Why Donald Trump might be President of the USA.

I think I understand why Donald Trump can get away with anything. I’ve been mulling it over for a while and I think it all goes back to the US Apprentice “reality” series (2004-2016), the TV show that is basically an extended job interview for eight people. Donald Trump was a co-producer and the guy who said “You’re fired!”  At its peak it had an audience of over 11 million though its ratings have been steadily dropping and it has changed to using celebrities rather than real people. It’s still running, although Trump was fired by NBC in 2015 for saying rude things about Mexicans.

Now I don’t have a dog in this race. I’m British, I can’t vote in an American election. I only care whether it’s Hillary or Donald, because I don’t want to be nuked by anybody.

On the one side we have Hillary Clinton, whom nobody seems to like. True, she is a long-serving politician with a few skeletons in her closet and is accused, on small evidence, of corruption mainly because of her years in politics and being married to Bill.

The fact that she’s female in the world of American politics is a huge disadvantage. She has a much longer, more complicated and contradictory set of unspoken rules that she must obey than any man. If she raises her voice she’s told off for being shrill. If she doesn’t raise her voice, she’s told she’s weak. It’s odd but true that old-fashioned Europe is much more comfortable with female rulers. Just to remind you, in the UK we had Margaret Thatcher in 1979, or 37 years ago.

On the other side we have Donald Trump. I honestly can’t imagine a man less worthy to lead America. Based on what he says, repeatedly, he’s a bigot: he hates everyone except white men, or possibly, himself. His misogyny is legendary. He’s presently showing worrying symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  He has a lot of strikes against him on the financial side as well – including self-admitted non-payment of taxes which he regards as smart, routinely bankrupting small businesses by not paying their invoices (also smart) and being in the pocket of Russian oligarchs.

If Hillary or anyone female had that kind of backstory of sexual scandal and financial fecklessness, ridiculous ignorance and bullying of disabled veterans, she would be laughed out of the primaries. She would never run, let alone get a nomination, Republican or Democrat.

None of this seems to matter to Trump’s supporters.

I think there’s one explanation here for some of the male support for Trump. They may not be misogynists like him, but they still don’t like the idea of a woman as President because… well… it reminds them of Mom. We don’t have to get too Freudian here, but this is very clear from a lot of the unbelievable spite hurled at Hillary.

OK, so why does Donald have any support among women, which he clearly does. Why would any woman support a man who clearly hates women, puts them down, jeers at them for being fat and having periods.

Well, some of those women are diehard Republicans. They’re thinking: he may not agree with Republicanism, he may be a misogynist, but he’s our misogynist, so we’ll vote for him.

Now there is an unpleasant (and wrong) attitude in Europe, which looks down on Americans as crazy, ignorant, heavily-armed lunkheads and that’s why they want to vote for Donald. This is a stupid attitude. America still has the most vibrant economy in the world and you don’t get that if everybody’s dumb. You have the normal distribution curve but in general, Americans are smart because that economy is very harsh if you aren’t. Some of them pretend to be dumb, the better to sell things to the snotty Europeans. They’re also adventurous. Only eight years ago they voted in a black man to be President.

So why are any of them, male or female, preparing to elect as President, a man who is less intelligent than most of them?

I think it’s down to the “The Apprentice.” There’s an effect which makes the stars of soap operas and reality shows seem like one of us, friends or at least acquaintances. They come into our living rooms and bedrooms and talk to us, entertain us. We often talk back. Subliminally, we think of them as near neighbours, as people we know.

There’s a long-running radio soap in England called “The Archers” – an everyday tale of farming folk. I once heard that it was a very serious decision if one of the characters was going to have a baby – because the BBC knew that they would have to hire extra staff to cope with the flood of baby jackets, pompom hats and bootees that their fans would send to the fictional baby. The mother was real to the knitting ladies, she felt like a friend, so the baby was real too.

Even being quite a minor celebrity this way helps. Would we have had the Brexit vote in  the UK without cuddly old Boris Johnson, from “Have I Got News for You”, cheering it on? I suspect not.

Anyone we see so regularly, even someone as brazen and bigoted as Donald, unconsciously becomes part of Our Tribe. He gets to be Uncle Don, he’s funny, he shocks the liberals. He’s a character. He’s like the drunken, fat, unpleasant Sheriff that you can’t get rid of because, incredibly, everybody likes him.

They say things like “Uncle Don tells it like it is” and “Yeah, he’s a bit rough when he’s talking about Mexicans/Chinese/women (but who likes them, eh?)” They say, “Hey, Uncle Don, have a beer, big guy!”

That’s why Donald is going to be elected. Because the audience for “The Apprentice” have all accepted him into Their Tribe. Hillary has never been on a reality show, she isn’t considered part of anyone’s Tribe, except her own.

Uncle Don is shocking and funny and a lot of people feel they know him well. “Yeah, sure, Uncle Don, we’ll elect you. Have another beer.”


Enys 2 possible prologue

The young man had tearstains on his face. Not much surprise there, his pretty wife was dead, thought Mrs Trinity Creavy. He had wrapped her neatly in a nice new linen sheet to do duty as a shroud in spite of the law, and carried her in his arms to bury. Her face was blue and her tongue stuck out slightly. Dead, yes, definitely. But of what? She tried to focus but there was too much booze in the way.

