Spitting Image is back!

It was announced last week that one of my favourite television programmes when growing up is to make a return.  To people of a certain age, Spitting Image was an unmissable programme with up to 15 million people tuning in to watch the current affairs of the week being re-enacted by large rubber puppets.

The Royal Family as they appeared in Spitting Image in the 1980's

The Royal Family as they appeared in Spitting Image in the 1980’s

By using puppets, things good be said or depicted that would have been totally impossible to do in any other way. An average sketch would be biting and raw but when they put their mind to it, some could be savage and even in a sense, cruel.  However they were nearly always based on personal behaviour and characteristics and were generally what the general public thought about people but were perhaps a little afraid to say.

Britain has a special history of castigating its own figures and using satire but this re-awakening of the show is expected to be aired in foreign markets such as the USA too.  In fact a pilot show was made for NBC executives in the 1980’s when they saw just how successful it was in the U.K. but it was deemed that America wasn’t ready for the level of humour at the time.

Spitting Image famously featured Margaret Thatcher in a man’s suit treating her cabinet – “the vegetables” to a meal in a restaurant.

Prime Minister John Major as a grey puppet and the Queen Mother drinking copiously from a gin bottle.  Slimy government minister Kenneth Baker was fantastically portrayed as having a human head and the body of a snail.

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Government minister Ken Baker was often depicted at cabinet meetings as wanting nothing more but to devour a tasty leafy salad.

 

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Neil Kinnock, Margaret Thatcher, David Owen and little David Steel.

David Steel never got over being depicted as a miniaturised figure in the breast pocket of his ally David Owen.  In fact it is said that some people only knew they had made it in life when Spitting Image poked fun at them.

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A besotted and often simple Ronnie with the Iron Lady.

It wasn’t just British figures who were lampooned, Ronald Reagan was featured in bed with two red call buttons, one marked Nurse, the other Nuke whilst being obsessed with jelly beans and Mikhail Gorbachev featured with his prominent birthmark as a hammer and sickle.

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The puppet of Mikhail Gorbachev

Whilst it was mainly concerned with political figures, social and celebrity figures were also poked fun at with Mick Jagger and his big lips being an easy example.

Surely there has never been a better time to bring back the bitingly sharp political programme with a whole host of figures that are almost satirical figures in themselves; Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Meghan and Harry, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un just for starters before even getting down to the levels of Nicola Sturgeon, Hilary Clinton, Greta Thunberg, Macron, and a whole host of less well known European and global figures.

I’m pretty sure some figures in Britain at least would never have reached positions of importance if Spitting Image had been around in the last 20 years.  What it would have made of Diane Abbott or Nigel Farage is anyones guess.

I’m sure that weird individuals and air-headed celebrities such as Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian will get a good old mauling.

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Meghan wearing a Princess top whilst Putin is dolled up in his famous S & M gear… or at least how everyone I’ve spoken to about him imagines him to be!

 

 

 

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Coronavirus Diary 8 – Up with the Lark

I’ve been up since around 3.50am this morning.  This has happened several times in the last week or two.  Today it was down to having a slightly sore chest; Wednesday it was down to a rather traumatic nightmare which when having woke up seemed infinitely better than reality.

I’m always up by 5am generally and 6am would be a great and very rare treat indeed.  I’m not one who can ever go back to sleep.  I’ve always been this way; never needed an alarm.  It just happens.  Perhaps the midwife back in 1973 had cursed me.

There are a few positives about getting up with the Lark Waking up early for success but they aren’t so positive when you’re socially isolated and the day drags on interminably with only the prospect of what to eat around midday (not much) to perk things up.

I’m still getting used to my new terraced cottage with its 200 years of quirkiness.  Because I love the Outdoors and nature and indeed am usually out in both, I have a great interest in mundane things like the seasons.   For the first month when I was here I could see the moon every morning from my study.  I probably sat and watched the moon more in those 2 or 3 weeks than several decades combined.  I haven’t seen the moon for a month or so now.  Maybe it has moved or with the long days that March heralds, I’m just not in the right place at the right time.

