah Fawcett and Flock of Seagulls’ Mike Score. But then, life’s a learning process.

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Shut it all down

I miss the olden days. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t miss black-lunged street urchins scurrying up narrow, carcinogenic chimneys. Nor do I miss the days of young cotton mill workers getting a vicious strapping for having the gall to complain about exhaustion and a degloved finger. No, I’m talking about a mere 25 years ago, which genuinely feels like the olden days.

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A dispatch from my safe space

I hate all this bollocks about ‘safe spaces’, as if the very notion of having somewhere you can go to be content and happy, largely insulated from the hate, fear and bullshit of the world, is somehow indicative of weakness or timidity, or an unwillingness to engage. “Get back to your safe space, snowflake!” seems to be the insult du jour on social media at the moment – often, but not exclusively, used by emboldened right-wingers (let’s call them ‘red caps’) who just love snappy slogans (Take back control! MAGA!). However, it completely loses its impact if, like me, you think of it merely as a kind-hearted suggestion. “Get back to my safe space? Thanks, I will! It’s cosy there and we have Hobnobs.”

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Monty Don’s Gardens of the Illuminati

I blame Jon Ronson. There I was, a bored 26-year-old on a Sunday evening in late April 2001, lamenting the fact that TV was typically shit (before I truly appreciated Countryfile and The Antiques Roadshow), when I half-arsedly flicked to Channel 4 to watch something called The Secret Rulers of the World.

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I hate the 21st century

One minute you’re a massive wanker on a Cairo-bound EgyptAir flight, and the next, you’re a globally ‘famous’ massive wanker after having your photo taken with a hijacker wearing a suicide belt, grinning beatifically for the camera like the embalmed corpse of a man who’d died suddenly only a few pleasurable seconds into his very first blowjob.

This is viral fame in the 21st century.

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Magaluf party shithole

A few months ago, I attempted to shield myself from all news bulletins after I heard a quote from William Hague, in which he said that Europe faced the great danger of “a real shooting conflict” if Russian forces entered eastern Ukraine. That sounded much scarier than a purely imaginary non-shooting conflict, where enemy troops merely startle each other by jumping out from behind bushes, tooting on kazoos, so I tried to avoid all mention of the crisis.

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It’s a wonderful film, so please…no sequel

With a new cartridge loaded into our Halina Super 8 cine camera, my sister and I once made a short film about four children who fly to the moon in a home-made spaceship (consisting of a ZX Spectrum resting on an upturned laundry basket, housed inside a small shed in Watford). Like budding Paul Whitehouses we played two characters each. My sister played Vicki and Karen (one, a chilled out hippy type, the other, a pigtailed saboteur with some kind of sneezing allergy), and I played McKell (key character trait: to exude effortless cool like Officer Carey Mahoney) and Philippe (the brains behind the lunar rocket, with a name that made him sound like a flamboyant, French hairdresser).

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The end of mystery

In 1983, as a fresh-faced young Cub, I traveled to Waddecar Scouts Activity Centre for an exciting weekend of camping and tree conservation. Long before Bear Grylls was appointed Chief Scout, with his dark vision of tearful young boys bedding down for the night in hollowed out camel carcasses, we unfurled our sleeping bags onto a network of bunks in the comparative luxury of a Swiss chalet-style hut, where we swapped scary stories by torch light.

To this day, the one story that stays with me from that weekend – forced into our impressionable young minds with such relish by our Scout chaperones – was the tale of ‘The Devil’s Horseshoe’.

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