“She was well yesterday,” mumbled the lad, “Perfectly well and she… then she said she had a headache and she felt tired.”

“Oh,” said Mrs Creavy, squinting through the booze. Would this be another fee for her? “Anything else?”

“She said her neck hurt and her armpits and her legs,” blubbered the lad, “But I didn’t think anything of it and then she… she went to bed and I went for a drink with my mates and then… And then when I got back I was boozed up so I had a drink with the Reverend Pendry and then I went to sleep and I thought she was sleeping and I woke up and went to work and came back and she was still in bed, still in the same position and so I knew… and she was. She was dead.”

“Ah,” said Mrs Creavy. That didn’t sound quite right but never mind. When you die your body fights. But the girl was definitely dead now.

The lad laid the body on top of another knight and put his face between his hands and strangled the sounds he was making. He had big raw hands that were hard inside.

“So you came to me,” said Mrs Creavy, nodding wisely, which was a mistake because the dark crypt started swimming. “Good. Cos we both know what, don’t we?”

“It can’t be,”said the lad who wasn’t wearing his waterman’s livery coat of scarlet wool but old clothes, an old woollen doublet going back to the boy King’s reign, shouldn’t wonder. “She was perfectly well.”

“Yes of course, that’s how it goes, innit?” said Mrs Creavy, sighing theatrically, “Fine one minute, headache the next, dead the next. Plague. God’s scourge.”

She had said the word. Now she would see if he took the bait. She was the Searcher of Bodies for St Brides and it was always a steady earner because no matter what, there was always a steady harvest of people taken by the plague. Usually they were children, of course, but every so often you got what you might call a bumper year.

The boy – well, he was probably in his twenties but everyone under the age of 40 looked like a child to Mrs Creavy – leaned against a knight of old, with one stone leg awkwardly folded under him, she always wondered why some of them were like that – and snortled through his fingers. They were in St Bride’s crypt, and apart from a couple of black candles, they were in shadows deeper than the ones outside, which were deep enough on a cloudy autumn night.

“But I can’t… I can’t be…”

“What? You can’t be shut up in your house?”

He ought not to be anywhere. He should have stayed in his house and sent for the St Bride’s plague-searcher, Elias Fold or herself, to come out and inspect her body and he knew it too, so that meant he was up to no good, for all his tears. But then lots of people didn’t do what they should do because they always hoped that it wasn’t plague. So they brought the body out to the churchyard, causing bad airs, and then they usually found that it was plague, but by that time somebody had had time to get out to the shops and buy food and ale so they wouldn’t starve to death. Of course, by that time the bad airs that reeked out of somebody with plague for six weeks before they got sick, by that time the bad airs had given everybody at the shop plague so locking them up for six weeks was a bit hopeless. But what could you do?

“I’ve only been back from the Tiger for a couple of weeks,” he burbled, “I can’t afford it.”

Who could? “What if you give plague to your passengers, eh?” Mrs Creavy didn’t really care: so what if they took plague from him, it was more business for her? She could never catch it again.

“It isn’t plague!”

“Oh. What is it?”

“It’s… consumption.”

Mrs Creavy gave him a fishy look. “She’s quite solid, ain’t she?” she said, “not hardly what I’d call a skellington, now.” They looked at the dead girl, her body curled in its shroud now the stiffness was gone, not too bad a smell considering, too dark to really see the face though.

The boy straightened up and looked around the crypt in quite a touchingly conspiratorial way. Mrs Creavy thought she had better hurry the business up or they might be there all night. It wasn’t as if it was hard to work out what he wanted.

“Now then,” she said sternly, “this here wife of yours died of plague. She did. Like many another, I might say, round here in the Liberties specially. Died of plague and you none the wiser.”

He was staring straight at her, eyes red. She folded her arms.

“What I should do is mark her dead of plague and bury her quick in the common grave what we dug last Saturday night and send Mr Fold round to paint a red cross on your door and lock you in. Yes?”

Nothing. The candle light carved planes of his strong-jawed young face so that he looked like a particularly noble saint from the old days when the churches had been full of them, St George maybe. Another tear rolled down and he wiped it off with the back of his hand. He was big too. Not that tall, but wide. Definitely a waterman and apprenticed from a boy too, by someone that could feed him well, the big thick-fingered hands told you that. Oh he must cause flutters if he took a party of women across to the bearbaiting, no doubt about that. But she hadn’t felt flutters for years now, and didn’t plan to.

“So,” she said, “which bit of what I should be doing, do ye want me to leave out? Eh?”

The young face hardened and he swallowed. “Bury her as a plague death but don’t call Mr Fold.”

“Hmm. Can I do that? I’m not sure?”

He fished in his crotch and pulled out a silver shilling. Now that was more like it. “Oh,” she said tonelessly, “I’m sure I can’t do such a thing.”

Another shilling joined the first. And then another. Well it wasn’t lack of money that was behind his not wanting to be locked up.”

He read her mind, looked at the stone floor with the Latin carvings in it. “I’m scared, Mrs Creavy,” he said awkwardly, “I’m scared to be in the house, even with Reverend Pendry there… In case she… she walks.”

Mrs Creavy nodded. Well they did, sometimes. Plague came on you so suddenly, often times you was puzzled to know you was dead and went awalking about trying to talk to people. Any kind of sudden death could do that, mind.

“You want me to bury her as a plague death in the common grave but not tell anyone.”

