Toilets, Trousers and the Tweets that Twist the Truth:

A funny thing happened on my way to the toilet yesterday. Don’t worry I won’t go into too much detail as to my toiletry experience, it was more of what happened ‘en route’. To set the scene I had recently replied to yet another reckless tweet from a newspaper journalist called Julia Hartley-Brewer. She had reminded her followers that anyone who was happy with the recent news that the PM Boris Johnson was relaxing lockdown 2 restrictive measures should be aware that they were suffering from a version of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

The term Stockholm Syndrome originated after a bungled bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 resulting in six hostages being held in the bank vault for six days. Over that time an incongruous bond formed between captor and captive.  

The captives starting to believe in their captors cause after being almost brainwashed by them whilst in their captivity.

The term became even more celebrated when eighteen months later, for those of you who can remember, Patty Hearst the erstwhile heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune was kidnapped and held to ransom by a revolutionary group calling themselves ‘The Symbionese Liberation Army’. Patty was missing for months before being ‘captured’, as it were, on CCTV pointing a machine gun at a distressed bank teller standing shoulder to shoulder with her newfound comrades carrying out a bank robbery in San Francisco ‘Tania’ as she was now demanding to be called had aligned with her captors having joined them as a fully paid up member of the SLA. The captive became the captor.

Thus the point that Ms Hartley-Brewer was making was that we had all been conned into thinking that Covid-19 was a deadly disease which needed containing to protect those vulnerable in society – and therefore were going to be happy restrictions were being lifted as this meant we had done well to bring down the fictitious infection rate. She was implying that we were basically the UK replicants of Patty Hearst.

I replied to the tweet by saying that maybe her words were a little disrespectful and pathetic to the thousands that had already died and were going to die. However she didn’t like her words being challenged and neither did her followers; and it was the plethora of replies I received telling me that Covid -19 in effect didn’t exist that stopped me on my way to my daily ablutions!!

As a small interjection I might just add that it was not the first time I had a revelatory experience on my way to or actually on the toilet.

I always thought it as no coincidence, if you had ever met my Dad, that I received the news that he had suddenly died whilst I was on the toilet contemplating life and its mysteries. I remember it as if it was yesterday as I ‘quick stepped’ out of the loo with trousers and undergarments down by my ankles to answer the incessant repeated rings on my home telephone. As I say if you had known my dad, then you know he would have would have found the surreal humour in me scrambling to pull up my ‘kecks’ (as they say up north) very apparent before I started screaming No, No , No…as I slowly began to grasp the disaster that had just occurred.

With tears streaming down my face I railed angrily at the absurdity of my situation and the helplessness of whatever I hadn’t done, had done or was going to do still wouldn’t bring him back. Trying to pull on my trousers to get out of my flat and drive as fast as I could to be with my Mum only increased my anger. Now I see it for what it was… and for me it was a reminder that life is for living and death will not cut you any slack whenever it arrives. Fate was not going to wait for me to be back on the couch watching Countdown before the ringing started to penetrate my brain. Tragic? Yes.  An awful day? Without doubt. Python-esque? Most definitely. Strangely enough, I look back now with great fondness and smile at the sheer ridiculousness of it all; comforted by the knowledge it’s the way John (my Dad) would have wanted me to remember it.

The same can be said in 2005 when after a morning of about sixteen scenes while working on the Channel 5 soap opera ‘Family Affairs’ I arrived back to our house in the need of a ‘necessity’ that a drive across London can exacerbate.

My wife Wendy had been house-sitting her parents’ home in Stoke -on-Trent and would be coming back to London with our boys and my Mum who was keeping her company in a few days. She had been complaining of a terrible headache which was not unusual as any long term suffer of migraines will confirm. Upon my arrival home and with great haste I removed my coat and sweat shirt, dropped my trousers and made for the latrine. Having graduated into the 21ST Century by now and, as I am sure many of us do, my mobile phone came with me into the hallowed ground of the ‘Water Closet!’. I had only just opened up the link to the racing results from Cheltenham when the damn thing started to ring. Caught between answering ‘Wendy Mob’ and finding out who won the 2.35pm novices handicap my good conscience got the best of me and I answered.

I was surprised at the very least to hear my Mum’s dulcet tones but immediately realised that something was wrong…very wrong. The headache had turned out to not be a migraine and Wendy had been rushed to hospital with Meningitis. .She was gravely ill, and they were desperately trying to ascertain whether it was viral or bacterial meningitis. I needed to be with her and my two boys…like yesterday!

Once again, I was confronted with trying to move at speed whilst pulling up my trousers. Looking back, I guess I understood what it must be like to be caught ‘in flagrante delicto’ in a bedroom when the object of your desire’s spouse returns unexpected. It was certainly good grounding for being in a Ray Cooney farce if ever I should be offered a part.

I drove like a maniac and arrived at the hospital in about 3 hours. I ran down the corridor to see my eldest son Jack who was five at the time sitting outside of the isolation ward where his Mum had been put due to her infectiousness. In a scene Richard Curtis would have been proud of we ran into each other’s arms and as I picked hm up I held on tight. Wendy was quarantined for three weeks whilst they confirmed it was virial meningitis and only made a full recovery, if you ever do fully recover from such an attack on the system, some eighteen months later. Again, we look back with laughter at the sheer madness of it all. For many a year afterwards,  I had as much difficulty passing a ‘stool’ when any of my family were away as I did passing a pub without going in!!

