Shinzo Abe, former PM, departed this earth as any politician would want to depart this earth: in a hail of bullets (or a hail of one bullet) with his shiny shoes on, next to his flunkies, spouting platitudes on the hustings. Or perhaps given the option, he might not have wanted to depart this earth supine in the street in a pool of his own blood, and might have preferred to skip the hustings altogether, perhaps choosing to stay in bed that morning with his own catamite in his lap.
As with the death of any celebrity, the tragedy brought about a great outpouring of grief and, in roughly equal quantity, a great outpouring of utter bollocks — in the mainstream media, on social media, and in your local pub.
The main themes of the gush of nonsense have been that Abe’s violent death
— was a marker of a terrible destructive change in Japan wherein foreign habits of violence have been imported — ‘American-style gun violence has arrived in Japan!’
— was a tragedy whose pathos was intensified by the fact that Japan is such a peaceful and sweet place where nothing bad ever happens and people are just polite to each other all the time
— was a unique and extraordinary tragedy the like of which has not happened in Japan or anywhere else in the world at all, except in foreign places where, you know, it happens all the time
— was the result of a plot by a rival habatsu (faction) or aliens or vicious pixies or a particularly savage strain of Covid as can be clearly discerned by nothing meaningful at all
So, American-style gun violence is coming to Japan, people have been bleating like a flock of sheep that probably ought to be subjected to the gun for being so flock-minded.
No, American gun violence isn’t coming to Japan. One shooting does not make a massive and fundamental cultural shift. America has a very real gun culture — it’s written into the national psyche. Even people who want some kind of controls on guns generally don’t want guns actually outlawed, because to do so would get them shot. In many states you can buy a gun almost as easily as you can buy a beer. There are more guns than actual humans in the US. Every day there are dozens of shootings, dozens of deaths … The daily tally of gun fatalities and injuries rivals that of a war zone. That’s what we call a gun culture.
You just cannot buy guns in Japan. It’s almost impossible. Shooting incidents are vanishingly rare. People hate guns and look upon America’s obsession with them as a very dangerous eccentricity, something only gaijin can understand. American style gun violence is coming to Japan in exactly the same way that American style gun violence is going out of fashion in America.
Oh, and far from being bought, the gun used was homemade — two bits of pipe taped together.
This was an event whose pathos was elevated beyond even the many mass shootings in the United States due to the inherent peacefulness and rationality of Japanese society, we are told by the same seers who see gun violence in their morning miso. I saw this view expressed by a number of Americans who I do not normally associate with drooling imbecility.
The murder of one man more tragic than the murder of dozens of kids at Sandy Hook or Uvalde? Really? More tragic than the Las Vegas Strip shooting that took 60 lives and injured over 800? More tragic than the Orlando night club attack?
There is no equivalence between Abe and the innocent victims of the shootings in the US. Heads up: Abe didn’t deserve to get shot. No one deserves to be killed or attacked, and no death should ever be celebrated. But Abe was not a cute ten-year-old with a whole life to live. Nor was this Ghandi or Nelson Mandela or Tom Hanks that got shot. Abe was the heir of a political dynasty, he was a nationalist and ultra-capitalist. Abe stated that the Nanjing Massacre was largely fabricated, denied that Japan was responsible for forcing women into sexual slavery during the second world war, and nominated Donald Trump for the Nobel peace prize. He repeatedly visited Yasukuni shrine, which memorialises Japan’s war criminals, pushed to change Japan’s constitution so that it could project its military power abroad, and his economic policies, so-called Abenomics, was nothing more than a locally branded version of the unfettered capitalism (aka neoliberalism) that is currently driving worldwide poverty, climate change, and pretty well everything else that’s shit.
Incidentally, Abe was forced out of power not by opposition to his policies but by his own loose bowels, which seems to be to be a powerful metaphor or some kind. But I digress.
No, there’s no emotional comparison between Abe the would-be warmonger and a classroom full of kids or a cinema full of folk on a good night out. Of course, there’s not meant to be. The claims I have talked about are about the people who post them, a combination of a desire to ingratiate yourself to your Japanese and liberal friends by sticking broken glass in your eye and to jump up and down in the background of news shots of smoking rubble waving a me-too bucket of tears at the audience.
As for safe Japan? There’s no reason why the relative safety of any country should intensify the pathos of any heinous act but it’s not clear that Japan is actually the utopia of safety the stereotype gives us. Japan has a history of political killings and attempted killings to rival the shakiest democracy. Abe’s own grandfather Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, was stabbed in the thigh and seriously injured (1960). Having one mayor of Nagasaki shot dead (1990) is sad, but having two shot dead (2007) is downright careless. A quick count suggests eight political killings or attempted killings since the second world war (compared to six in the UK in the same period).