He nodded. A sixpence joined the three bright shillings winking at her from his horny palm.

Seconds later they had disappeared under her stays. A small bottle of aqua vitae came from the same place and she took a good nip, re-establishing the blurred edges of the world. She even offered him some because of the generous sixpence but he shook his head.

“You can’t come to the plague grave,”she warned him, “You got to go away. What’s her name?”

“Mary. Mary Smith.”

In a pig’s eye, she thought. She had seen him before at church, quite regular he was, but she had never been interested in his name. Truth to tell, she often didn’t come to church when the plague was hot, she was too busy. His name definitely was not Smith, though she could not think what  it was now.

There were plenty of Smiths around the Liberties, hardly any of them the true name. What did it matter, anyway?

She found the tally stick for women stuck in her belt and marked another death, for the priest to put in the register. There were six other tally sticks in her house for this week alone. Normally there were twenty deaths a week from plague in a crowded London parish like St Bride’s, mostly children. You could tell next year was going to be a good one – it was autumn and getting colder and the numbers like that? By next summer, if she lived that long, she would have enough money for a nice little house to be a pension for her. She had picked one out already. Of course, booze was expensive.

“Off you go, Mr Smith,” she said to him. He paused and then  he did a stupid thing, if it really was plague. He started for the stairs but then he stopped, turned, went and embraced the corpse of his wife, holding her head delicately as if she could still feel, and kissed the mouth. He whispered words that sounded like “sorry, sorry” and tucked something under the shroud. Then he finally stumbled up the stairs, blindly like someone with smallpox.

Mrs Creavy sighed, went over and had a fish for what he had left and pulled it out. At first she thought it was just a rough pebble but when she brought it closer to the candle, she laughed. Young men were so romantic and daft: it was a good thing she had put a stop to that.

“Daniel!” she shouted up the stair, “We’ve got another one.”

Daniel her son came shambling down the stairs. She smiled to see him – he always looked so puzzled, bless him, and he was usually puzzled. She knew she could never marry him off because what he was showed too clearly in the big broad brow and the unlined features. He wasn’t one of them chinese-looking ones, with slitty eyes and a big tongue, they were simple from the start. No Daniel was simple now but he hadn’t been once. In the old days he would have gone into a monastery as a lay brother but now what could you do with him if you didn’t have a lord?

Daniel came over and squinted at the woman, wrapped in her shroud. He stroked her hair.

“Pretty,” he said sadly. “She’s pretty.”

Mrs Creavy hadn’t seen it, what with the blue and the sticking out tongue, but maybe. Perhaps she was pretty. He stroked her face too.

Daniel often got upset, especially with the girls and she didn’t want any of that.

“Yes, well, you take her up to Old Simon and Sir John, and get on with the others too, you hear?”

“Yes mum.”

Gently as if he too thought she could still feel, Daniel took the wrapped body on his shoulder and went upstairs with her easily, followed by Mrs Creavy a little wobbly from the drink.

She could see a tall thin man with carrotty hair there, already waiting, holding a small corpse. Another one.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, sir,” she said, adding the sir in respect to his shiny boots. The man’s face was bent into shadow, crying probably. They almost always cried, specially for the younger ones. It was a boy, not very old, quite skinny, wrapped in a sheet not a shroud. Probably not plague with that one, probably a fever or the squits.

Mrs Creavy wondered when it was she had stopped feeling a lump in her throat, especially for the little ones, the children. Babies were pretty much slugs in linen, adults just part of the day’s work, but children? When did she stop feeling sad about children?

She picked up one of the candles by the crypt entrance to light her way, though Daniel didn’t need it. He never missed a step even in the upper churchyard. They were going to the lower churchyard, the new one for the overspill.

Through the gate, over to the left where there was a long deep pit ready dug, hard against the new wall. They covered it over in daytime of course, no point making it obvious. The smell of death was thick around them but she was used to it, though the plague did something evil to your innards that made you rot quicker. Sometimes before you were even dead.

Old Simon the gravedigger was there, along of Young Simon, his grandson, a thoughtful lad of twelve years. There was a neat row of bodies waiting, all simply wrapped in the statutory woollen shroud or sometimes just in bedsheets if the family couldn’t afford shroud money or had no time to buy one. And old Sir John Gosport was there, the Papist priest from Queen Mary’s reign, so the girl not called Mary Smith, she would at least get a bit of a send off. Sir John sometimes sang the Dies Irae for the dead, after they had been buried under a thin layer of earth ready for the next lot. Mrs Creavy couldn’t get used to the modern way of calling priests “father” – she was too set in her ways. You called them Sir John because they were important, got the spirit to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, they did, no matter what they said about it now. Got the spirit to turn plain well-water into Holy Water too, against ghosts and ghouls and demons. Old Nan, the cleaner, always said that St Bride’s Well was already holy but Mrs Creavy didn’t think so. It was just water, wasn’t it? When once Sir John had said his Latin over it, then the water was holy. The spirit stuck too. Just because Sir John was old and a little wandered in his wits, didn’t mean he had lost the spirit, no indeed.

Daniel put the body down on the end of the row as gently as if she was only sleeping and covered the face with the top folds of the shroud so it was decent. He sighed as he did it, said something peculiar. “Good bye, Betty,” he mumbled, “See you later.” Why did he do that?