I guess the most positive thing to come out of my toilet exploits was the fact that sometimes as a young man and with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I would use the pseudonym ‘Armitage Shanks’ on a night out to add a little humour into my usually disastrous ‘pulling’ technique. On such nights, amazingly, I always seemed to enjoy considerable success with the opposite sex. I always put it down to the fact that they knew the name but couldn’t place where from and it always sounded a little regal. I was only ever on a short time line though as the game was usually up as soon as they were themselves sat on the toilet and glancing down at the clear white porcelain below and saw the name of ‘Armitage Shanks – Toilets makers to the Queen’ starring back at them.

But I digress. Enough of this toilet humour and back to the main thrust of this week’s Blog!

So as the night rolled on I was confronted by more and more ‘Twit-erati’ convinced that Covid-19 didn’t exist and that became a gateway into their many other conspiracy notions.

I knew that there were a lot of Americans who had lost reasoning and rational thought, but I had no idea it had infiltrated as far as it has here in the UK as well. Why has this happened? How did this concept that everything is a conspiracy initiated by dark forces and probably the Dark Lord…’He whose name must not be spoken’ when they don’t even know who ‘HE’ is!

Being a bit of a history junkie, I re-read an essay written in 1964 by Richard Hofstadter called ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’.

In it, he addresses the ever increasing thinking that in some form or other a sense of ‘conspiracy to govern’ is establishing itself in the psyche of the American people. He cites examples over the years dating back to 1855 and up to McCarthyism of the 1950’s. I don’t think even he would believe how this concept has grown not only in the US but worldwide as well.

Across the Atlantic and here beliefs that Covid-19 doesn’t exist, elections are rigged, facts are just lies, predictions cannot be based on anything but falsehoods and data is corrupted to keep us, the people, in the dark are increasing. It’s the most insidious of cons but people are buying into it blindly it seems.

They refused to believe it is not the NHS who are lying but those who deny Covid-19. It is not the scientists who are lying about climate change but those who are denying it. And denying it for their own selfish monetary reasons. Those like Trump. Rees-Mogg, Farage, Bannon, QAnon, etc etc.

Why are we in such a mess? There must be another explanation, mustn’t there ? It isn’t just down to us, is it?. It can’t be can it? 

And as we realise if it isn’t to be a God providing us with the excuse on which to hang our own behaviour, we are open to a replacement. There must be another power at work we cannot see, control or influence… and that means it’s a conspiracy from an all-powerful yet unseen force!

How did we as a species allow ourselves to be so vulnerable and gullible to such paranoia with regards to an unseen but all controlling power? As we evolve and science slowly but inexorably replaces belief and doctrine, surely the idea that a higher power than us is controlling all that we do must finally drift into the rarefied air that is filled with the ghosts –  metaphorically of course –  of Zeus, Thor and other past deities long since dismissed as mythical and not real.

But wait, we have to believe in some sort of higher power, don’t we? Otherwise how can we explain why we are here? The existential debate ‘time immemorial’

Well maybe I have answered my own question. The late great Christopher Hitchens would always reply when confronted with the premise that more secular governing entities have caused far greater death and destruction than any religious ruling class – their example being that “yes the Inquisition was bad but not as bad as atheist led Nazi Germany” – by saying that the ability to govern with a cultish totalitarianism is always a possibility in countries that have a history of fully embracing the notion of a belief in an all-powerful higher force.

Hitchens would point out that Hitler used the theist mentality already in existence in Germany to simply transfer their belief system onto a another all controlling power…himself. As skewed as this is,  it worked. As it did in Russia and China as well. The dictators manipulated a conviction and commitment by the people to believe in something and turned it to their advantage. It can also be seen in certain middle Eastern countries as well where there is one leader who is promoted to almost God like status to control the will of the people encouraging them to sometimes even go against the teachings of their doctrinal mandate.

And so it seems that the super spreaders of conspiracy theories seen the benefits of the past to instil their own particular brand of cultism to an ever increasing and willing audience. In a strange dichotomy, as we become more secular, we have still not yet thrown off the shackles of fiction against fact, belief against rationale and creation against evolution.

I, as always, am ever hopeful that the next generation and the ones that follow will use education and a fact based desire to learn to combat the ever increasing conspiracy theorists and lead the way back to free thought and a factual intellectual growth. It is imperative they do. The existence of human beings on the planet is at stake and to deny essential truths any longer will be to make our survival even harder. Covid -19 exists, climate change exists, poverty in the 21st Century exists and it will do until we the people armed with facts, science and an inherent responsibility for our own actions eradicate it…Enough Said!!

Gary Webster

27th November 2020

Why Rashford Must Soldier On

Enough Said – Letter from London:

In national Lockdown 2 we have recently been reminded of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect the alter of freedom and defend humanity against such forces that sought to remove compassion, understanding, empathy, diversity and love from our very souls.

At this time when the world is not only battling against an insidious virus that does not discriminate against its hosts, we are also in a fight, once again, to protect the very foundation of our humanity. I believe the two are linked; as they were when we as a free people last faced this existential but very real threat.

To understand how we have arrived at this most crucial of stages in our evolution we have to look to our recent history when, ten years ago, the electorate had a decision to make. The choice was clear…. Option one was to make drastic cuts in all essential services as an extreme measure to combat the awful mess the downfall of the banks had left us in. And option two was to borrow against the ever-increasing deficit and try to kick start the economy that way. Option two allowed us to also exponentially finance the need of our public services such as the NHS, educational system, social services, police so that meant the poorest in our society wouldn’t get left behind.