Granted, in absolute terms Japan’s violent crime is quite low but it’s no stranger to random acts of brutality or mass killings. Perhaps our perception of these mass killings is skewed because the go-to weapons in Japan are petrol and knives rather than guns or bombs. The Myojo building arson in Shinjuku in 2001 killed 44 people, which puts it up there with some of America’s worst massacres. Nineteen people were killed and 26 injured at a care home in 2016 in a knife attack by just one perpetrator. A knife attack on an elementary school in Osaka left eight children dead and 15 people injured. A knife attacker in Akihabara managed to kill seven and injure ten. There have been ten such mass killings since 2000 (compared with eight in the UK in the same period and the Japan attacks took many more lives). Granted, it’s not US levels of violence but neither is it Hello Kitty Land either.
As it turns out, Abe’s killing wasn’t political at all, but motivated by the politician’s perceived, or assumed tolerance of, or involvement in a religious cult, specifically, the Moonies, the Unification Church, the mob famous for its coerced marriages of stadia full of strangers in the 90s.
Now here’s an aspect of the killing that seems to have escaped scrutiny in the rush to dramatise the event with knee jerk invocations of America: cults and Japanese society.
Aum Shinrikyo anyone? Perhaps the most infamous of Japan’s cults, they were responsible for the deaths by sarin nerve gas of eight people (with 500 injured) in Matsumoto in 1994 and of 14 people on Tokyo’s subway in 1995, with 1,000 injured.
For a country that describes itself as secular there sure are a lot of cults in Japan, and they are woven into the social and political fabric — and here we *can* make an American comparison — like evangelism and mega-churches in the US.
Charismatic leaders peddling bunkum, respectability derived from their status as religions, the same status that keeps them exempt from tax while fleecing their members of their hard-earned. In the thirty-odd years I have been in Japan I have discovered cults and quasi-cults are pervasive. I accidentally (and briefly) worked for a company that was funnelling its profits to the Moonies. Another cult nearly broke up my family. Every other family on our street seems to belong to one cult or another. Any drive around the country takes you past at least one grandiose and piss-elegant cult HQ. Cults are like cockroaches, they seem everywhere and however many you see, there are more lurking out of sight.
I am not suggesting that any cult had Abe shot nor that they had any involvement whatsoever, nor am I going to examine Abe’s Moonie connections here. I am saying that the confluence of a mad gunman, a powerful politician, and the murky connections between cults and government makes for a more meaningful conversation than facile comparisons with American gun violence and the peddling of nonsensical peaceful Japan myths.
The time has come to tell of Mr Smelly’s Improbable Emporium, though I have no idea why.
In the mid 90s when I moved to this area in Nara, the neighbouring town of Oji had a run-down-yet-picturesque shotengai shopping street. It was one of those wooden places of red lanterns and stubbly old men in sagging long-johns tending shop; family businesses selling broken electrical appliances, dried beans, clogs and sandals, unidentifiable stuff that no one under the age of 100 knew what to do with; there were smoky izakaya pubs, fish stalls — whatever you expected and hoped to find in a run-down-yet-picturesque shotengai shopping street. It was old Japan, it was one of those places that harked back to the Meiji period when Japan was just out of top knots and swords, or evoked the Golden Age that enveloped in the world in the non-specific past and spawned films of vomit-inducing sentimentality like the Tora-san series, and quite a bit later on the other side of the world, Brexit.
This shopping street in Oji has, of course, now been destroyed by progress, but while it was there, I liked to stroll through it and feed on the atmosphere and imagine I was peering back in time.
And it was in this place that I found Mr Smelly’s Original Emporium, distinct from his later venture, the Improbable Emporium. I shall call it now, with the blessing of hindsight, Mr Smelly’s Pop Emporium partly because it sold drink but mainly because I get the repetition of the humorous po-sound between ‘pop’ and ‘emporium’. Yes, Mr Smelly’s Pop Emporium sold all sorts of drink. Pop, certainly, but mostly booze; the kind that appealed to your hardcore and uncompromisingly Japanese person: beer, sake, shochu, chuhai, more beer, sake, shochu, chuhai, and lots and lots of whisky. Japan is known for its award winning single malt whiskies that go for thousands of dollars a bottle — I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the non-award winning domestic blends that come in three-litre bottles priced at about the same point as the average family-sized bottle of generic shampoo.