But it was pointless to ask him: he couldn’t tell her why he did things.

“Right, mum?” he asked.

“You help Old Simon,” she told him, “Come along back later, I’ve got another customer.”

“Yes, mum.” He smiled at the old man and picked up the shovel. “See how quick, Old Simon!”

“Yes, you’re quick, Dan my boy. You’re quick.”

Sir John had already started chanting the Latin, holding a small book but not looking at it. It was Papist but who cared what kind of service plague victims got, the thing was to get them in the ground quickly and make sure they stayed there with some kind of prayers, that was all.

Oh oh, Daniel had stopped digging, turned to her with a frown on his face. She knew what was coming next and sighed.


“Yes, Daniel.”

“Plague won’t get me, will it?”

She sighed. He always asked at some point in the night and it was sad to tell him. Because he had been a bright little boy before, full of questions and funny little tales.

“No Dan, see, we’ve both had it. Remember? A long time ago when you was little?” He had been born when the new Queen came in and the plague had been hot a few years later, she had lost count of when exactly. “First your dad got it and he died. Then your big sister got it and she died. We were all locked up in the house, remember?”

He frowned uncertainly, he didn’t remember. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t.

“And then I got it and I got the buboes and they burst so I got better.” Unconsciously she put her hand to the side of her neck where the biggest one had been, nearly choked her, it did. There was a flat scar the size of a baby’s hand. “And you got it too and you got buboes and they burst and so you got better, Dan, isn’t that lucky?”

Now he put his hand to his neck and found the scars there. He smiled sunnily. “Oh yes. That’s when the Lady told me it would be all right.”

Mrs Creavy said nothing to that, she never did. If he believed he had seen Our Lady come to help him, that was fine by her. It was just a pity Our Lady hadn’t saved a bit more of his wits from the fever, that was all.

“Yes Dan, and you were. You’ve never been sick since.”

He smiled again. It broke her heart, that smile. To see such a gentle sweet smile on a grown man’s face.

“She was nice, the Lady,” he said. He bent to straighten the young woman where she waited in line for the last time. The shroud fell down from her face and he put it back respectfully.

“Look mum, see. She’s got them too.”

The movement of the shroud had shown the woman’s neck. Mrs Creavy paused and then brought a candle closer. It was true. The woman did have the shiny puckered scar that showed where a bubo had burst and healed. Well. So it could not be plague that killed her, notwithstanding she was dead. Mrs Creavy had never heard of anyone ever getting plague twice.

“Yes,” she said to Dan, “You’re a clever boy, now go help Old Simon with that fat one.”

Old Simon was having trouble with a man’s big body and so Dan went and picked up the legs so Old Simon didn’t have all the weight on the slings as he dropped him down into the pit.

Mrs Creavy looked again at the woman’s neck. There were more marks lower down. Deep dark bruises that went round her throat.

Oddly Mrs Creavy felt as if she had been struck in the chest. It wasn’t the first time, mind, by a long way, and she wished she had spotted it earlier because she could have got a lot more out of the young man for it. It was just that she had felt sorry for him.

Still. She might see him again. She covered the marks, covered the face, knotted the shroud so it wouldn’t come loose. She straightened and walked carefully because of the booze, up the churchyard and into the upper one, the older one, half full of little tumbledown shacks built of cast off pieces of wood. The tall thin man  had gone but left the small corpse lying on the ground wrapped in his sheet. Sometimes they did that too though not often. There was no label on him to tell who he was so she supposed he was just one of the urchins who died like flies when the weather got cold and the gentleman had brought him along as a kindness. Dan would get to him when he came back from helping with the plague pit.

She went into the most respectable little house, nearest the church, quite comfortable now. Searchers were supposed to live in the churchyard during bad plague times so they didn’t infect the living.The beggars were not supposed to be there, but there wasn’t a lot she could do about them and sometimes they got plague or something else and died and she could carefully burn out their shacks.

At least she didn’t pay rent, which was a real mercy in this part of London where a shared bed in prison cost a penny a night. She unlocked the door and went in. She had a chimney and she had a little bed for herself near it and a kind of strong ledge with blankets on it for Dan. Sometimes she had a pig or a goat that lived under Dan’s ledge but not now because the pig had met his Maker in October when the pig-killer had come round and was now in barrels and bacon hanging in the chimney and sausages in links draped from the rafters, some hog’s cheese in the larder and a good liversausage needing eating too. She was proud of her huswifery and proud of her house. The roof was good reed thatch from the reed beds round Paris Garden and the walls double wattle with good London clay mixed with bull’s blood smeared on the outside. It was warm and snug and better than many had and one day she would have an actual house, a proper one with a front door that went into a hall with a plate cupboard in it and a parlour and a kitchen at the back and a room each upstairs for her and Daniel.

She latched the door after her and waited to be sure no one had followed her. Then she put the black candle she still had in the holder on the little table and brought out the thing she had taken from the dead girl, whatever her name was.

It glistened white in the golden light from the candle and she had to hold it near and turn it round several times to be sure she was not mistaking herself. She wished she hadn’t drunk so much bad aqua vitae too. It was a shining thing, a beauty. A pearl it was, a pearl the size of her thumbnail and pure white. A pearl like the ones you saw dangling on the Queen who had a passion for them, a pearl you could make into something else like a boat or a part of a unicorn and wear as a strange cunning jewel. Not her, of course, some great Court lady or lord. It was a pearl worth a fortune, a pearl that could buy her house for her, and that romantical fool had been willing to bury it with his woman, where its beauty would slowly die and rot.

