Ding dong…

… the witch is dead… Hey, right wingers hell-bent on canonising Thatcher as some modern political saint, protesters will stop buying Ding Dong the Witch is Dead to get it into the charts if you stop wasting millions of pounds of the tax-payer’s money on what is essentially a state funeral in all but name. Deal? No? Well if you can close down half of central London and waste millions on a politician who is still despised by half the population decades on then it is fine for people to protest in a witty and sarcastic manner by getting this song to the charts. In fact there is something delightfully, subversively British about the humour behind that, the sort of satire and humour which goes back to the days of Hogarth as a way for ordinary citizens to make their views on their ‘betters’ known and heard.

And on the related note of Hogarth, here’s a recent work from one of that esteemed artist and observer of society’s modern heirs, the excellent Martin Rowson on the whole nonsense surrounding Thatcher’s death (cartoon by and (c) Martin Rowson, published in the Guardian):

I’ve head the pleasure of hearing Martin speak twice now at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and he’s not only very knowledgeable about the history of editorial cartooning and illustration, he is passionate about using it to hold politicians and other public figures to account and letting them know we are watching the buggers, which is vital in any healthy democratic society.

Edinburgh Book Festival 2012 - Martin Rowson 05
(Martin Rowson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2012, pic from my Flickr)

Nursery Rhymes for the modern audience

Many nursery rhymes have been passed down for generations, but in our modern, wired-up, interconnected age where youngsters are more savvy to trends and tech than ever,  perhaps many of them are losing their relevance to contemporary children, so we need to modernise them a little:

Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker man, bake me a low-fat, high fibre muffin, as fast as you can (and a skinny latte to go with it, please)

Little Jack Horner, sat in his corner, thinking when I grow up I will be a famous paleontologist

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, then called Injury Lawyers For You and sued someone to cover his own clumsiness

Mary had a little lamb, it used to send out her email spam

Old Mother Hubbard, went to the cupboard, then decided it was more convenient to order her grocery shopping online

There was an old lady, who lived in a shoe, because the mean bailed-out bankers wouldn’t give her a mortgage

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, his high-fat sedentary lifestyle made him die

Jack and Jill went up the hill, as part of their daily cardiovascular exercise programme (didn’t want to end up like Georgie)

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, which she had assembled herself from an Ikea flatpack using an Allen key

This isn’t just any half a pound of tuppenny rice and half a pound of treacle, this is M&S tuppenny rice and treacle

Hipster Hitler

Hipster Hitler,

James Carr and Archana Kumar,

Feral House

I’ve flagged up Carr and Kumar’s clever webcomic Hipster Hitler on here before; I first came across it online a couple of years back and then, as many of you will doubtless know, it appeared in the comics pages that the fine Stool Pigeon includes. Humour, of course, is a very subjective taste – when Richard covered the Stool Pigeon strips this was one that didn’t so much appeal for him, for instance, while I was consistently cracked up by it, so obviously I was pretty happy to get my hands on this collected print volume of the strips.

As you may infer from the title the main idea for this satirical take on the Nazi Fuhrer is conflating one of the 20th century’s most evil dictators with the poseur douche figure of the self-obsessed, style over substance (but pretending to be all substance) hipster figure. And while that does offer up a good comedy image, it’s not quite enough to sustain it by itself for strip after strip, and it’s to Carr and Kumar’s credit that they don’t rely on that idea exclusively; it forms the basis, the format for the series, but there are clever little tricks all the way through, most notably the very changing T-shirts Hitler sports throughout (often very funny if you know your history to get the references – one T proclaims “Triumph of the Chill”, another has “1941: a Race Odyssey”, “Weimar Guitar Gently Weeps”) and the little text introduction at the top of each strip, which manage to combine a bit of actual history with the comedy, one strip on his virulent anti-Semitism starting with the introduction noting how Hitler “blamed the Jews for Germany having lost World War I and further  accused them of degenerating the arts, trying to take over the world and causing the breakup of the Smiths.”

The collected edition is arranged chronologically, sampling the webcomic’s run in historical order, from Hitler’s early life, leaving his rural Austrian home (he is too poor to afford stylishly distressed clothing, he explains to his family) to try his luck in Vienna, before joining up in the German army for the First World War (this allows for some good lines about his changing his moustache style and a nice M*A*S*H* reference when he’s wounded and taken to a military hospital), the inter-war years, and then Hitler in power and the Second World War. The art is pretty simple and clear, rarely bothering with much in the way of background detail, but combined with some clever wordplay it’s pretty effective.

I found something to giggle about throughout all the sections, and more than a few that had me guffawing, and the duo make good use of the real, historical Hitler’s (and a number of other leading Nazis’) penchant for superstition (he consults a fortune reader and is horrified to find she predicts a later dictator who will come after him and who will appropriate his moustache – cue a good dig at barking Bob Mugabe) and his well documented eccentric behaviour (which none of those around him dared to question) in real life here is pastiched perfectly as being because of his hipster values and lifestyle (he tells Goering they will have air superiority for the planned invasion of Britain, but he means he will ground the Luftwaffe to reduce their carbon footprint and pollution, thus ensuring their air is ‘superior’, he likes the idea of a tripartite pact between him, Italy and Japan because it makes “a perfec triangle. Silly, but no sillier than some of the other beliefs of the real Nazi heirarchy). The rest of his rogues’ gallery of henchmen (and women – Leni Reifensthal and Eva get a look in too) are present – Goebbels, Goering, Himmler et al) and we also get a nice line in who’s the coolest dictator between Hipster Hitler and his one-time friend, a very party-on Stalin.