Where Mr Smelly’s whiskies lacked notability for their pedigree, they very much attracted my attention for being physically tied to the shelves — tied with lashings of thick, white plastic string stuff, which was looped through the handle of the bigger flagons or round the neck of the regular bottles.
Why? Why would you tie your stock to the shelves? What happened to persuade Mr Smelly to tie his whisky down? Did a swarm of locusts once clean up his shelves? Perhaps those cheeky but precociously intelligent monkeys took the three-hour train ride from Mino just to raid his Nikka. Did his bottles blow away in a stiff breeze? Were salarymen insouciantly grabbing them off the shelves in passing to quaff straight from the neck on the train to work? Or was he simply so emotionally attached to them he couldn’t bear to see them go?
And what if you want to actually buy one? Do you have to ask Mr Smelly’s permission? Bring your own scissors? Bring your own machete? Mr Smelly’s cavern was always full of questions.
However, I ventured in a couple of times. I say venture in the full understanding of the word and not as a lazy collocation. It took some resolve to step inside Mr Smelly’s Pop Emporium. You see, Mr Smelly himself was inclined to stand guard at the door, apparently watching over his bound whisky. He cut an imposing figure — no he didn’t. He sagged from his own shoulders, his belly sagged into his waistband. He was so saggy he seemed to sag vertically from the floor.
He glowered at passersby as if daring them to come into the shop. Sometimes he glowered resentfully because they weren’t daring to go into his shop. It was quite clear that Mr Smelly was not quite synced with this planet, and possibly had some competence problems living on it.
I wanted to get a beer, a single beer to drink while walking home and I like to support the independent business rather than the big impersonal brands — or did before this experience. Slipping past Mr Smelly was difficult, the aisles being piled with waste cardboard that hadn’t made it to the recycler. It was like clambering over a very unstable ridge of collapsed boxes. It turned out there was another person in there — an improbably hooped old lady draped in some kind of casual hakama or yukata. She was so hooped that when stood up straight she was still staring backward at her own knees. Mr Smelly sidestepped protectively toward her as if I might try to grab her rather than one of his whiskies. I guess she was old Mrs Smelly, the Smelly matriarch.
Which brings me to Mr Smelly’s name or the reason for it. You didn’t think that was his real name, did you?
The stink that pervaded the shop was powerful.
In old Japan there was a tradition of something called living mummification in which a particularly holy man would have himself bricked up in tomb and meditate until he was dead, and then keep on meditating until he was totally desiccated — except he wasn’t dead, he was just meditating really, really deeply, dig? And there was another phenomenon in Japan, where elderly relatives who died at home were secreted in the oshire closet or the spare room or in a space under the tatami so that the family could continue claiming the pension. I have never attended the opening of one of these meditation tombs or discovered a grandmother mummified in her futon in the closet but I can imagine the smell. I imagine the smell to be that of rot so ancient that it has itself turned to morbid mustiness.
That was the odour in Mr Smelly’s Pop Emporium, but in this case the mummies must have been neglectful of personal hygiene even before death.
Was the smell from Mr Smelly himself? Or from the old woman? Or did he have a whole stockroom full of dried out priests and abused grandparents grinning silently at the locked at implacable eternity and boxes of whisky with bent teeth through yellow papery skin? Such a secret might account for his ambivalent attitude to customers.
Of course, the beer fridge was right in the back, the most difficult and furthest place to reach, prolonging my journey in these unsettling regions. As I paid for my single can, Mr Smelly went through the transaction as if the whole incident was quite improbable. What on earth brought you in here? His face seemed to say. What do you actually want with a can of beer?
As I say, I might have ventured in a total of twice. My sense of adventure and curiosity has limits. The shop struck me as an odd place, the kind that probably didn’t ought to be in business for being, well, weird and horrible.
Eventually, all the shops in the shotengai closed and were shuttered as the area was prepared for redevelopment. Except Mr Smelly’s Pop Emporium, which remained obstinately open, and obstinately without customers. Mr Smelly was now poignantly standing guard at his door in an abandoned street of boarded up and shuttered shops.
I imagined that Mr Smelly was hanging on for more money, or because this was his family business and damned if he was going to move for some soulless corporate types in suits, or — the most likely, I suspect, and my preferred theory — because he couldn’t understand the forms he had to fill out to get his compensation.
Time and progress wait for no man, not even Mr Smelly: he moved, the area was redeveloped and Mr Smelly was completely forgotten until he reappeared, quite improbably, in his new emporium, which was a unit in a prime position by entrances to both the Kintetsu and JR stations. I assumed that such was his obstinacy or inability to move from his original shop that the developers had offered him this prime spot as incentive to get out of the way of progress.