And how had  he got it, eh? That was the question. Where had he got it and why did he want to bury it with his wife? She thought hard about where to keep it and decided it must go in her moneybelt under her stays. You needed to keep pearls warm or they died too.

B*gg*r, we have to Brexit.

It’s very annoying when someone on Facebook makes a point from the other side of the Brexit/Remain argument which is not only valid but blows your argument out of the water. For the avoidance of doubt he was a Brexiteer but I’ll keep his name out of this until he gives me permission to use it.

I was banging on about parliamentary sovereignty, which I happen to believe in strongly. It was the only thing that tempted me to vote Brexit in the teeth of Farage, Boris and Gove (for people reading this in 2018, they were prominent politicians who lied their way through the campaign on the side of Brexit. Yes, I do mean Boris Johnson, the reality show star). Parliamentary sovereignty was being steadily watered down by the EU and the highest appeal court in the land was no longer in the land but in Luxemburg. I don’t like that.

My Facebook interlocutor (friend would be a bit strong) basically said, paraphrased: Cameron delegated parliamentary sovereignty to the referendum, making no mention of a two-thirds majority, which he should have, nor that it was advisory. In fact, he said it would be binding. He is the PM, or he was (2018ers, you can look him up). In the UK we live in what is really an elective dictatorship so he could do that, however stupid it was in retrospect. Obviously he thought that Remain would win.

This blew my argument about a general election and a vote in Parliament on grounds of Parliamentary sovereignty out of the water. Even the constitutional lawyers (Mishcon Reya) riding to the rescue of Remain are going to have trouble with that, especially if the Brexiteers get their own constitutional lawyers saddled up and galloping out.

I still think that a general election on the subject would be a very good idea but it’s no longer possible to say it’s essential.


So we are now going to have to crash out of the EU somehow, a vast change that will take years and billions of quid to achieve. The EU MEPs are saying “Goodbye, don’t let the door hit you in the ass,” only a bit politer. We’ve always been the awkward squad and as a result we probably had the best deal of anyone in the EU, but hey! What does it matter when you’ve now got that extra 350 million quid a week to spend on the NHS?

Oh we don’t. Oh dear.

There is also the nasty sight of English xenophobia crawling out from under its rock. I suspect that many ardent Brexiteers genuinely though that by voting “Leave” they were voting against horrid brown and yellow people and people who don’t speak English but insist on rudely speaking their nonsense garble where proper English people can hear them. They thought this because Farage told them so. In fact I suspect quite a few of them thought that voting “Leave!” was an imperative addressed to the horrid foreigners – as in, Leave, you bloody foreigners!

Of course, the idiots are now wondering why the bloody foreigners won’t Leave immediately so they torch Polish homes and shout “Go home!” on buses to third generation Englishmen and women who happen to be brown.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so disgusting and tragic.

How was Cameron so stupid? Well, he’s sloppy, of course, always has been. But it’s mainly that he and all the other Remainers, including closet Remainers like Boris, simply forget the people who live in the rest of England. If he thought of them at all, it was as a distant noisy crowd of people, all watching TOWIE and necking beer and doners (traditional English food, that). The oiks, as he probably called them at Oxford. Rather awful people, in fact. And the old, of course. A bit set in their ways. Not many of them. Surely the nice people outnumber the poor and the old? Don’t they?

No, you twat, they don’t. Especially in a neoliberal extreme capitalist system, the Poor VASTLY outnumber the Nice. A lot of them are often ex-Nice themselves and extremely angry about it. They were the cohort who voted Leave as a way to kick you in the balls, by the way.

And so Cameron ran his referendum, no two-thirds majority, binding, and dropped us deep in the shit becase he’s sloppy and has lived in the Rich Bubble all his life. I’m sure he’ll be suffering terribly in his Dordogne/Provencal/Tuscan villa (can’t be bothered to look it up, there’s sloppy for you).

You may have noticed that my contempt for the man is epic, even exceeding my contempt for Tony Blair. He had a responsible position as Prime Minister and he had a duty of care to all the people of Britain, not just the Nice. He had a duty of care to the Poor as well, the people who are too busy coping with being poor to check out the clever arguments, weren’t sure what the EU is (but googled it afterwards), trusted Farage because he likes a pint, trusted Boris because he’s funny.

But the Brexiteers won and now we’re stuck with it. Well done, Cameron. Great job.

Hoo. Fracking. Ray.

In the Referendum, please don’t be tempted to kick Cameron in the balls.

The referendum is tomorrow and the country seems to be evenly divided. I’ve read a lot of stuff for In and a lot of stuff for Out and to be honest, I’m still not sure. My postal vote has already gone in (hope it gets there in time) and I voted Remain.

Why? I wasn’t very impressed with the Out crew, despite my love for Boris. The great and good seem to be solidly for Remain – which immediately made me want to vote Out. The minute I thought I’d vote Out, Farrage would come up with something so outrageously racist that I’d go back to Remain.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

So now we need the Wisdom of Crowds. That’s the strange fact that a group of people will often come up with a better answer to a problem than any lone genius. The typical example of this is at those Summer Fayre competitions to guess the weight of the piglet in ounces/guess the number of marbles in the jar. It’s a fact that if you go late, add up all the numbers suggested so far, divide it by the number of people who tried, you will probably come up with the right answer. It’s strange, it’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

It’s why democracy works.

