The King of Spin

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While the public still await the outcome of the ‘Chilcot Inquiry’ into our country’s last illegitimate conflict, and before we have even established the official name of our enemy (is it ISIS, ISL, I.S, Daesh?), the UK have already began their next pursuit into uncharted territory with a fresh bombing campaign in Syria.

You have to applaud Cameron – his powers of persuasion are second to none. Though somewhat taking a passive position behind Philip Hammond and Hilary Benn during the Commons debate last night, you would be forgiven for assuming that the puppet master already had the motions in place for certain success, with key MP’s duly groomed and prepped for the inevitable ‘Yes’ vote.

The significant difference between the two main opposing parties is that the Tory contingent – with the obvious exception of Basildon MP John Baron – appear to be more galvanised during recent debates. They have less rebels to worry about than the Labour Party, and the whips take care of the easily influenced swing-voters.

The 10 hour debate – which largely exists to create the false illusion that a democratic process has taken place – has ended up being centred around the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s impassioned speech endorsing the airstrikes. I can only imagine what his Father would have thought of this, who delivered a dichotomous speech about bombing Iraq over a decade ago.

Although the words received applause from both sides of the house, Benn then had to take up his seat next to a less than impressed Jeremy Corbyn, who many say was upstaged by his counterpart and recent adversary.

It was the kind of mortification Corbyn didn’t need, and one that the Tories were always going to draw attention to. The vote may not have hinged on the participation of a number of disassociated Labour Party members, but it did enforce the case for change within its walls.

Perhaps Cameron’s injudicious comment about none-backers being ‘terrorist sympathisers’ was more geared towards the electorate, but this type of malicious rhetoric is all too common in today’s debates. A pacifist is now a virtual jihadist, a demonstrator is a hooligan and anyone who leans slightly to the left or is concerned for workers’ rights is a staunch Communist.

So quickly we have forgotten about the cause and effect of entering a war without rationale, arming another rebel insurgency, attempting to install an artificial democracy and leaving it to defend for itself against the ‘next big threat to the world’.

Planning your ‘root’

My Grandad was one of the most fascinating, yet innate beings I have ever known. He had an intellectual mystique of which he called upon on demand, sometimes to enlighten one of a particular topic subject, often to contest and correct a previous remark. It was the most sinister form of rhetoric, but usually went untested still.

What I knew of the man was right in front of me and that would never change. The local family would come together each Saturday afternoon till late. I would always find him sat at the table in ‘his chair’, instantly recognisable by the smoggy tobacco stain left on the ceiling directly above, resembling near-on twenty years of pipe smoking activity. Even on the seldom occasions where he wasn’t to be found (usually mid-afternoon before he would retire to his comfort zone) you could tell he wasn’t far away, judging by the thriving activity on the partitioned section of the table. Burning embers and a railway magazine were usually the giveaway. I’d go find him, half out of courteousness, half of intrigue. If the weather flattered, the sun would cast into the garden, illuminating what someone of my age at the time may seem as an unattainable jungle. On closer inspection, it was an intricately kept botanical miracle, compiling of various organisms collected and grown over the years. I had no idea that Lancaster could provide a suitable climate for these types of plantation, but under the rigorous observation of himself and my Nanna, they not only coerced them to docility, but made them feel privileged to be there. Amongst them were either my Nanna or Grandad (the overpopulated environment could not incorporate the presence of both at any one time), and they would sit on a miniature stool or the stone step which led into the kitchen.

I’d talk to them about school, the default subject between family members who don’t see each other often. I was more captivated by the enormous graveyard beyond the wall and across the alleyway, which ran adjacent to the whole of my grandparents’ street. Naturally it was haunted, as was the common opinion of my two Uncles who had grown up under the same roof as my mum. Together they were extremely devilish, and clearly saw me as an impish pawn to whom they could play their dastardly tricks on. In doing so, they planted the seed in my mind, the idea of which was that the only place more haunted than the graveyard was my Grandad’s cellar. The cellar itself was out of bounds when my Grandad himself wasn’t down there. Of course, to a child, ‘out of bounds’ as a statement was nothing but a supplement for daring adventure.

As part of their iniquitous deed, I was told by one of my Uncles that the previous owners of the house had an argument at the entrance of the cellar, which began verbally but ended physically when the husband pushed the wife down the stone stairs and into the bleakness. He left her down there for days, presuming she was either knocked unconsciousness or worser still while his guilt became more and more unbearable. Eventually he ventured down the stairs in a mournful sob, expecting to find his deceased beloved at the bottom. The basement floor scantily came into view as he neared the bottom step, but she wasn’t to be seen anywhere. As his curiosity and panic flooded him, he wandered further into the abyss, unaware that he was about to be struck from behind by the very entity he was opting to seek.