The dining room in my new house doesn’t get much light even though it faces south.  It is hemmed in by a modern extension to a neighbours house and a less modern one on my own.  Bizarrely when I look out of the window of my dining room, I actually look out over 1 metre of my garden and then as far as I can see down theirs.  Every house on this street seems to be similar, the back gardens heading off at some weird angle from the back door. I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t just unilaterally uproot the fences and angle them so we can see our own gardens more easily.  Instead as is the English way, we muddle through and make the best of things based on some possibly legitimate but not particularly good reasoning from centuries ago.

I am sure when I viewed the house in early August, the dining room was quite light but in February it was definitely dark and the only signs of sun were around 4pm when it had already dipped below the trees and houses.  Through March however it has been getting direct sunlight; at first only vaguely and for a few minutes each afternoon and then only for a tiny part of the room.  I felt like one of those people who stand at Stonehenge and waiting to see the sun line up between the precise avenue of stones so that the light shines through.

As the month has progressed however and the sun is reaching higher in the sky, those few fleeting minutes or Apricity have grown into an hour or so.  I’ve dubbed this period The Red Hour and go into wild delirium to see natural light in here.  You can see what the real Red Hour was like in the video below, rather like what going to a supermarket must be like these days.

What I have really been enjoying however on mornings like today is the sunrise.  I get to see the sunrise hundreds of times each year as I am always up so early but in my new house living opposite a school field and being over 500 feet up I get to see it from my bed.   By 7am even at this time of year the sun teems onto the bed but open the curtain a little earlier I get treated to something like this.

Sunrise from my bed

Sunrise from my bed

Starting the day like this, everything else is bound to go a little downhill from there.  See you tomorrow old friend and I won’t have so long to wait as in the U.K. the clocks spring forward or alternatively I won’t wake up until just before 5am.  Nothing like a lie-in on a Sunday!

Winston Churchill once described Daylight Saving Time as “An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn… We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later”.  If you’d like to know more about why we change the clocks then spend 10 minutes in splendid self-isolation reading  A brief history of time(zones) or why do we keep changing the clocks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coronavirus Diary 7 – I may well be going mad, well more mad anyway.

How is everyone?  We all still here?  That’s good.

As I thought would be the case, some old fashioned values and community spirit have been returning.   I’ve been penned inside my home for a month or two really on top of the official 12 week ban I have on going outside except in dire emergencies.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter in.

I now have an emergency sign on the front of my house which warns about how the limited interactions I can make.  I feel rather like I have one of those crosses people would paint on their doors if they had a Plague sufferer inside.  Or perhaps with it being near the Jewish festival of Passover, the Angel of Death.

One delivery man told me through the door that he won’t ask me to sign anything and just leave the box on the ground.  I told him it was probably safer than a snog which made him laugh.

One of my lovely guides, Nigel, volunteered to bring me a food delivery which was nice and the next day a school friend I hadn’t seen for 30 years dropped off a bag of emergency supplies as well.

Not only have I got food issues others have but as I can’t eat dairy and gluten products, I don’t have a good selection at the best of times.  If you have ever watched one of those post-apocalyptic films or shows like The Walking Dead where people get tremendously excited and happy when they find a bar of chocolate or a seemingly normal snack well that is how I find being gluten free is at the best of time.  The joy of being able to eat something though not as good as or cheap as everyone else, especially when it is a favourite food is something few can understand when even your average slice of gluten free bread tastes of cardboard.

I have to say I have been a bit bored or isolated.  I spend some of my time sitting by my bedroom window and pining to go outside.  Watching people with better immune systems than myself happily go about their restricted business.   As I have super hearing, I have the window open and listen in to banal aspects of conversations between people I know not who they are.

Once or twice I have even initiated conversation from my bedroom with pedestrians; just a 2 minutes chat with a real person can be nice.  I expect that I will have deterred them from walking down my street again and they will take their walk elsewhere.

It seems the majority of people are happy with the government response to the crisis so far which is incredible as there are a lot of miserable people out there; I count myself amongst them!

If something good has come out of this virus it is that the Prime Minster has finally put an end to the never-ending DFS Sale…. even though he has the virus himself

The Chancellor of The Exchequer is a British Hindu; he seems very competent and speaks well  He has been no help to me whatsoever but I kind of like him.  I know it is unfashionable these days to be non-partisan or like someone who doesn’t directly advance ones own interests but there you go.   His name is Rishi Sunak and it sometimes brings a smile to my face as new to the job as he is and my not watching television, I only vaguely know what he looks like.  I imagine he has a Vulcans name from Star Trek.  So many Vulcans have a short surname that ends with a K.  Spock, Sarek, Sovak and now Chancellor Sunak.