It’s why every vote is important, no matter which way you vote. The more votes there are, the closer to the right answer the result will be. I don’t mean “right answer” as in “the one I agree with.” I mean “right answer” in the sense of what is best for the country – it could be In, it could be Out, I’m honestly not sure.

So first, make sure you vote.

Secondly, try to resist the temptation to give David Cameron a good kick in the balls – which would be an Out vote. I know, I know, you see his round fatuous face, hear his oily “sincere” voice and toffy tones and you instantly want to machine gun him. Seriously, don’t give in to this.

The Wisdom of Crowds only works if everyone is honestly trying to get the right answer – not being distracted by the alluring prospect of watching Cameron spitting balls and shitting teeth.

So go to it, British Crowd. Let’s see what you got!

What is Quality Assurance in computer games?

Quality Assurance in computer games? You what? My adorable daughter, who only five minutes ago was insisting that pink was the only colour she was willing to wear, that Hero Quest 2 was the best computer game ever (though her hands were too little to kill orcs) and that we had to have a dog, has now suddenly become a very cool young woman who no longer wears pink, plays roller derby (London Rockin’ Rollers, since you ask) and works in the computer games industry. She still wants a dog, but is being mature about it because she doesn’t really have the time or space for one.

People often ask me what she does. I tell them QA – quality assurance. They say (usually, because they too are digital immigrants) what’s that? I say… er… Sometimes I try to blind them with bs, but that doesn’t usually work.

This, in her own words, is what she does.


Alex Perry:

“So recently a bunch of people have asked me how to get into QA because it sounds like “such a laugh”. While I love my job and would absolutely encourage people (especially ladies, yo! More ladies in games plz) to get into testing as a career, I would also like to explain to those outside of game development why we can be slightly less than responsive when someone says “wow! Playing playstation all day must be the cushiest job ever!”

Sometimes it’s straightforward and you find a bug that’s easy to explain & pinpoint. Or a designer comes and asks you to check if their latest update is working as intended. Or you suggest something could be done better because you play it the most so you know it’s kinda awkward. Or you run through your standard list of checks and something has clearly broken since yesterday so you track down exactly when it broke.

But sometimes…

You know when someone is compulsively superstitious? Or a conspiracy theorist who sees connections EVERYWHERE and it was THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT from that time someone SNEEZED in NEPAL and now 9/11 was an inside job because LIZARD PEOPLE?

Imagine being that person, except *a lot of the time you’re right*.

What I’m trying to say, prospective future testers, is that when a QA job spec says “excellent attention to detail” or “good memory” that is because sometimes you will have to write bug reports that are the game-dev equivalent of “to see this utter fuckery you must first spin around 6x anticlockwise, recite the declaration of independence, go make a cup of tea and punch yourself in the face. It will then occur about 40% of the time. And for reference it seems a lot like a similar wackiness that happened about 2 months ago to someone else on the QA team which is potentially completely unconnected but READ BETWEEN THE LINES, MAN. Also plz don’t ignore because when it *does* happen it literally rips apart the fabric of reality kthxbi.”

This is why we are a bit on edge a lot of the time.”

I also laughed out loud with that final paragraph. God, she’s talented.



The Hungarian Language Test

OK, so I’m trying to learn Hungarian at the moment, and may I say, it’s bloody hard. There are various reasons for this and one of them is that Magyar is very definitely not in the huge Indo-European language family. Pretty much all the other languages of Europe are in that family, with the exception of Basque and Finnish – and Hungarian. Its family is Finno-Ugric which means that there are some tribes around Lake Uigher in Siberia and the Finns who speak something similar, though not very.

The Hungarians are quite proud of this, of course, and have an unfortunate tendency to laugh if you tell them you’re trying to learn it. They then shake their heads and say “Magyarúl nagyon nehéz” which means that Hungarian is very heavy, meaning difficult. Thank you, I know.

But this uniqueness means that Hungarian is perfect for a little test I am going to recommend to all language theorists.

If you’re talking about the original mother tongue, the ancestor to all living and dead human languages – yes, New Scientist 6 February2016 “The Eloquent Ape”, I’m looking at you – then you need a quick and easy test to make sure you’re not talking nonsense. Hungarian is a quick and easy test.

So, let’s say you’re searching for common sounds and similar-sounding words in languages all over the world. You find common sounds in all the languages you know like German and French and maybe even Sanskrit, and there it is. You proudly announce that this particular sound or word is universal, across all human languages and therefore part of the original ur-language.

You’re just being provincial. You haven’t ventured out of the comfortable branches of the Indo-European language group. That means you’re leaving out all sorts of languages like Mandarin or Qechua. But it’s hard to learn non-Indo-European languages and you need that test for non-Indo-European languages so you don’t waste time. Ta da! Hungarian is perfect. It’s indisputably spoken by humans and most of its words are very different. If you find your favourite candidate in Hungarian – well, maybe you’ve really found a proto-word. If you don’t, maybe you haven’t. Plus there are Hungarians everywhere and the educated ones seem to speak three or four languages. Every language lab needs at least one Hungarian, if only so there’ll be someone there who’s rock-solid on transitive and intransitive verbs (don’t ask).