In shifting location, he had evidently shifted the focus of his business from post-Edo maximalist pop shop with string to post-apocalyptic minimalist convenience store-cum-ridicule. Or he had insufficient funds to restock after being closed for so long. No more three-litre flagons of Nikka lashed to the shelves. Instead individual random items of the banally everyday spaced at twenty-centimetre intervals — a bar of soap, a bottle of vinegar, a pack of tooth picks, a bottle of shampoo, a bottle of soy sauce, a hair brush, a jar of pickles, a bar of chocolate, a small carton of sake, a bag of crisps, a box of rubber bands. Mr Smelly followed me from the door pointing with hope at random items. I just wanted a beer, but Mr Smelly thought I might like a toothbrush or some window cleaner to go with it. How about a small bag of s-hooks to dangle things from my kitchen shelves?
His whole family — or someone’s whole family — had turned out to see this spectacle of Mr Smelly with a customer. A collection of completely mis-matched humans, ranging in age from elementary schooler to improbably old, stood in rapt attention behind the counter, except for one woman of Mr Smelly’s age who seemed to be washing the family dinner dishes in the store sink behind the register. Oddly, it was only this one woman with her hand in the suds whose eyes alone bore the signs of actual sentience and self awareness and a probably not unrelated acute embarrassment.
But more than the poignant paucity of stock placed in such a desperate manner to disguise its lack, more than Mr Smelly’s eccentric customer service, more than the sub-Addams family, what struck me was the smell. It was the same smell I experienced at Mr Smelly’s Original Pop Emporium a couple of years previously in the old shotengai. He had lost his old stock, he had lost his old shop, but he had kept that improbable pong.
The how and the why of this tickles the imagination: was it a deliberate choice, a branding decision? I can see overalled engineers piping green stink from the old shop into the back of the new one. Or was it an accident — a huge shaggy dog of green slime that followed Mr Smelly everywhere, a pet that always homed back from any attempt to abandon it? Or perhaps there really was a pile of ancient dried corpses, or more excitingly, a new pile of recently dried corpses. We may never know.
As I say, there is no punchline to this story. The Emporium just fizzled out, and there have been no sightings or smellings of Mr Smelly for a very long time. After just one or two years, Mr Smelly’s Improbable Emporium closed and has remained closed since — now several years. His shop sign remains, which reinforces my suspicion that he has left the business in a state of legal limbo again and the owners of the unit are unable to lease the space to someone else.
Today, the neighbouring restaurant has appropriated the pavement in front of Mr Smelly’s place with stools for waiting customers, and the shutter is plastered with missing person posters for an old lady.
At night tendrils of faintly luminous green ectoplasm escape from under the shutter …
So, Paul McCartney played Glastonbury the other day and became, at 80, the oldest person to do so.
It’s all right for some — we can’t all afford to live to be 80.
I look at those photos of Macca with his guitar and his band and his distinguished rocker’s waistcoat and I don’t see a musical legend, I see a person who knows where his next meal is coming from. I see a person who not only knows where his next meal is coming from but who can stroll into a restaurant and order a meal without wondering how it is going to affect his budget or affect his ability to be able to eat in the rest of the month or whether he’ll miss that money ten years down the road when he can’t work any longer. I see a person who doesn’t have to worry about where he will be living when he eventually retires, I see a person who doesn’t have to worry about being a burden on his kids or whether he’ll be able to arrange home help if he needs it. I see a person who is still working at an age most people have retired because he enjoys it, not because he has to and because he gets a reasonable financial return on his efforts. I see a person who can sail off into the sunset with some dignity.
Fair dos to Macca — he’s a working class bloke who in contrast to most people of wealth has actually done something to earn his money other than be burped into it from between their mother’s knees.
For many people, age is not jolly and that’s not just because we’re not going to appear at Glastonbury or even bop there.
We are the precariat, who when we should be thinking about retiring are wondering how we are going to be able to support ourselves in the future, how long we are going to be able to keep working and how we will be able to keep a roof over our head once we are too old to work. We are wondering whether we may actually die on the job (or whether our jobs will kill us). We are wondering where we will live when/if we become unable to pay our rent/mortgage. We can see ourselves moving full time onto a park bench.
I have mine staked out already, a little reserved sign that I nicked from the local pub nailed to it. I have agonised about choosing one with overhanging branches — on one hand they help keep the sun off, on the other they provide perches for birds to sit and shit on you. UV or poop — a life decision to chew on.
For the precariat, an early death seems like a smart financial move. How else will you afford to persist?