The only way to have executed this was to increase borrowing and make sure that the economy took an upturn sooner rather than later. The rise in GDP would then be able to repay the debt incurred as well as our public services. The caveat on the public’s behalf might be to suffer an incremental tax rise for those who could afford it… Aye and there’s the rub!

During the Thatcher years a culture had emerged of isolationism, selfishness and a lack of empathy; traits that had always been inherent in the upper classes but had now infiltrated the middle class by coupling it with a sense of aspirational desire. If you wanted success you had to be tough. “Greed is good”.  The ideology was bought into “hook, line and Mr Sinker,” certainly by the middle classes and more often than not it seduced the working classes too.

This diminishing face of care, understanding, love and empathy with one’s fellow citizen was, I believe, the beginning of the end; leading to where we find ourselves now. Year by year, Government by Government, both Labour and Tory oversaw this betrayal of the sacrifice the greatest nation fought and died for. They allowed the doctrine of ‘self’ to slowly seep in and infect our DNA…ironically like a newfound virus.

And so the die was cast. The working class inherently believe the upper classes must be right and doff their cap to them where financials are concerned; and thus the middle class (who already knew that their monthly income would be enough to survive any bite that was coming) were happy to again bow to the focus of their ambition –  to move up the class ladder. This skewed combination of therapeutics meant that we were powerless to fight back against the disease of the selfish gene and a vote for ‘option one’ and austerity was secured.  

The slow decline in our belief in equality, inclusion and leadership on a world stage culminated in the Brexit vote of 2016. I often marvelled at the various excuses as to the reasons why so many of the generation who lived through the war and a fair few of the subsequent generations voted to leave the EU and set ourselves adrift on a Titanic-esque lifebelt in the quagmire that is the International Trade Deal! It certainly wasn’t the choice of the younger generation.

“We don’t want to be ruled by Brussels and all their laws” – Of course when asked to name even just three laws that affected them directly, they couldn’t name one.

“We want to take back power to make our own decisions” – We always could and if we had embraced Europe from the out-set we could have led Europe to agree with and enhance our own decisions too.

And maybe the biggest delusion of all, “There’s too many foreigners coming over here taking our jobs” – Anyone under the age of sixty knew what they were saying and it wasn’t that there were ‘too many foreigners’ per se… it was the wrong kind of foreigner! I am sure that if we have had an influx of migration from the Scandinavian region, white, Christian and ‘English speaking’ they wouldn’t have had a problem. But they weren’t and they did.

And so the very core of what our amazing generation did in 1939-1945, which was to stop a maniacal tyrant whose totalitarianism was built on the belief that not all peoples were equal, that isolationism and not integration was a necessity and that self and self alone was the mandate for generations to come, was turned on its face.

The slow decline was further enforced in 2019 when Boris Johnson was voted in by even the staunchest of Labour voters just to ‘get Brexit done’, such was the desire to stop the alleged ‘en masse’  foreign migration to our country. But they didn’t take the time to realise that to vote the Johnson Govt in also meant that it was a green light to continue the policies that had decimated our country’s poor and struggling over the last ten years. The selfish gene was now dominant.

When would they realise that due to the extreme cuts of the last ten years the NHS was on its knees? That the public education system was at bursting point and social services had almost ceased to exist, leaving more of our fellow citizens homeless and socially and financially segregated? When would they open their eyes and face up to the fact that they had allowed foodbanks to even exist in 21st Century Britain, let alone be on the rise month by month? When was it made acceptable to look the other way from the stark reality that poverty was also increasing and mental illness was at epidemic levels, highlighting the fact that suicide for young males was now statistically their demographic’s biggest killer… I could go on.

I truly believe the final realisation for the many that have idly gone along with the idea that austerity was the way forward and Brexit was the solution to their desire to relive a past, that in reality there never was, can be found in the last six months, i.e. the onset of this vicious virus that is now killing up to 500 people a day and has already claimed over 50,000 lives may just have highlighted the true cost of what a decade of austerity actually means….

….An NHS system that was ill prepared. A social services system that was without funds and therefore became cruel and harsh to appease the Govt’s spending restrictions. A mental illness catastrophe that has gone unchecked, unsupported, and uncared for. Poverty on a scale that hasn’t been seen since Dickins and a homeless situation that goes far deeper that just ignoring the increasing rise of those sleeping on our streets. Those sleeping on our and THEIR streets are only the tip of the iceberg. Homelessness is also sleeping in B&B’s, motels, family’s houses, squats, hostels etc etc.  The impact from any part of the spectrum, as I can bear witness to, is massive both financially and more importantly, emotionally. 

But like every country in its darkest hour there is always optimism.

When asked how we managed to get through the many ups and downs my family and I have suffered over the last decade I had always said that I am ‘a Prisoner of Optimism’ – a quote from the iconic Bishop Desmond Tutu who used that phrase to describe himself during his lowest days when combating the man-made disease that was Apartheid. I have since, following my experiences over the last few years, re-adjusted my manta as to the asking of whether I am an optimist or pessimist and now declare myself to be ‘an Optimist… that worries a lot’! But optimistic I have been and always will be that things will change for the better. Even when things are at their lowest, humanity throws us hope in the shape of people who can no longer stay silent and have the courage to speak out.

As Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision.”

This hope, this belief in “doing the right thing” and caring for our fellow citizens and not just ignoring and closing our doors to them was epitomised by the words and actions of Marcus Rashford MBE.

A fantastic footballer and an incredible citizen and spokesperson for what had been a silent majority, Rashford embodied the courage that is so needed to bring a ray of optimistic light to a very pessimistic world. Marcus managed to convey – via his courageous rhetoric and practical actions -what the rest of the country were thinking but hadn’t the guts to maybe vocalise. In doing so he also exposed the leadership of this country for what they really are in terms of the empathy, care and love for those less well off.