There’s this researcher called Meritt Ruhlen at Stanford University, California, who contends that sounds like tik, tok, dik and tak mean “toe” in lots of languages and so must be from the ur-language.

Hungarian? The word for finger is “ujj” (ooee) and toes are “labujj” or leg-fingers. Ujj. Not very like toe, is it? You could argue even the concept of toe is sort of weak.

Numbers? Sure, in most Indo-European languages they all sound a bit similar up to ten. In Hungarian they go “egy, kettő, harom, négy, öt, hat, hét, nyolc, kilenc, tíz”. OK, so ten is similar. Oh and in Japan they apparently have different counting systems for people, long thin things and round things. So which one do you choose?

Ruhlen says social communication words like “who, what and where” and “he, she, it” are thought to be ur-words too.

Guess what you use for “he, she or it” in Hungarian? “Ő” That’s right. Just the one. “Ő” means “he,” “she” and “it”.

And that old favourite, Mama? Contentious. In Hungarian the word for mother is “anyu” – no “m”.

So Hungarian is a very special language, simple in some ways, fiendishly difficult in others. It’s quite young, having arrived in Europe with the fierce Magyar raiders only in the 9th century AD. Unlike Indo-European which reaches back to Persian, Hittite and Saskrit. Hungarian has an ancestry that’s lost in the roiling chaos of the nomad tribes on the eastern steppes. Also it got tidied up in the 19th century.

So if you’re looking for putative ur-words in Hungarian, and they’re totally different, maybe they’re not ur-words. Maybe you’re wasting your time looking for an ur-language before the Tower of Babel?

Personally I don’t think there was any such thing. Languages spoken by so-called primitive tribesmen aren’t simple, they’re complicated, even if they lack numbers after 5 or the idea of left and right. Simple is what you get when two languages like Anglo-Saxon and Old French crash into each other on an off-shore island and rub all the case-endings off (a sort of linguistic mating called a Creole which is what English is).

I think that the tribes that walked out of Africa all started with complicated languages of their own that had been evolving and developing since before we were human. The amazing social technology of language has continued to evolve and encourage sex between its enormous number of varieties right down to the present.

And when we get into space, languages will continue to flower and seed and change. Possibly something like a lingua franca will evolve from English or Spanish or Chinese but I bet that every habitat, every country on every planet will have its own complicated and irregular language. It’s a wonderful thought.

Climate Change March, Budapest, 29 November 2015

Well I went on the Climate Change March in Budapest.

I liked:

The friendly informal atmosphere, with everyone walking along and nobody trying to get in front of anyone else. There were leaders, mostly young students and the traditional mysterious Frenchman (Sartre? Camus?) but they weren’t too full of themselves. They pushed the sound system along on a bike and tried valiantly to get some chants started (but see below).

The organisation. At first I was worried we might be outnumbered by the cops, but in the end there was quite a respectable number of us, mostly youngsters and expats, with a few old hippies and punks (like me). I get a real thrill when they hold up the traffic for us as we walk past. Sorry, drivers, you must hate us… But it’s great!

I loved the samba drums – we could have done with more of them but the ones we had were great. I must get into samba drumming, it’s wonderful.

A beautiful final image – we were asked to pick up and carry autumn leaves and then at the end of the march, drop them in the Danube to symbolise the letters they’ve sent to the government (leaf and letter are the same word in Hungarian). Watching them fluttering down to land on the surface of the river was strangely satisfying, like playing Poohsticks.

I didn’t like:

The arguments I had with friends before the march – all saying, oh it’s not worth it, we’re doomed but not till I’m dead, what’s the point, one person can’t do anything, I’m sick of recycling, but I like eating meat… etc etc. I will get into the Competitive Austerity problem another time, but this really annoys me. The only thing that excuses you from a climate change march is having kids – and there were families with kids there. It’s important. Until we have sorted out the climate change problem, nothing else matters because climate change will KILL US ALL if we carry on ignoring it.

The speeches. Part of the problem was that they were mainly in Hungarian, valiantly translated into English as they went along. Now I’ve been here for two years, nearly, and even allowing 6 months off for having a stroke, I still don’t understand Hungarian very well. I can cope with a normal conversation, usually, but sooner or later the sentences will lengthen, the words will acquire a forest of endings and I will completely lose track. This despite a lot of work, may I say, so it depresses me. So bear that in mind when I say that I found the speeches too long and too complex, even when translated into English. Even worse were the points from an interminable pompous letter they had sent to the government. Honestly, I even felt sorry for Viktor Orban, though I’m sure he didn’t read it.

You need three points only, not ten. You need short punchy sentences. Like this. You need a poet’s ear for what people will actually hear.

When you’re shouting slogans, they need to be short and rhythmical, not long and well… lame. That’s why none of them really got going. Find a poet. There are lots of poets in Hungary, or there were. Chuck a rock into a kavezo and you’ll probably hit two. Even I can tell Hungarian poetry is wonderful, so I know you can do better.

See you next year!

The Mum, the Phone and the Baby

She was a nice-looking woman, with a loving smile for her toddler as they sat down in Miskolc station waiting room. He was clutching some pastry and sat next to her philosophically munching on it, with his little legs kicking high above the floor.