Sadly I am part of the 5% of the 15% minority who won’t be benefitting from state assistance.  Incredibly I am just over the limit because I haven’t taken a holiday for many years.  If only I had taken a week or two off here and there I would qualify and so I’m being left to wither on the vine.

Even Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has gone vaguely quiet and constructive.  In fact most politicians around the world have which makes me wonder again why can’t people just be nice all the time?

The only local politician who I think is faring badly it seems is London Mayor Sadiq Khan.  I admit I never have liked him even before he was elected.  He seems always to be very slimy and oily like a used car salesman and seems to only ever be in the news for things that are nothing to do with him whilst dodging anything that comes under his remit…. I suppose a good politician in some ways!  Sadiq Khant, as I always call him, has been in the news for running less tube trains than normal, even before people began self-isolating meaning at the one time those who had to travel would have appreciated a bit of space, they ended up having less than usual and I can vouch for the fact that London commutes are never pleasant at the best of times.

Like everyone else I watch with incredulity and horror as the virus spread across the world.  The USA has come from almost out of nowhere to surge to the top of the Coronavirus cases.  I have a feeling their death rate might end up at or near the top too.

At least things in China seem to be calming down.  First in, first out as the time and tested hiring and firing system goes.  Much of Europe seems to be suffering terribly with Italy going so far as to accept a Russian convoy of equipment which it has been announced as being useless.  Spain too has far surpassed the Chinese death-toll.

Germany seems to be doing the best though it is sometimes ascribed partly to their physicians giving the cause of death to the symptom or underlying illness rather than the virus itself.

In the U.K. it is early days but forecasts the virus will peak sometime around Easter and it seems clear that thankfully we don’t currently seem to be on course to be the worst in Europe.   There were lots of posts on Facebook and other social media 1-3 weeks ago about how we were apparently heading to total disaster.  I never quite understood why.  Even in China or Italy as terrible as it is, the overwhelming majority of people are fine.

DFS Sales

The chart above would seemingly predict that by March 27th the UK would be at around 2,500 deaths.   Whereas the latest figures below show they remain below 600.  I think it also shows how much of the media like to scaremonger and how many people are swept away by ungrounded fear whether this horrible virus, Brexit or anything else.

Bizarrely it has been mused that one reason for the lower than predicted figures is that sadly in Britain, people are very isolated.  Old people live on their own with little family or friends and none of the social gatherings or extended families that Mediterranean cultures enjoy.

Every country is different with different health case systems, different social make-ups, different climates and politics and different luck which I think makes comparisons pretty much a waste of time.  The people in each country only get to see the mistakes of their own politicians but the impressive public profiles of foreign governments.

The Countries Best Prepared To Deal With A Pandemic

The Countries Best Prepared To Deal With A Pandemic

As I said earlier, I have a feeling that more people in the UK at least and probably elsewhere, will die from none Corona illnesses that are directly attributable to the virus.  Countless thousands will fall victim to intense poverty and the resultant ill-health that follows.  People will become depressed and commit suicide either as a result of self-isolation or lost jobs and then there will be the any who die from heart attacks or cancer simply because of overwhelmed healthcare systems around the world.

Last night the UK came together again to celebrate the hard work and dedication of the NHS during this critical time.  It may be hard to imagine a city as large, diverse and capitalist as London being able to do this but it does from time time, usually for bad occasions such as this.  The Blitz Spirit just about lives.

It’s just announced that Boris Johnson himself has the Coronavirus and is now self-isolating   Hopefully he and as many people as possible who have it, will recover.  Stay well and self-isolated 🙂

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Coronavirus Diary 6 – The state owes me thousands, why don’t they know who I am?

It’s been a long day or so.  As I rush head-first towards bankruptcy I attempted to make use of a minor law change to allow people such as myself claim just over £90 a week, in stark contrast to everyone else who can claim up to almost £3,000 a month.