Marcus Rashford will feature heavily when historians write their well-articulated summary of the events in the early 21st Century, that’s for sure. The longevity of his influence as to the direction of this country is still a story to be told and maybe this is just the beginning of his journey to evoke real change. My optimistic side says I very much hope so.

For me, his courage to also take on the Govt’s distancing with regards to the necessity of providing free meals to those children in need over the school holidays deserves a nation’s grateful thanks. It served as a reminder to the responsibilities of Govt and to reinforce the demand that the Govt has to finance a situation that humanity should have told them they should have done from the outset.

Maybe with the sacking of Cummings and other cronies, the ether of compassion and hue of empathy might start to fill the corridors and passageways of Downing Street once more.

It should not be the responsibility of charities and wonderful well-meaning people to cope with the humanitarian crisis that has slowly enveloped the poorest of our society. It is down to us the people collectively and the Govt who we have voted for to carry out this mandate. We all have to pay more to stop this crisis and start to rescind the lack of empathy, love and support that has spread through us over the last years.

It is now on us to accept that we might all have to pay a few more pence in tax every year to stop this tragedy that has occurred on our watch. It is down to us to stop the belief that we can do it better on our own and embrace the genie that is out of the bottle and the younger generation won’t allow to be put back in. A genie that is determined to grant their wish for total inclusion, diversity, understanding, empathy, world citizenship and the humanity to defend our fellow peoples across the world and not to take the isolationist route and close our door to the atrocities that are happening elsewhere.

Isn’t that what men, women, children and animals died for in 1939-45? Isn’t that the future they envisaged when they were breathing their last breath in the ultimate sacrifice. Isn’t that what we were supposed to learn from the years that followed, that togetherness and not alienation, diversity and not singularity, inclusion and not exclusion and finally love and not hate was what so many had laid down their lives for?

I wonder what the bravest of the brave who fought and died protecting our country and the world from the dictators of the 30s would have made of the generations they saved; what they would have thought of this dramatic desire to forget the lessons of the past by agreeing to a mandate to stop integration, inclusion, care, respect and helping one’s fellow citizens?

I am comforted that they would have been optimistic to see that free speech and democracy was alive and well in 2016 and 2019 whatever the outcome was and however much I may disagree with it. Perhaps they may have been a little disappointed and alarmed with the concept and ultimate execution of Brexit which again will divide Europe. But I am convinced they would have been outraged at the disintegration of our society whereby 4.1 million children are now living in poverty in 2020 and would see it as a betrayal of what they gave their lives for.

But as an “Optimist who worries a lot” I am equally convinced they would have not only been optimistic but extremely proud that a member of today’s generation like Marcus Rashford – who encapsulates the wonderful, diverse, inclusive and optimistic future of this and every country – can freely express his thoughts, be listened to and ultimately affect change, not just for the good of one, but for the good of all.


Enough Said!

Gary Webster

November 16th 2020

Trump, Lockdown, Johnson… When will it all end?

‘Enough Said’ – Letter from London

As I rightly predicted in my Blog last week the US Presidential election has taken place but in no shape or form has it been decided. Having watched CNN since March it came as no surprise that the debacle and threat to democracy taking place in America is now full on.

We initially started watching what was evolving across the pond because our anger and frustration at how the incompetent Johnson Government was handling the Covid-19 crisis became too much to bare. To be honest, as I said before, it was a respite and at times entertainment to see how far the failed businessman could push the American people before being found out. But over the months his prophetic pronouncement some years ago that he could “walk down Park Avenue and shoot a Nun and still get away with it”  was coming true. Numerous lies, incitements, racism, religious zeal and ridiculous notions – who can forget the advice that ingesting bleach and then having a sun bed will help the fight against Covid-19 –  seemed at the time to be the last breaths of a man completely out of his depth and shouting out anything to make sure he got on a life boat on the Titanic before any more women and children? But we were wrong.

There was much method in his madness. He was testing to see how far his core supporters were willing to go with him and like any dictator he soon realised that they would be willing, if necessary, to take up arms for him. Then he set up the idea that all voting was going to be rigged if he did not win the State, and we have now arrived at the most extraordinary and frightening place in American history whereby the whole constitutional process of democracy is now in jeopardy…”Totalitarianism for $200”!

As I write this, Biden has just taken the lead in Georgia and is looking good to take Pennsylvania and possibly Nevada and Arizona. I am hoping that progress continues, and it is all over bar the shouting. It’s just my fear (and it is deep rooted) that this time the shouting might end up with troops surrounding the White House and battlelines being drawn up.

Back on the home front, it has been another one of ‘those weeks’ for us as I am sure it has for many others too. The news that we were going into another national lockdown took on great importance for me once more, both professionally and personally.  

Professionally and artistically the evolution of another national lockdown creates, once again, fear and anxiety as to when I will be back at work and not struggling as everyone else is to find the rent, buy food and pay the bills as work continues to be scarce. I can understand the anger of many that the lockdown and its continuing offspring of mini lockdowns is causing as many problems as the virus itself. It is indeed a heavy price to pay but there is no heavier price to pay than losing a loved one to the virus as well. It is just a complete mess that I feel could have been avoided as the root of the disaster was seeded a decade ago. The choice was made by the electorate to vote for austerity and not to borrow to increase productivity to pull ourselves out of the crash of 2008. Given that mandate, successive Tory Governments exercised their right to decimate the NHS, social services, policing, education etc. The result being that when a virus like this hits (and it was inevitable at some stage), we were woefully unprepared for it on every level. Proper test and tracing, isolation capabilities, lockdown measures early on would have had us in a far better position we are today. Now all we have is confusion and it is costing lives both through the virus and not through the virus. We must try at this most difficult time to remain together and take the fight from every angle to the incompetent government that is overseeing this mess until they or a new government delivers on what should have been done months ago. I fear this, like the US election, will be a long battle with one side not willing to listen to reason.