Not so long ago, a dear relative of mine who gave up work at 59 breezily asked: have you thought of retiring? It’s great! I didn’t reply that I can’t afford to retire. A good friend, several years ago when we were in our early fifties, asked me earnestly over a pint whether I thought he should take early retirement or hang on until the upper retirement age, whatever that was, and reap a bigger pension. It was a real thing for him to think about. Both the friend and the relative had sensible jobs that came with retirement plans, both were looking into a future that doesn’t resemble mine or that of many other people.
Well, we should all get down and get proper jobs with proper retirement plans, bootstrap ourselves while we can still bend over to grab our own shoes — or bend over in the office to grab our own ankles.
Another conversation over beer: A well educated friend, a PhD with a long and consistent working history, self-employed, told me of his precariousness. He told me that if anything happened and his income stopped, he would be able to live for only a couple of months. Something did happen: Covid. The pandemic whisked away his livelihood. I don’t know what happened to him — he hasn’t answered any of my messages in the last couple of years, which I find ominous. Yet another: he went to the same college as me, did the same course, has worked with diligence, done the right thing — peaked in some job where he wore a suit and had a nice BMW as a company car — has had umpteen employers go bankrupt on him, and now, when he should be putting his slippered feet up with a mug of cocoa or a tab of acid, finds himself doing agency work, shifting boxes in a DHL warehouse, stewarding football games, manning vaccination centres, and so on.
No, hard work doesn’t lead inevitably to riches — if it did, all the women in Africa would be millionaires (thanks to George Monbiot for that one). Nor does hard work lead inevitably to comfortable or secure sunset years. Aside from issues of feckless employers and contagion, some people may have conditions or circumstances that limit their ability to work. They may come from places or backgrounds that exclude them from opportunity. Many jobs do not come with even a proper contract and many people are condemned to the gig economy. Even for many in consistent work the future isn’t certain because even stable jobs often offer only subsistence wages and you don’t make a solid future out of that kind of sand.
I mean, a lot of people ask themselves on a daily basis, ‘Will I be needed’ — all together, now — ‘When I’m 64?’
Most jobs that provide for a future one way or another are in the public sector, which is being eviscerated by the ‘free’ market. In the private sector proper pension plans for ordinary people are as common as unicorn bollocks and where they do exist they are being plundered and reduced by the employers — the pensions, not the bollocks. See, for example, the current rail and underground staff dispute. Those workers have actually seen their pensions reduced. State pensions are being reduced too.
Let’s just stop and let that sink in, shall we? You work twenty, thirty, forty years responsibly predicating your retirement on X, only, on the cusp of giving up work, to find that your pension is now X-minus a chunk or doesn’t even exist. Did you have a say in that? Who decided that? Did you not work properly to fulfil your end of the bargain? What are you supposed to do? What recourse do you have? Who do you vote for? How is this not theft? Why are there no laws to control it? (That was a trick question because none of the three biggest parties in the UK would help you out.)
The answer must be a new wave of political consciousness — but I am getting ahead of myself.
While wages have stagnated, rent and house prices have gone up, and now in the UK taxes are going up, the cost of living has gone through the roof; in the UK you’ll soon have to pay for your health care. Add into that the effects of climate breakdown on the economy … If you have to choose between energy and feeding your kids, if you are so consumed by managing the now, how can you plan for the future?
I mean, really, what are you going to do? How exactly are you going to manage? Where is all this going? What kind of world is this in which we look at people and size them up according to how well you think they can afford to stay alive?
Yes, death might be a smart financial move but you may not have much choice in that either as life expectancy in the poorer areas of the UK is actually falling for the first time in 100 years. All this contrasts glaringly with the long lifespans of the most secure — 80-year old rockers, and the Queen turning 96 this year. It’s almost as if security and longevity were somehow bound together.
But what happens if you get to those venerable years and become dependent on help? Bedridden, unable to look after yourself? In my experience to date you have to sell your house or any other assets you have and give it to the fucking government before they will arrange anyone to take care of you. The process of evaluation for care is intrusive and humiliating. One elderly gentleman I know (now completely bedridden) was compelled to strip in the presence of two men with clipboards and take a shower, on which he was graded. Again, this gentleman had worked all his life.
Think on that. You do the right thing, you contribute to the national wealth, and then when you need help they demand you sell your house and watch you shower yourself.
To face financial insecurity in old age is not a sign of fecklessness or irresponsibility. All this boils down to: the economic system. Unregulated, unrestricted, it treats people as cash cows — minions, vassals, squeaking Munchkins — squeezing as much out of them as possible. It uses people and destroys life chances. But, again, that’s another conversation and I’ll never finish here if I get into that.