And then she took out her phone. Her toddler looked at it and his face sort of set. It was a patient weary look, but also somehow very lonely. He sat beside her, eating his pastry and dropping crumbs while she went on Facebook, texted her friends and played one of those addictive phone games, maybe Farm Story 2 which a friend of mine loves.

The minutes passed and all the mum’s focus was on the phone. She noticed when the toddler started scattering lumps of pastry everywhere, told him off gently, mopped up the worst of the crumbs and went to the bin with the toddler to throw out the remains.

Then she went back to the bench and focussed on her phone again. The toddler looked at her, looked at me. I smiled at him but he didn’t smile back, probably because I was a stranger. He looked at his mum again. Then he struggled his little fat body onto the bench face down, and started rocking to and fro on his tummy, rubbing himself on the bench.

We were up to 20 minutes now and his mum was still playing her game, hadn’t said a word to him. My heart bled for the little boy. She didn’t notice her baby comforting himself in the best way he could.

He stopped, tried to go to sleep but the bench was too hard. I really wanted to shout at the woman, tell her to pay attention to her baby, not her bloody phone, but I didn’t know how to express it in Hungarian pungently enough. Also in a long and loud career of tactlessness, I have eventually learned that people build walls of defense and pay no attention to what you say.

At last, after half an hour, the mum noticed the time and at last put her phone away. She put his little coat on and I used my useful position as a “néni” in Hungary – it translates as Auntie but basically means any woman over forty can talk to a mum about her baby.

I smiled and asked how old he was. “Two years old,” she said. “He’s very well-behaved.” I said and she smiled and picked up the toddler, gave him a kiss and rushed off to her train with him in her arms.

She was not a bad mum, in fact, I think that without her phone she would have been doing what I did when my kids were that age, talking to him, singing, playing games, going to look at engines – anything to keep the little bugger quiet, in fact. And considering how easily I get addicted to Facebook and games, I wouldn’t claim I would be any better than her now.

But oh it made me sad to see the little boy comforting himself all alone, next to his mum on the bench in Miskolc railway station waiting room.

Walking to the Other Travelodge

We knew we were taking a hideous risk when we went to D 23 – the Disney fan convention in the Anaheim Convention centre. The risk was not hiring a car. My logic was that Bill, my son, and I were only going to be there for three days, we were only going to the Anaheim convention centre and we had no intention of going anywhere else.
So some time in April, I got a friend to book a room at the Travelodge which was nearest the convention centre, a mere ten minutes walk away. It was confirmed etc yadda yadda.
We arrived off the plane, went to the convention centre to get our passes and then toddled along with our trundle suitcases to the Travelodge 10 minutes walk away. It wasn’t what I’d call a pleasant walk, since it was along Harbor Boulevard which is enormous and full of ferocious cars, but hey, it was only ten minutes.
I can tell you I felt pretty smug as we rolled into reception to get booked in.
They didn’t have our reservations and they were fully booked. Wearily, the plump girl at the desk rang the Other Travelodge at Ball Road, which I had never heard of. Oh, fancy that. The Other Travelodge had our reservations, in the name of Sinney, but never mind.I had specified one Travelodge, I got a different one.
Oh it’s only half an hour’s walk away,said the weary plump girl. So we walked a bit and then took a taxi.
The taxi went north on Harbor Boulevard, left on Ball Road, crossed a gigantic interstate by motorway bridge twice, and there was the Other Travelodge, tucked in next to a gas station and two random railway cars which looked like they had been some kind of dwelling but were now abandoned.
Now the Other Travelodge was perfectly adequate. The room was like a million other Travelodge rooms, the beds were clean, there was even a pool. But it was a long weary schlep from there to the D23 Convention centre. It was also a long ugly schlep, huge ugly roads stinking of petrol with inconvenient crossings. The crossings were a whole other kind of ugly. They basically seem to be designed to make mere pedestrians feel like insects as they scurry across the road under the psychological lash of the crossing lights. They play like this: two crossing signals. One a white light of a person, walking. The other a handshape in red. The white person lasts 4 seconds. The red hand gives you 30 seconds of countdown before the traffic will be permitted to crush you again. You can tell they want to, as well,as they vroom and honk you.
You really know you’re at the bottom of the social pile as a shameful pedestrian. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you even have a car? Are you poor? Don’t you even have a motorbike? Just two feet? What are you, Mexican or something?
Nearly three miles of gigantic roads, impatient cars, macho trucks and constantly scuttling across inconveniently placed crossing places every morning for three days is enough to understand why Americans would rather give up their house than their car and why so many of them are consequently living in them. Also why they’re so fat, so many of them wearily hauling vast amounts of blubber around with them. They don’t walk because it’s such a nasty and dangerous thing to do. They drive everywhere, including the gym, because there’s no pavement between them and it and they’d die.
Plenty of people have remarked on this. We got our Other Travelodge room probably because of bait and switch – they bait with a cheaper room (not cheap, trust me, not in Anaheim in the summer) and a convenient walk to the convention centre or Disneyland and then switch for a different room much further away on the assumption you’ll have a car and won’t care. They bet you’ll moan and complain but you’ll take it because there isn’t anywhere else – and you do.
Other Travelodge wasn’t all bad. At least we were getting some healthful(ish) exercise walking three miles every morning and night, unlike the human hippos around us.
And we were really close to the Disneyland firework display so we could enjoy it every night at a quarter to ten.