I have also been hit hard over the last few weeks personally. Two weeks ago I received the news telling me that my Mum, who has been in care home for the past year, was now being put on ‘End of Life’ care.

I had seen her not long before when we were allowed more freedom and could visit her outside for half an hour. I was a little concerned as I hadn’t been able to contact her on the phone for a few days and so rung to see what was up. It seems that she was declining more and more to eat or drink and the consensus was that ‘end of life’ was near. I immediately asked if I could see her. As it was under the ‘end of life’ rules my wife and I would be allowed to visit her in her room the next day, in effect to say goodbye.

I must admit the last few years had been tough for my Mum. Annoying, niggly illnesses followed by a couple of falls had meant she had spent last Christmas in hospital and then in a convalescing care home to recover from a broken hip. It was decided, out of my hands, that she would be better off in the care home on a more permanent basis. The home and its staff  has been wonderful but I think the cumulative effect of not being in her own home for over a year and then the permanency of her new surroundings coupled with the onset of lockdown measures just sent her into a depressive whirlpool. The changing face of the weather with the dark afternoons drawing in and the cold beginning to bite I think just put her in a mindset that said she had had enough. “ When will it all end” she would often repeat when speaking about the virus when we visited her during the Summer. I had no answer but would always make sure she thought it would be soon. But in her quickening depressive mindset, even though it had only been a couple of weeks since our last visit, attitude and will can go downhill rapidly.

So it was with great intrepidation that we made the journey to see her for what could be the last time. My hope and conviction were that she had just declined because she was missing that most vital of human gifts – interaction; well, certainly interaction with an idiot like me… someone who will always enter any medical establishment as the doctor, and now more so than ever with all the PPE on! Someone who, with the Perspex between us, will always pretend to do a mime of the man looking over the wall whilst bumping into the screen to give the game away. And definitely someone like me who given an abandoned Zimmer frame can then have hours of fun as a disgruntled patient!! The old ones are the best ones…literally!!  I knew as soon as I walked into her small but homely room that all would be well. Fully PPE-up, I gently called her name so she would wake up. The dawning realisation that it was me gave rise to a huge smile and immediately she seemed to brighten. More so after I had done my cheap gags routine explained above!

My time was up and Wendy my wife was then allowed to visit… again alone. Wendy secured the about turn as she oversaw my Mum eating her lunch followed by ice cream and of course her obligatory “cup of tea”! For years my kids thought my name was “ Do you want a cup of tea?” as these would always be the first words my Mum would say to me when we arrived at her home.

“Hello Mum!” I would say.

“Hello, d’yer want a cup of tea?” she would reply.

We visited her again on Wednesday before the stricter lockdown and my Mum’s new uplifting attitude seems to be prevailing which all bodes well for the next few weeks before we can visit her again and my awful ‘Marcel Marceau’ impression can be once again let loose on the world!!

My Mum has been a wonderful support for me both financially and emotionally over the years, especially when we hit extremely hard times a few years back. Without her I would not be writing this now, so it was extremely humbling for me to go some little way in repaying her faith in me, if not financially then emotionally, by giving her a few more reasons to battle on until such times when the current turmoil does “all end” and life can go back to some semblance of normality.

As I said to her on my leaving, that is a hope “Worth ‘aving a cup of tea for.”

Enough Said!

Gary Webster

November 6th 2020

The Rise of the Democratic Dictators:

The World Waits for America to ‘Do the Right Thing’

2020 has indeed been the most extraordinary year in my lifetime. I believe that every so often fate and circumstance throw up years that have a profound effect on the world and I am convinced that the history books will record that 2020 has been one of the defining years of the century . 1929, 1939, 1968 were all such years engulfed in turmoil, strife and had critical events at which we all had to look at each other and decide what is right and wrong on a global platform. Whether it be a re-distribution of wealth, a re-balancing of the basic human and equal rights of all citizens and at times fighting for our very existence as free men and women.  

As we, here in the UK, struggle to come to terms with the devastation of Covid-19 and are still yet to contend with its aftermath, socially, mentally and financially I am drawn this week to events happening across the Atlantic in America. I look at them in a perverse way as a sort of respite from the frustrations of our own Government’s ineptitude with regards to the handling of the pandemic; the sheer effrontery of its lack of empathy regarding the many millions of those in poverty and going hungry at this time, and that’s before we’ve even got onto Brexit.

I say perverse as there is nothing humorous or enjoyable about events in the US as much as there is now here in the UK, a distinct lack of impetus to satirise Boris et al due to the fact that it has almost become beyond parody. But like the proverbial car crash one cannot take one’s eyes of it.

My wife and I have become, as I said in my last Blog, obsessed with watching late night CNN to catch up on the day’s happenings in the White House. Over these past months in lockdown it has been incredible to see how Trump and his administration have manipulated the system to set up a grand finale that means that I am absolutely certain that the ‘Tale of the Tape’ of the 2020 Presidential election battle will not be settled on November 4th. Like a good old fashioned ‘Red Top’ headline this one will run and run!