So get up on the stage at Glasto at 80? Nah, not bothered. I’d just be happy to afford to live that long.
So, let’s try to get this straight because it’s getting a bit complicated now
Members of the UK government, including the actual prime minister broke lockdown laws that they themselves made by having parties at No.10, driving to Durham while infected and so on.
At the same time, families up and down the country were separated by those lockdown laws that Johnson and co had made and were themselves breaking, and had to suffer losing relatives and friends without being able to say goodbye or go to their funerals.
During lockdown Patsy Stevenson and others were arrested by the Metropolitan police for holding a vigil for Sarah Everard — who had been murdered by a serving member of the Metropolitan police, who lured her to her death by claiming she was breaking lockdown laws — for contravening the government’s lockdown laws, the same lockdown laws that members of the government that had made them were breaking.
Following complaints against the police that their response to the Sarah Everard vigil were inappropriate, the police were investigated by the police who exonerated the police.
In the months after her arrest, Patsy Stevenson experienced online intimidation and harassment from serving members of the police. The police promised to investigate and sanction inappropriate behaviour by members of the police, none of whom were apparently sanctioned.
And then the very force that had counted the murderer of Sarah Everard in its ranks and arrested the women on the peaceful vigil, declined to investigate the prime minister and his people over any of their parties, citing lack of evidence despite there being numerous witnesses, photographs, and video recordings of the events — just as the Met and other police forces had earlier declined to prosecute the prime minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings for his lockdown violations.
And the police watchdog, which was appointed by the police to investigate complaints against the police, rejected complaints against the police that they they failed to investigate the lockdown-violating parties at No.10.
Johnson’s partying is, however, being investigated by an independent investigator (Sue Gray) who isn’t independent because she was appointed by Johnson.
Meanwhile, this government that had failed to hold itself to its own laws decided to demonstrate its commitment to law and order by persecuting someone who had broken no laws. They did this by agreeing to extradite Julian Assange to the US. Assange has broken no laws within US jurisdiction and is not a US citizen and has been held in British prisons without charge long after the expiration of his sentence for bail dodging.
And while fixing the problem of freedom of speech by locking up journalists, the same government is fixing the problem of being embarrassed by freedom of speech as exercised through protest by essentially outlawing protest. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will make holding placards, signs, glue, making a noise, protesting in a public space, etc, etc, punishable by up to 51 months in prison and/or an unlimited fine, and will give the police power to ban anyone they (don’t) like from attending protests about anything ever. This bill would have criminalised the Suffragettes campaign for women’s voting rights.
The government of the UK, which is extraditing Assange for his journalism and is clamping down on free speech at home is joining the government of the US, who claims Assange for embarrassing it by exposing its war crimes, and which still holds prisoners without trial at Guantanamo, are joining together for a diplomatic boycott of China’s winter Olympics as a protest over that country’s human rights abuses.
This, incidentally, is in addition to an unknown number of UK nationals who were effectively made second class citizens by the British Nationality Act of 1981, about whom we hear nothing, and in addition to the arbitrary deportations of the Windrush people.
At the same time, the Grand Ol’ Duke of York, Prince Andrew, peer of the realm, dipstick of royal proportions, has not flown to the United States where he has been accused of real crimes on US soil and neither the US nor UK governments who are holding Assange without trial and extraditing him for no crime, are extraditing the prince, nor even urging him to go do the right thing. Andrew, in the face of answering for his actions in a US court, is clinging on to the UK’s shores as if they were one of the teenagers he was abusing.
So, have I got that actually straight, because, you know, a chap could be forgiven for thinking that this was all totally screwed up.
[This is an edited and updated version of the story originally posted here titled ‘Clear as Poop …’]
Every year, thousands of fresh-faced, eager young things process from the universities of the English-speaking countries and decide to become — at least until they have scratched an itchy foot, paid off a college loan, started to miss Yorkshire pud, been murdered and dumped in a foreign ditch, or just got bored — international people. They will see the world, travel, meet the quaint little people who live in foreign countries with their endearing foreign ways, and in order to facilitate this great adventure, they will adopt the entirely noble and worthwhile occupation of blessing Johnny foreigner with the ability to speak the language of Shakespeare.
Well, not the language of Shakespeare as such, which most of these eager young things would not understand, but certainly the language of Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian.
They will become teachers of English as a foreign language.
What an image this conjures, this title, ‘teacher of English as a foreign language’!