I’m sure some will object and claim this is bad taste, but I can’t agree with that at all. I probably came well primed to appreciate this – it’s a period of history I know well, and I was also geared to comedy lampooning of the characters and events of that period, as the late, great Spike Milligan’s war memoirs (beginning with the brilliantly titles Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall), read way back in my teens, had me well prepared. Personally I don’t find this in bad taste, nor do I think it cheapens or lightens awful events and indeed hideous crimes against humanity, it does instead what good cartooning often does, takes the very serious and lampoons it mercilessly, along the way taking a vile real character and reducing them to utter ridicule, and that’s something satirists were doing actually during the war itself to bolster morale (and even before the war – consider Chaplain’s remarkable The Great Dictator) and afterwards – again think of British comedy genius Milligan (who noted in one volume of his war memoirs that he was convinced our sense of humour about it all was a major part of why we eventually won, it kept us going) or the great Mel Brooks who has delighted in any chance in his comedy career to ridicule the Third Reich. Hipster Hitler does what any good satire does, it takes some of the real aspects of the events and characters, then gleefully distorts them to ridiculous levels for comedy gold. And along the way it takes a vile, hideous dictator and mass murderer and through cartooning and comedy exposes the pathetic little man he actually was, inviting us all to laugh at him.

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog

Milk piracy

Government, supermarkets and other buyers and representatives of dairy farmers are still negotiating over the scandal of large companies like supermarkets paying such a low price to farmers for milk supplies that they make a loss on every pint. The large supermarkets, who are often the target of ire for using their bulk buying and selling power to bully suppliers like farmers into ridiculously low prices have retaliated however and explained the very low price of milk is not because of supermarkets rigging prices through buying power but caused directly by online milk piracy. In this they have been backed up by figures from the music and film industry who say that alongside music and movie piracy the illegal downloading of copied milk via web pirates was costing farmers dearly and destroying the industry. It’s thought when they attempt to lobby yet again for draconian new internet piracy laws the dairy farmers will also be leaning on politicians to bring in penalties such as the ‘three strikes’ rule for anyone suspected of illegally downloading milk or any other dairy products.

(a dairy cow yesterday, she answered no comment to the Woolamaloo Gazette’s reporter when asked about milk piracy)

Hovis to help unemployed youth and environment

Hovis the well known UK bakers has announced a new business plan they say will help alleviate both the awful current youth unemployment statistics and benefit the environment at the same time, with a side bonus of increasing the fitness of the nation. They are to scrap their fleet of large lorries spewing out diesel across the land as they cross the whole of the UK to deliver yummy fresh bread to stores and reinstate their classic young lad on a bike local delivery system, which was made famous by Sir Ridley Scott back in his advertising days. This will, the company says, reduce carbon emissions, fuel consumption and lead to a mini boom for bicycle manufacturers and new opportunities for unemployed youth to be gainfully employed and to get fit while providing a service to the community. There is a down side – in the Olde Days many children were pushed to such levels of physical exhaustion cycling their bread deliveries up incredibly steep hills they died of extreme fatigue.

This wasn’t a huge problem back then as the streets of Britain then abounded with cheeky, chirpy orphaned ragamuffin urchins who could be used to replace existing cycle delivery lads as they dropped out. It could be a more of a problem today, but with youth suffering most of all from unemployment in the double dip recession it is thought there will still be more applying than there are cycle available to use, and Liam Fox is already consulting with the government on re-writing employment protection laws for under 25s so it is once more legal to run urchins until they drop, as we did in the glory days of the Rule Britannia Empire (cheers, waves flag, salutes picture of Queen Victoria paddling at Brighton while wearing an “I heart General Gordon” t-shirt) – as some Tory MPs have pointed out, when it was legal to work children to death and whip any who complained of conditions Britain ruled a global empire and was king of industry and world commerce, so perhaps we need to get back to those old-fashioned values.


Budget news

In budget news George Posh Boy Osborne, taking advice from his American cousin Norman Osborn, has announced the government want to help stimulate the currently moribund supervillain economy. To this end in his budget today the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined how supervillains would now be granted tax relief and financial incentives for major infrastructure projects, such as the hollowing out of volcanoes for supervillain lairs. When challenged on this by representatives of the superhero community who claimed the Tories were in effect using taxpayer’s money to subsidise international crime, Mr Osbourne refuted this charge, claiming that supervillains and their major world domination projects and secret bases were important powerhouses of international commerce, driving both local and global economies and offering huge employment opportunities to a range of industries, from henchmen to the craftsmen such as carpenters and electricians who construct their lairs to the hi-tech companies who supply the lasers and missile tech for their plans, and the UK had to encourage these ‘innovators’ or be left behind in a competitive international marketplace.