How can it be that the bastion of democracy around the world, the flag bearer of life, liberty and the pursuit of justice has come to such a tipping point whereby it’s very survival as a Union is now under threat again, more than at any time since the end of the Civil war in 1865. To understand how this has even become a part of the psyche of renowned political commentators I think we have to look East and the template created and already in practice by Trump’s Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin. It seems that Trump has been schooled by his mentor Putin in the ways of assuming power but more importantly not relinquishing his grasp on it once it is in his grip. The story starts a long time before the last election in 2016.  “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…called 1989”.

When the last remnants of the rubble that was the  Berlin Wall were being ceremoniously scooped up by the authorities on both sides of the divide and sent away for bagging and selling on to the nearest shadowy entrepreneur for re-sell as mementos (to cement as it were the toppling of one of the most oppressive empires ever to have proliferated the globe) we might have been forgiven for thinking that such empires and dictatorships might well be a thing consigned to the  pages of our ever more scarce history text books.

But we were wrong. Not only were we wrong but we were naïve too; an unforgivable failing as the 20th Century alone had given us enough examples that the minute we rest on our laurels and isolationism it usually gives rise to another contender waiting in the wings. If not Stalin then Hitler, and why celebrate the fall of Mao only to be shocked at Pol Pot? Mugabe for Amin…you get my point.

It was easy for us in the West to categorise the countries that had the fallow conditions ripe for dictatorship. Why? Because more often than not our abandonment of those countries at the early stage of their evolution had not only seeded the land but, followed by our continued betrayal to finance the rebuilding and support of the countries in question, had taken the hose pipe out and watered the soil too! Germination was not long behind. We had our dictatorship radar on the lowest setting at DEFCON 1 and could leisurely watch from behind our desks whilst smoking our proverbial cigars!

But the 21st Century not only brought in a new era of understanding, communication, and global interaction,  it also bought in the ability to ‘hide in plain sight’ of which the illuminati of dictators around the world are now doing. ‘The rise of the Democratic Dictator’ if you will.

I am not sure there is a collective noun for a group of dictators, but I feel an  ‘illuminati of’ best serves the purpose in these circumstances. It is no surprise that with the fall of the wall and the break-up on the Soviet Union that Russia had most to lose in terms of power and financial gain. And although the ‘Bear’ slept for a decade or more assimilating into its brave new world the new kids on the block were not idle.

St Petersburg’s born and Lenin State University educated Vladimir Putin on first look would not be the obvious embodiment to be the leader of this new ruling class of Democratic Dictators but leader of the twitter trending new wave of dictators “he most certainly is”, as Trump’s Hardy might have said to Putin’s Laurel.

The sixteen year veteran of the KGB was certainly well placed to fast track himself through the new Politburo ranks. He created the new environment for any budding millennial dictator,  quickly realising that without the fall-back position of intimidation and force that had expired in many communist bloc countries in the early 1990’s, then information (and damning information at that) on your political opponents had replaced the need to imprison them.

Putin was the master of this and by 1999 he was acting President in the new more democratic era of the Russian ‘Carnivora’.

Very much akin to the dictatorships of the 20th Century the citizens of the democratic dictatorship are superfluous to the ultimate goal. Control of the people is of course a pre-requisite for any dictatorship worth its salt, as is the occasional disappearance of the odd oligarch every other year or the poisoning of a troublesome potential defector whilst sightseeing in a foreign clime. But they are only needed to make sure they get you into power. Their need after that is redundant. Once the erstwhile dictator is in power then the real action can begin.

This modern day dictator realised the enormous possibilities that came from being a democratically elected ‘Glorious’ leader. It allowed him to openly converse with the rest of the world across all aspects of commerce, financial investment and industry. He didn’t need to invade Ukraine or Poland or even France to obtain control over these countries – he only had to have ownership and control on the  cartel supplying their gas. No need to line tanks on the boarders, just be ready to throw the switch on their electricity supply at any given moment and you can rule with as iron a fist as any of the previous dictators had done before you.

Putin caught on fast and was quick to rectify his mistake of decreeing that a two term Presidency only would be enough to carry out his plan for world domination by running again in 2012 and regaining power from a reluctant but well paid off outgoing President Medvedev.

The template was now secured. His guidelines to success in place. The only question now was where could Vladimir ‘McPutin’ sell his franchise next and who to?

Of course, the cliché habits of ‘Old Skool’ dictators are hard to shrug off in a democracy.

Jailing of political opponents still has to be carried out, if not in the same way as the genocidal purges from before . Credible storylines of corruption must be promoted so the free world, of which the newly accepted democratic dictator is now a part of, are satisfied that the bell of freedom is still ringing.

Curtailing of press freedom has to be subtly introduced so not to alarm too many of the liberals at the same time and preferable find a supportive channel and social media feed that further confirms the budding dictator’s argument that what you say is true and everything else is not… fake news if you like.

And finally when the time is right, as can been seen in Russia today and maybe America tomorrow, the doctrine for any potential democratic dictator is to make sure their tenure at the top is extended by the early voicing that any free and fair elections will be compromised by an outside interest… which undoubtedly will secure a win for your opponent, when in reality it will assure you of the win as the outside interests are your interests too.

Any of this sound familiar? What happened in Russia in 2012 is a mirror to what’s going to happen in America tomorrow.  Or to be more precise on November 3rd.

Putin, along with his other ‘Most gracious and brilliant comrades’, Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson are the Hans Gruber’s of the democratic dictator members club. Distract the masses on human rights policies, racism, common sense, drinking bleach and sun beds whilst the real robbery is taking place in the basement.