Not English teacher, you dig, but teacher of English as a foreign language. No, a simple English teacher is very bland. An English teacher is rooted to home turf and to their childhood because they never really made it out of school. And they wear bad cardigans. And they teach English to a bunch of kids who already speak the language. How difficult is that? The most difficult part of that job is keeping yourself from slipping into catatonia.
Your actual teacher of English as a foreign language, however, confronts people who are yet unfamiliar with the arcana of the language. You are spreading enlightenment and civilisation, and, best of all, you are a teacher, a professional, without the inconvenience of actually having to learn any actual skill because you grew up speaking the bloody language.
Pretty soon, the new teacher of English as a foreign language finds his or her way to the heart of the task:
‘This is a pen.’
Getting the skills down may require whole minutes of determination and perseverance but eventually the teacher will be tossing ‘this is a pen’ at the students as if it were a four-word phrase.
‘This is a pen. Repeat after me: This is a pen.’
And what a career track EFL offers!
You start off teaching small kids at a language school in Osaka or Seoul or Ulan Bator, and you get to dress as Father Christmas one week a year and you say:
‘This is a pen.’
And you can progress to small groups of adults in the same sort of places where the language of Joyce and Shakespeare is sold like hamburgers at McDonald’s.
‘This is a pen,’ you tell them, and then coax the students to tell you the same.
From there you might do a CELTA qualification in the hopes of teaching in a more serious environment, but it’s still all hamburgers and ‘this’ is still a pen.
‘This is a pen. Repeat after me: This is a pen.’
The next step is going back to university to get a masters degree in applied linguistics so that when you graduate you can work in a university where you say:
‘This is a pen.’
From there, the sky’s the limit in terms of telling people that this is a pen. You can do a PhD, write books that will introduce people to pens in global master classes.
You can say in Japan, in Korea, in China, in Saudi Arabia, in Spain, in Peru — just about anywhere in the world — ‘This is a pen.’
You can say with pride in your professional expertise: ‘This is a pen.’
By this stage, by the time you have done your masters degree, you have joined the EFL Taliban, the EFL fundies.
(You have no idea who you are, do you.)
These guys don’t talk to people who don’t have masters degrees in applied linguistics. They sneer at people who don’t have masters degrees in applied linguistics. They put up with, they tolerate, they suffer people who do not have degrees in applied linguistics.
You think MBAs are bad as a closed circle of mutual masturbators with a language all their own? Well, the EFL Taliban are a close second. They wank at least as much, they’re just as smug, but they don’t get paid nearly as much as MBAs and that last point demonstrates to them exactly how superior they are.
And they do speak a language all of their own. By the time you have finished a degree in linguistics, you no longer have any idea what normal language is or how to speak to normal people.
You see the Taliban at parties in a huddle, out of contamination range of the hoi polloi.
‘Meta-language,’ one will observe. They all smile sagely.
‘Ah ha! Interlanguage or intralanguage?’ which brings the house down.
‘Oooh, look, it’s a preposition.’
‘I just spotted a participle.’
‘Oh, look everyone, it’s a pen!’
‘Repeat after me!’ they all cheer, ‘This is a pen! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!’
Yes, chaps, it is indeed a pen. It was a pen when you started on this career. It is still a pen now.
It is a pen today, it was a pen yesterday, it was a pen the day before that and last week and last month and last year, twenty years ago. For all the jargon, for all the studies in cognitive theories of language acquisition, after all the university courses, seminars, training sessions, and learned books dedicated to conveying the pen-ness of this, the pen is, at the end of the day, just a fucking pen.
Suddenly it’s been a pen for thirty-odd years, and it’s no more or less a fucking pen than it was at the start; it’s no closer to being a penguin or an artichoke or a spaceship or a yeti or a pterodactyl or a coelacanth or a human emotion or a sense of achievement or a laugh or a fucking life, it’s just a fucking fucking fucking fucking pen.
Yes, and those thirty-odd years have gone by — all your adult life — and you are stuck in the world’s dreariest, most banal, most facile career cul-de-sac, and you can’t get out because you’re too old, too stained with the ink of pens-that-are-this, and your boss is trying to get rid of you because he wants the school staffed by kids just out of their placentas because they are cheap and obedient and pre-cowed, or he wants to shift everything online with teachers from a call centre in the Philippines or Calcutta or fucking Pluto because they’ll work for less than the price of the tissues he wanks into when monitoring their classes.
It’s going to be a pen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year; it’s going to be a pen when it’s used to write your fucking death certificate.
So fucking repeat and get it into your fucking head: ‘This is not a life.’