I waited on line for 8 hours.  8 hours!!!  Then was asked to verify my ID using either my passport or drivers licence.  Both of them are new but not so new they won’t be on the records.  I tried with several different government approved bodies and every single one of them rejected both of my very valid and active forms of identification.

It’s crazy, the application itself is accepted.  They know everything about me.  I’ve paid taxes for 32 years and technically HMRC taxes owe me many thousands of pounds as I prepaid a big chunk in October so I wouldn’t be tempted to overspend on house related purchases and because I don’t like owing anyone anything.

I don’t claim benefits, the reason I started my company was so I could try and earn money with out claiming unemployment money. I don’t have children and have spent my working life supporting society without being a burden upon it.

My mother and grandma died just after they reached 60 and so spent a life time earning and paying taxes but not drawing on old-age payments.   After all this, and countless phone calls, messages and even tweets I have got nowhere.

It’s all rather typical!

 

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Cornish D-Day Veteran Harry Billinge (94) gets his MBE & meets the Queen.

Last year I made a memorable on  The Endcliffe Park Memorial in Sheffield & the incredible devotion of Tony Foulds.

Recently a D-Day veteran who raised more than £25,000 towards the cost of building a national memorial honouring his fallen comrades has become an MBE. Incredibly despite having a key role in the Normandy landings, there has never been a British D-Day memorial until now.

Harry Billinge, 94, said he was accepting the honour in memory of the “fellas that never came back”.  He was presented with the honour by the Queen during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, surely one of the few occasions the Queen will still meet anyone of a similar age.

Mr Billinge from St Austell, Cornwall was an 18-year-old Royal Engineer when he landed on Gold Beach at 6.30am on June 6 1944 as part of the first wave of troops.

“It was hell on earth. Murder. The sea was red with blood, human blood,” he said.

Mr Billinge, who has dedicated much of his life to fundraising, said the memory of the servicemen killed during D-Day had “never left him”.

“I never expected any medal for collecting a few pounds, or a thousand pounds for the boys that never came back,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“All I set out to do, I achieved and I’m still doing it.”

Speaking after the ceremony, Mr Billinge said it was “wonderful” to meet the Queen.

“She was very, very kind. There are no words to describe it.”

The veteran, who also holds France’s highest award, the Legion d’Honneur, is well-known for his charity work in Cornwall, where he has collected for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal for more than 60 years.

In June 2019 he travelled to Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

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Harry Billinge MBE on the beaches of Normandy then and now.

He went to see the unveiling of the first foundation stones of a memorial to remember those who served in the British forces during the war.

“I’m 94 and I only did what I did for the boys. I’m no brave man and I’m just an ordinary sapper, Royal Engineer Commando.  I did my job and I didn’t want any glory. There’s no glory in war.  Nobody should have got off the beaches at D-Day and I was lucky. I’ll never forget any of the blokes I was with – 22,442 were killed and it’s very difficult for me to talk about that. They were marvellous men, some just 16. What a waste of life, terrible.”

Discussing the MBE, Mr Billinge said “It’s overwhelmed me to be honest. I’m 94 and it’s a bit late in life to be recognised.  I am very grateful for any kindness bestowed upon me. I am choked beyond measure to think I have got an MBE. I don’t deserve it.”

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Harry with his MBE outside Buckingham Palace (photo from Normandymemorialtrust.org)

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Coronavirus Diary 5 – You look like a man!

I hope everyone is well and not been driven totally bonkers yet.  I’ve been pretty much on lockdown for almost 2 months now although only the last week or so has been due to the Coronavirus.

I am both well-settled into a routine and a little bored.  I’m not too bothered by the virus today and more about the jobs and financial worries I mentioned earlier in the week. I’m enjoying the peace and quiet though.

One of the things I regret doing during my earlier lockdown period was not getting my hair cut.  I’m fortunate at the age of 46 to have an absolutely full and quite wild head of hair and still the same colour it was when I was 20.  Kind of mid-brown in the winter and lighter in the summer.

As I like being a bit distinct and not following the crowd (especially during a Coronavirus epidemic!) I’ve never really gone in for the modern trend of having really short hair whether for fashion, laziness or hiding the fact one is bald.  I have plenty of hair so why would I get rid of what others get sad about losing?