Master Putin has taught his students well.

It’s always been about the money and whatever happened in that Moscow hotel room somewhere between 1985 and 2016 it was the catalyst that allowed Putin to control and then ultimately offer the present incumbent of the free world the chance to find monetary Shangri-la.

You have to go back to 1987 when the concept of a Trump Tower in Moscow first ingrained itself on the few remaining brain cells of President Trump. Maybe it was the fact that Russia was at the time still under the old style dictatorship and power meant fear and that sort of power has always been attractive to a man like Trump. Or maybe the idea of having young and pretty girls desperately hanging on his every word and action as he portrayed himself as the embodiment of the American dream to them. I wonder how many souls were lost metaphorically to the bullshit he must have spewed out to them, of promises of a better life when he returned in lieu of favours now. Well, whatever happened in ‘87 or any of the corresponding years that Trump spent time in Moscow it certainly helped Putin to recruit another ‘Dic’, to give his new disciples a more succinct name , to his plan for world domination via the financial markets.

But Trump was a willing freshman. Reputed to be amongst the world’s richest men, Putin was the role model that Trump had been looking for, especially given his own financial mismanagement and hopeless monetary acumen.

Money, power, ego.  As Trump might have allegedly mused “so what’s a little golden shower on a bed… between friends? Just as long as the photos aren’t released, and the Christian Right don’t turn against me, I might have a chance.”

A chance that turned into a promise that turned into a Presidency.

As surprise election results have become the lead across the world it has to be said that Putin is succeeding at present. He has secured  a landscape of normality that we are all accepting far too readily. The echoes of 1930’s Europe are there for us all to see.

For us Brits we are faced with another four years of the incompetent leadership of Boris Johnson and that coming on the back of Brexit allowing those in power to profit whilst the people, literally on the streets, suffer. But it is not a dictatorship.

Russia has already voted to allow Putin to lead until 2036 if necessary. Think about that… sixteen years without challenge. But it is not a dictatorship.

And perhaps the clearest example of a democratic dictator – but it is not a dictatorship –  is found in the White House, where on the back of Covid–19 and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, Trump has already set his stall out to dispute the result of the election if he indeed loses as all polls show at the moment he most certainly will. He has, in the nick of time, gained political and religious control of the Supreme Court with this week’s swearing in of Amy Coney Barrett, he has had for some time the propaganda machine that is Rupert Murdoch and Fox News and he, if necessary, will undoubtedly beg for the assistance of Putin before he has to lock the doors of the oval office refusing to come out like a spoilt child screaming “I want my daddy.”

But beg he will if it looks likely that his dictatorship might be coming to an end at the hands of good old ballot paper democracy…’God’ forbid something so extraordinary should happen in these modern times???

I think we can only learn from this time in our history and accept that the battle has taken a different direction in the fight against totalitarianism and we must always be on our guard however much a Govt seems to have its intentions firmly based within the boundaries of democracy. The war is still very much alive with the added irony that in just eighty years the leading lights of the Allies have become very much the Axis of Evil.

So, like most of the world, my wife and I will be setting our alarms for the early hours of the morning of the 4th November to hope that the Biden Harris ticket has secured a landslide victory to ensure the smooth transition of power… but as history has taught us anything less than a landslide and this will be a story whereby the election result is only just the beginning!… Enough Said!

Gary Webster

30th October 2020

My 1st Letter – no stamp required

Enough Said! Letter from London

My First Letter – No Stamp Required:

As I sit here fingers at the ready but momentarily paralyzed by the hypnotic noise and motion of the incessant rain tumbling over the ill-fitting guttering on our small but perfectly formed rented terrace house in London, I am reminded how often it seems to rain on a Wednesday. A gift of alliteration for any would be writer but it’s true to say that as long as I can remember, more often than not, Wednesday’s are always wet!

I have decided after many months of promises to myself to finally embark upon a weekly blog called “Enough Said! Letter from London”; a combination of my cockney vernacular for any comment that sums up my feelings exactly and an indulgence in a past tradition that pays homage to the great Alistair Cooke and his iconic broadcast “Letter from America”.

So, today is the day I at least start the process to have copy ready, as they say in publishing circles, for Friday.

I had intended to lose my literary virginity to the Blog community by addressing the ridiculous week we have been subjected to so far with the Tory Government of the day, led by what must be the most incompetent Prime Minister we have had since Paul Eddington’s brilliant portrayal of James Hacker (the difference being Eddington’s PM was make believe but Boris Johnson is unavoidably real), telling the good people of Manchester to lock down without any semblance of realistic financial support or assistance. Having owned a flat in Manchester back in the day and enjoyed many nights of hospitality across the North West I was and still am ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Andy Burnham and his team to demand a fairer and more humane approach to understanding the plight of the many people who are struggling at this time.

It is not platitudes of good will and statements of ‘We are in this together’ they desire, it is the money to pay the rent and put food on the table they need and demand. The Government has it… they just don’t want to spend it on real people. The concept of help, to just allow people to live, isn’t on their class-skewed radar. Sometimes you have to just give money to keep people alive and not expect the share price to rise because of it. What price life??

I had also planned to discuss (if that is the right word).  the ‘happenings’ across the pond in the good old US of A! The concept of intelligent discussion seems to have long-gone out of the window as every day another twist and turn of outrage grabs us and leaves us bereft of adjectives to describe what is going on.

The surrealist painting that has been emerging from the States over the last four years has intensified over these Covid-19 months whereby both my wife and I can’t wait to go to bed to switch onto CNN and get our nightly fix of the latest episode on what has to be the most disturbing reality show ever made.