Let’s be clear: the slow death of humanity through mass infertility is a good thing. This nightmare vision of SF and dystopian literature is, to the well-organised mind, a dream come true.
For decades scientists have been telling us about falling sperm counts, an impending infertility crisis. As the evidence mounts, the prospect has turned from a ‘maybe’ to an ‘it’s happening now.’ Epidemiologists Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino bring us up to date on the good news in their recent book “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperilling the Future of the Human Race.” The book tells us that total sperm count in the west fell 59% between 1973 and 2011, and seems set to hit zero by 2045. Genital deformities among the newborn are becoming less rare. Apparently lifestyle, pollution, and obesity are to blame.
We thought the end of humanity would come in a blinding light and ball of atomic fire, or we would parch on a desolate plain that was once a verdant forest felled by climate meltdown. But no, we are more likely to expire with a dud orgasm, an inconclusive bang climaxing in a whimper.
Any species that walks wide-eyed into the end of everything by war or destroys the planet on which it lives deserves extinction. Any species that created and tolerated Ant and Dec, Love Island, Donald Trump, the entire British governing class, Nutella, Justin Bieber, mobile phones for dogs, Bitcoin, Brexit, deserves to be culled. Any species that worships an economic system in which we fight like dogs to feed our masters before we feed ourselves, any species that complains about actually protecting itself during a deadly pandemic, any species that will let its home collapse because it doesn’t want to interrupt the shopping deserves to be scraped off this planet. Any species that creates the pyramids, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and then descends into entitled infantile squealing as the dominant cultural form; any species that invents the internet, connecting the whole planet and giving unlimited opportunities for creativity and learning, and then uses it as a tool to squirt its own lifeless jizz into tissue-slivers of destroyed rainforest deserves far worse than gentle extinction.
But humanity’s exit is poetic and elegant because it is the testosterone associated with our failing gonads that powered our journey to this state, that propelled us to rape and conquer and control and clone ourselves through uncountable acts of violence. Our proud bollocks are now reduced to dry and withered prunes on a doomed vine through the very vices they fathered.
And compared to nuclear war or total environmental collapse, this end has the advantage of not taking the rest of the planet with us.
It’s as if nature itself has just sighed and quietly said ‘Enough is enough’ and turned off the tap that replenishes us.
With luck we’ll just fade away leaving nature to recolonise the planet as the forests and rats have reclaimed Chernobyl. We have to hope that we vanish before we complete the destruction of everything and depriving nature its chance to regenerate.
Because, sadly, in truth, the end will not be that peaceful. As our numbers dwindle and our ability to plunder the resources and despoil our home diminishes, we’ll turn on each other, fight among ourselves like starved savages stripped of all pretence of civilisation. Some will fight for whatever scraps of sustenance or whatever survival advantage they can get, some will fight just because they’re twats. We can be sure that we’ll try to trash as much as possible out of sheer petulance, like Airbnb guests who defecate in the living room of complete strangers just because. A new pornography will emerge that celebrates the deformed genitals of the last of our offspring, and the psychosexual energy generated will cause Jimmy Savile to reanimate, to become the messiah of this cult of death.
This scorched earth policy inflicted on an earth that we’ve already scorched in our more virile days will be another sad monument to our pathetic stupidity, another illustration of the pettiness that brought us to this pass.
Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino frame their data as a dire warning, they speak of falling fertility as a threat to humanity, and urge a radical change in lifestyle and the way we are contaminating the environment in order to avert this catastrophe. On the contrary, this is a chance too good to miss. And in an age of seemingly unremitting bad news and bleakness, at last there is an end in sight, at last we have something to look forward to.
All opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and not uncritically regurgitated from the Daily Mail.
Another Perfect Day in Fucking Paradise
The most recent of Chris Page's novels.
Ben seems to be the only living person on the planet and the dead are really getting on his nerves.
In an unconscionable capitulation to consumerism, Chris Page is now selling merchandise. Shirts, mugs, paraphernalia and stuff in sizes, colours, and genders. Click the image.
Sanctioned is the latest novel by Chris Page, published May 2017.
Read a sample of Sanctioned
The first three chapters of Sanctioned ...
The Underpants Tree
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King of the Undies World
Weed, the novel by Chris Page, available in paperback and ebook. Click the image to find out more.
Chris Page's collection of short fiction in Kindle and paperback.
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Weedy words of praise from a publisher in London
“… it’s really witty and very strong … I would compare the writing to Robert Rankin, or a really satirically biting Tom Sharpe, and will say again that I’m really impressed by it”
Review copies of Weed and Un-Tall Tales
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