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Toby Banks

Having been asked to 'put the Christmas into Living Marxism', I was about to pen a traditional seasonal greeting when I discovered that Basildon's local paper, the Standard Recorder, now refers to its readers as 'fans'. Our magazine prides itself on keeping abreast of cultural developments, and has never shared the general media snobbery about Essex. So, on behalf of everyone here: Merry Christmas to all Living Marxism readers and fans (except the ones who pretend to read it in WH Smith's with Madonna-style publications inside). May you go forth and multiply. Now for a round-up of the year's events.

The other 'come-back kid'

How sad that Radio 4's Man of the Year poll was abandoned following a vote-rigging scandal. There would have been just one serious contender: the poignant figure who stood pumping coins into a public pay-phone, waiting to talk about the pit closures on a radio phone-in, only to be ejected before he could get on air when an old lady called the police. Undeterred, he tracked down news crews outside Congress House. 'The laws in this country', he wailed, 'are the worst in the world for people who want to give a bit of help!' Step forward big-hearted Norman Willis, general secretary of the helping, caring TUC. We salute you.

Nanny broadcasting

The encroachment of the nanny state continues apace in the world of TV, where, contrary to popular belief, a lot of people get rich underestimating the intelligence of the public. First there were unsavoury reports on how to use toilet paper (folded over so fingers can't break through), and, worse, Claire Rayner's unprompted demonstration of how to use a bidet (it's not for washing your feet). Then came the bizarre late-night government information film with two villainous figures discussing planning a 'job' for the weekend. Suddenly they produce a drill, hammer, etc, and a voice says: 'If you're planning some DIY, get the right tools for the job.' And that's it. To recap, use the right tools, not the wrong ones: hammers for nails, screwdrivers for screws...

Topping the lot for sheer fatuousness is Anneka Rice's 'Play it Safe', which warns viewers not to let children eat batteries or drink bleach, and shows examples of what happens to them if they do. Perhaps this worthy show could be improved along the lines of Treasure Hunt. Anneka could eat a battery somewhere in the countryside, and teams of blindfolded army personnel could then compete with local ambulance services to track her down. All for the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital appeal, of course.

Economic miracles

'Equality of misery' is how one cabinet minister describes his vision of the future, and the great and the good are already adjusting to financial pressures. Princess Anne's daughter Zara advertises Sugar & Spice, the perfume for six to 12-year olds who 'want to attract boys'. More controversial is the unholy alliance of Salisbury cathedral and McDonald's. Visitors donating £1.50 to the cathedral fund receive a parchment-style scroll and a Big Mac Meal voucher.

Ad of the year must be Range Rover's American campaign, headed: 'Buy something'. It suggests a Range Rover, or 'if that's not on the cards, a microwave. A basset hound. Theatre tickets. A Tootsie Roll. Something. Because if we all wait for the recession to be officially declared over to start spending again, the problem will simply keep feeding on itself.'

Year Zero

Slumps are caused by a lack of prophets, so let's not forget the few we have. David Icke predicted the collapse of capitalism this year, but it wasn't enough to save his political career, and all in all it was a bad time for Greens. The low point was surely when four Essex boys stood as Green candidates in a school election and were accused by a Tory of dropping litter and intimidating voters. Litter-dropping jibes are fighting talk in Essex, and the Greens responded in time-honoured fashion. I am pleased to report that the Tory did not stoop to their level and is now out of hospital. The Green lads, however, were charged with GBH, which has nothing to do with the fight against CFCs. Common decency was the loser once again.


The police have taken a lot of stick this year, and have even been thrown out of a London football league for corruption. ('Give a policeman a bit more power and you know he'll abuse it. It's in their nature' - Jimmy Greaves, writing in Shoot.)

I've often criticised them for using crime panics to scapegoat minorities, so it's nice to be able to offer the coppers a helping hand in a genuine case of wrongdoing. A man and woman have been stealing from jewellers, using their young children to distract the shop assistants. Although all the thefts have been in Buckinghamshire, the national press have printed the police warning in view of its seriousness. In case you haven't seen this, the couple have Irish accents and 'look just like any other couple'. Keep 'em peeled.

There has been a lot of talk about the right to privacy, but what about the right to snoop? After all, the flick of the net curtain and the Neighbourhood Watch sticker are as British as the Union Jack. Hats off then to Cyril Reenan, the retired bank manager at the centre of the 'Dianagate' scandal. Mr Reenan is a 'radio ham' who innocently monitors other people's phone calls using 20-foot aerials in his back garden. When he intercepted Princess Di's Squidgy-talk, the ardent royalist promptly sold the tape to the Sun for safe-keeping. That he escaped prosecution through a legal loophole is a relief, but also an indictment of our police state.

A blow was struck against freedom of religious expression when the courts accepted the police case against a London man accused of frightening a chicken with a stick, an alleged Mayan religious ritual. The prosecution argued that killing animals is lawful if done humanely, but causing a bird to 'fear for its life' is not. The defence argued that the chicken was incapable of being in fear of death, since it could not think and would not have the slightest cognisance of what the born-again Mayan was up to. The court threw out that nonsense and found the man guilty, presumably on the grounds that poultry can think just as well as policemen.

Mistreating pets is a topical cause, and it has reached the point where even ordinary animal-lovers are now seen as legitimate targets by the zealots. After an anti-social couple were prosecuted for smoking in a crowded train carriage (having just had sex), the press seized this opportunity to persecute a perfectly harmless minority by printing a stream of salacious stories about people having sex with their pets on public transport. There hasn't been a single report of these people lighting up, and yet the papers are determined to portray them as monsters.

Farewell, then....

Lord Snooty, made redundant by the Beano for not being relevant to today's kids. A career in the upper house beckons, where his insights into questions of class and race will surely be better appreciated. 'His Pals' face an uncertain future.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 50, December 1992



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