This reworking of Obama’s iconic election campaign poster to show his utter hypocrisy in being a Democratic leader presiding over a country where young teenage student girls get pepper sprayed in the face on their own campus simply for peacefully exercising their right to free assembly and speech, or signing legislation (and very sneakily doing it over New Year when he hoped most wouldn’t notice) that will make it possible for the authorities to arrest and detain not only those pesky foreign radicals and terrorists without proper judicial oversight or charges, but also US citizens. The Land of the Free my fecking arse in parsley sauce…I thought back at election time that the euphoria over Obama’s election was foolish – sure it was better than having Bush there but I thought the hopes people piled on his administration were unrealistic, not to mention foolish and sure enough he has disappointed endlessly since then. Sad to think at the next US election I wouldn’t prefer to see him re-elected because he deserves to be but simply because he is a lesser evil (just) of the rampantly right-wing, Tea Party numpties in the Republican Reptile Party… Sigh…

Minister excuses dumping official papers in public park

Oliver Letwin, the Minister of State for Extreme Smugness, has excused his bizarre behaviour, caught on film by journalists, whereby he wandered public parks disposing of official government papers in bins as he walked. When challenged on this odd behaviour with all the attendant data protection and potential security issues attached to such foolish actions, Mr Letwin explained to the Woolamaloo Gazette he thought it was an acceptable way to dispose of such papers as “the Wombles would take care of it later.”

Ploughshares into swords

New artwork up on the side of Saint John’s church in Edinburgh and as with many of their previous works commenting on social and political issues it is bang on the money. I do appreciate their murals and the messages they send and that they are placed facing right onto busy Princes Street in the shadow of the Castle, where thousands can see it. I suspect many are too busy with their face buried in sending text messages to even notice, but I hope a few do see it and think… Always enjoy their artworks and appreciate them, you can find several more photos of previous works here on the Woolamaloo Flickr. St John’s is also a lovely wee oasis of calm in the middle of the city, even for us non believers – there’s a lovely cafe in the crypt (in the summer some tables are outside right by some of the old graves!) and a fine fairtrade shop as well, always a nice vibe around this church. During the Festival in August they hold an annual craft fair with the stalls strung throughout the old, tree-shaded graveyard, where you can walk around the stalls sometimes accompanied by the pealing of bells from their nearby neighbour Saint Cuthbert’s.

ploughshares into swords

Last century’s census

Details of information gathered a century ago in the 1911 census has been released by the Registrar General for Scotland under the hundred year rule (the census we’ve all been legaly obliged to fill in recently will remain private for a hundred years too). The census has changed somewhat since the early 20th century – for instance we’re no longer asked to fill in a question asking if we are imbeciles, but that may be simply because the government assumes most of the population are idiots and so to save time leaves the question out and takes it for granted. Similarly the head of the household is not assumed to be male today, unlike 1911 and the adjoining question about how often the male head of the household is required to beat the women to keep them in their place has been removed from later census forms.

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 01
(the Registrar General giving a great talk inside Register House during Doors Open Day last autumn, pic from my Flickr)

The newly released census offers not only the chance of new information on family trees for some, it also affords a fascinating snapshot into life in Scotland a century ago, revealing some of the concerns our ancestors at the time had. A great number, it transpires, were extremely worried about having their highly bred racing horses disturbed by rampant sufragettes; it was a boom in sales of insurance policies to cover against those pesky militant women demanding votes throwing themselves under your expensive horse. Some were concerned about Prussian militarism and the possibility of a new European war against Germany, but others pooh-poohed this (pooh-poohing being a popular pastime in that era) pointing out the German Kaiser was the nephew of the late Queen Victoria so there was no chance of the British Empire going to war with them and even if by some odd chance we did then most were reassured it would be a swift campaign and over by Christmas.

It wasn’t all worries in 1911 though, as the census reveals what our ancestors a hundred years ago did for fun and what their aspirations were. Guessing which of your children might live to pass the age of ten was a popular hobby for the large, urban working classes, for instance, while ‘TB Bingo’ was a favoured pastime of the upper classes, where, coughing genteely into their hankies, they would pick out sanitoriums on their score card. The 1911 census also reveals that the most desirable thing to most of the population then was to win a chance to sail on the remarkable gigantic new luxury cruise liner, the Titanic, for the holiday to end them all.

Seriously though, there is a rather poignant aspect to the 1911 census; as UK census take place every decade this would be the last one taken before the unbelievable carnage of the Great War shattered the ordered society of that period, breaking social barriers as much as it broke human bodies. By the time the 1921 census came to be taken a vast amount of the men recorded on the 1911 census would be buried in a Flanders field, a huge chunk of an entire generation was simply missing, and among those who did survive the scars would last a lifetime, some physical (legions of men blinded, or bodies shattered), others mental, nerves broken by the horror and relentless stress of endless trench warfare, while on the home front a whole sector of the female population who had worked so hard to support the war effort had finally been granted the right to vote in the country they had worked so hard for (and more than a few of the women who did that essential work saw their health ruined from dreadful, dangerous working conditions in munitions factories and elswhere, not a few of them were killed doing that work).