Of course being out walking in London through the winter I deliberately don’t get a hair cut much after Halloween to try and keep warm.  Also I can put on a wool hat that covers things if it all gets a bit shaggy looking.

Really I should have got my hair cut in early February but it was a very stormy and unpleasant month and then I and my tube accident happened so I couldn’t go out.  Even in early February I was taking precautions about this wretched virus as I didn’t want to risk my chest and so I decided to hold on.   A month or more later I am still holding on and I imagine if this continues until May or June then I will emerge looking a cross between Jesus and a Rolling Stone.

Because of the whole not touching your face thing and my house being a mess  and combined with not going out, I realised that I now have a beard for the first time in my life.  I’ve never had one before.  A friend remarked that I looked like a man which was re-assuring I guess.

I thought long and hard over the beard for at least 10 minutes.  It was tempting to become a total sloth and regress into some bizarre Shoreditch-hipster type of appearance but that wasn’t me.  I always wondered why the trendy folk wanted to look like Islamic terrorists and it would just make my life so much harder the next time I go into Parliament or Buckingham Palace or drive around London.  One of the things I have always done is exclaim “Allahu Akbar!” whenever I get through a set of traffic lights with the lights staying green.  One of  my quirky ways I get through life and London with its maddening crowds. You know you are truly blessed if you can get through the traffic lights in one cycle!   But I get that big beards, shouting thanks to God and driving around iconic government buildings isn’t a good look in the current climate.

I was surprised and gladdened that my beard too is totally brown; you see so many sport stars or actors with grey bristles in their 30’s.  I guess they may be blessed with money and good lucks but as Prince William found out when he was a teenager, nothing can buy you good hair.

God might have not have blessed me with a good chest, immune system or even the ability to eat food but  much to the chagrin of lots of females I know, I have got an abundance of good and natural hair.  Not sure it will protect me from the virus though, going to get it cut might have the same effect as Samson of biblical fame only for me it with be Corvid-19.

I did think of dyeing my hair grey so when I finally emerge everyone will be all wondering just how long have I been self-isolated.

So the beard has been shaved off and my hair is ever so slightly longer than it was when the shutdown started, quite a lot longer than when I could have got it cut but decided it was safer not to and considerably longer than it was 2 months ago when I had thought to myself…. it is 3 months since you got your hair cut Stephen… sort it out!

Stay well everyone!

 

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The Queen homes in on being the longest serving monarch in history

Last week Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II  became the fourth longest-serving monarch today, surpassing legendary Mayan ruler Pakal the Great.

The Queen has surpassed  K’inich Janaab Pakal who ruled the Mayan city state of Palenque for 68 years and 33 days before his death in 683AD.

The Queen obviously holds several records including her title as the longest-living reigning monarch.  She also officially became the longest-reigning British monarch in September 2015, surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria.

Pakal the Great is thought to have ascended to the throne at the age of 12- years-old and during his rule managed to expand Palenque’s power in the western Maya states.  During the peak of Mayan power their civilisations ruled much of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen is now breathing down the neck of monarch Johann II of Liechtenstein, who ruled from 1858 and 1929 and the second longest reigning monarch is KingBhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who reigned from 1946 until his death in October 2016 and was the world’s longest living reigning monarch before the Queen.

Holding on to the top spot is Louis XIV of France, with an impressive 72-year and 110-day reign.  Known as Louis the Great, the French monarch became King at the age of four following the death of his father Louis XIII, and ruled from 14 May 1643 to 1 September 1715.

It’s important to remember with the exception of the Thai King, all of the other long reigning monarchs lived in a time with more rudimentary medical knowledge.  On the other hand, all the other monarchs came to the throne as children whilst the Queen was a married young woman when she ascended to the throne. It’s incredible to think that for now several decades, she remains the only head of state who served during WW2.

The Queen will hopefully celebrate her 94th birthday in April this year; who would be against her surpassing the legendary reign of the Sun King and reaching her 98th birthday?

Who the Queen is gunning for!

1. Louis XIV of France (reigned from 14 May 1643 to 1 September 1715)

2. Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand (reigned from 9 June 1946 to 13 October 2016)

3. Johann II of Liechtenstein (reigned from 12 November 1858 to 11 February 1929)

4. Queen Elizabeth II (reigned from 6 February 1952)  

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