If only William Golding had set his timeless classic ‘Lord of the Flies’ in Washington DC and not on a desert island, as then we may have had some idea of how to handle the unfurling disaster that is revealing itself in America day by day. Definitely closer to the mark is Margaret Attwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. The dystopian nightmare created by Attwood is seen as more than achievable to Trump supporters, because if it is not Trump that gets them to their misogynistic, homophobic, racist ‘promised land’ then it will most certainly be VP Mike Pence who, as the nightmare continues, will sign the Presidential Executive Orders to rename the ‘South’ as the totalitarian state of Trump-ilead’ in honour of their once great leader and champion who after securing a second term via Putin and the loud if not proud boys was mortally wounded on the alter of tax evasion, corruption and bed wetting!!

“For in this sleep of death what dreams may come.” Shakespeare’s warning must not be ignored.

Hopefully that is how they shall remain, as mere dreams of the far right, and like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, the American people will take advantage of their second chance, awaken from their Trump-trance and vote the incumbent peddler of snake oil and nightmares out of office before it is too late. Still, I am sure over the next few weeks my Blog will undoubtedly return to the US elections as something tells me that even with a win for Biden and Harris that this is far from being over.

So, as I said, I was ready to blog my soul to the masses, full frontal and naked, without the fear that comes with youth and the possibility of rejection. If my first time was to be my last time then I hope I do myself justice and I leave my mark – a phrase that became all too appropriate for my old school mate Jimmy Evans who said those very words to me before he stayed over at his long-time girlfriend Samantha Baxter’s house whilst her parents were away at a party for the weekend. After a courtship of fourteen months from fourth year into fifth they were finally going to bow to the silly demands that growing up in a comprehensive begat and consummate their relationship for the first time, an event that both would experience for the first time together.

I can remember him telling me it now as I gaze idly out the window once more at the incessant and unstoppable rain falling from some ‘foul bombard that has shed it liquor’…“If my first time is my last time then I hope I do myself justice and I leave my mark”.

I am sure you are ahead of me when I tell you that nine months later their first child was born and I am happy to report that against all the odds and their parents initial wishes they are still together and have added three more children to their family. So, Jimmy did indeed leave his mark and I believe as a good Dad and husband for over forty years now he has done himself justice… but it was obviously never going to be his last time!!

As with life my first Blog has already suffered from that eternal cliché and standard…the best laid plans etc etc etc.

As a final act of desperation to break me away from the hypnotic background noise of the unseen rain and the contemplative inducing trickle of the overflowing guttering I turn to one of my favourite writers Gore Vidal for inspiration.

I am currently reading his memoir-based collection of stories called ‘Point to Point Navigation’. I happen across chapter seven where Vidal speaks lovingly about his partner of fifty three years, Howard Auster. He regales the time when they invested in a so called ‘Partners Desk’ whereby two people could work together writing etc from opposite ends of the same desk or table. He talks of the starkness of an empty chair after Howard’s death.

I am reminded, as the rainclouds continue to cast a shadow of mid-day darkness akin to a solar eclipse over the room, of my childhood where, as previously mentioned, every Wednesday seemed to be wet. My mind meanders back through the years of Jimmy Evans, stopping along the way at memories that have not surfaced for many moons to finally settle on my Dad.  I have long past the date whereby I have lived without him longer than I lived with him, but I am still, on a wet Wednesday in the present,  transported back to a wet Wednesday of the past…

A wet Wednesday where  toasted cheese sandwiches were eaten whilst watching ‘Sportsnight’ a mid-week BBC sports programme that was a must for any sports fanatic which we all were in my family. The unadulterated joy of the collective experience of Dad, son and brother enjoying Muhammad Ali fight highlights, a random Alan Weeks commentary on just about anything or the amazement of a ‘League Cup’ tie and seeing West Ham’s iconic Bobby Moore end up in goal and saving a penalty.

A wet Wednesday where the insecurity of self was amplified as thoughts went back to being a twelve year old, taken to badminton training miles away by an dedicated father and the silences that often occurred on the drive back if I had not performed to expectations.

A wet Wednesday where the sadness of those silences finally dissipated into the joy and love of seeing my old man take the time off work to come and see me in a second year drama school production. Seated on a hard chair in a cold and dank church hall he submerged himself into the Chekhovian world of ‘The Cherry Orchard’; proud to watch his son trying his best to convey the working class angst of Lopakhin and then totally blown away that the portrayal of the eighty seven year old servant Firs’s death could be performed so touchingly by my fellow twenty year old student Guy Robarts-Arnold.

The memory of my Dad is still strong as I see him, back towards me, cheap raincoat sodden by the persistent downpour, walking away to Earls Court tube station to return to work – with a knowing that he had loved every minute of the day, wet or not, and that he had finally understood that badminton was not my calling but that acting was.

My idyl is broken by our rescue dog Newt barking loudly to happily announce that she has just left a poo on the kitchen mat due to me not letting her out whilst it was raining. Bloody wet Wednesdays eh!!

Dropping the poo bag into the bin outside, the water laden droplets begin to cease and the clouds begin to break. I return to the keyboard with the conclusion that maybe my first Blog and leap into the unknown will not be about what I think but about who I am. A setting out of my stall as it were.

As wet a Wednesday as it has been, I am relieved to have finished my first Blog in one piece and stand looking out of the window as the sun begins to shine through, hot cup of tea in my hand and smile…Enough Said!!

Gary Webster.

Week ending 23 October 2020