When I first heard the story, I was petrified, but also stumbled into cognitive dissonance over the tale, pondering if it was passed down by my Grandad onto my Uncles to keep them from exploring where they shouldn’t explore. Nonetheless, I wasn’t ready to find out whether my hypothesis was correct, as the iconography was suitably present to convey the realism that my Uncle’s story suggested. The door to the cellar was barely on its hinge, splintered to such a degree that I could have sworn Wendy Torrence was cowering on the other side. The stone stairs had no indication of diligent masonry, wildly varying in width and depth. The walls undecorated and smelled of damp plaster, and above all, it was freezing. The point of any good ghost story is to describe the darkness of the environment, and Stephen Tobolowsky mentioned that darkness is a pretty good indicator of somewhere you don’t wanna be. Well here, at the zenith of the cellar looking down, there was lots of it. Also, like any good basement, the light switch is at the bottom of the stairs, out of sight. This made the decent slightly less agreeable. It was at this point that my atheist-like reflex kicked in, in the form of adaptive preferences. Suddenly I had nothing to prove any nobody to prove wrong. I was the fox who didn’t care for the grapes (only after he couldn’t jump high enough to reach them).

We like to extenuate ghost stories for narrative purposes, to scare our friends and fraternize fundamental unbelievers, but more often than not the results of any given experience are disappointing. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good scare though, I have bags of ghost stories to tell. It’s just that the movie protagonist doesn’t have the rational I possess, so the outcome is generally more gruesome and gratifying. At the end of the movie, I’m the one who always remarks “well if the house was haunted, why didn’t they go stay with their friends?” The person next to me always gives me a daring glare and replies “what kind of movie would that be?”

Canis Majoris

Let me be clear from the start. Dogs can be a handful, especially when those who purchase one have little more than a dewy-eyed reference of what it takes to look after pets. There seems to be a perception that usually comes about through frequent viewings of generic family films where the parents, ‘Daddy’ (wearing his well knitted red cardigan, thick rimmed bifocals and almost certainly smoking a pipe) will bust onto the scene with the surprise final present that gladdens the children into euphoria: “Oh Daddy! You got a PUPPY!” ‘Daddy’ is looking very happy with himself, as the tiff between his love and he is mooted, and she once again dangles agreeably from his arm.

That’s certainly how history recalls it, well, in the idyllic environment anyway. This pastoral facade also expects their to be a period of unwilled realisation, where the seemingly feral creature cannot be tamed, causing mental and physical destruction to all during its wanton phase. Eventually, just before the family reaches breaking point, something drastic happens where the dog’s life almost ends, and everyone pulls together in a beautifully orchestrated, and not to mention convenient, repair, thus resolving the previously disrupted equilibrium. All is well again within the household, and ‘Daddy’ gets the Fischer account.

Believe it or not, reality could not be farther flung. Particularly in a film and television sense, we, as the well-groomed audience, consider it obligatory for all the ends to be neatly tied up for escapism purposes. So when a film like ‘Marley & Me’ bridges the gap between fiction and the more corporeal with its unorthodox ending, we occasionally call foul. As it had been at least a year since its release before I decided to watch, a sultry mystique had manifested itself around the final quarter of the film, so much so that when I exclaimed that I was about to watch it, I was already being consoled by peers and loved ones. Messages of ‘good luck’ and ‘you’re in trouble’ showed that even an utterance of the title was a precursor for distress.

Abi's dogs back in Ireland; Pip, Sassy & Lady

Abi and I watched, sobbed the tearful sob, then began to revel in the harshness of a dog’s lifespan. We are both very much dog advocates, have both lost dogs in the past and currently have dogs living with our respective parents. As we see them infrequently between elongated periods of time, we see the transition in them much more clearly (the Marley & Me crew used twenty-two dogs throughout the film to illustrate this change), and although they have runs of youthful tendencies from time to time, they seem to inexorably retire to the rug sooner each visit.

Our first dog Scruff, in his more youthful days

It’s a saddening inevitability that we have to come to terms with, as my Dad and I have recently uncovered the all too familiar conversation which serves to try to contemplate the size of the void left by the parting of our pooch. It would be right to claim that Jasper does not have the title of ‘family dog’ for a reason, as losing him will be the loss of a family member.

Dogface, biting off more than he can chew

It seems fitting to conclude with John Grogan’s soliloquy at the end of Marley & Me, as few other pieces of discourse have managed to sum up the feeling towards my pet as well as this:

A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if your rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?