Saturday, 30 April 2016

#15 THE CARTOON: Leonardo to Steve Bell

THE SUNDAY ITEMS team are in Blognor Regis (a.k.a. Bristol) for the annual staff beano, so normal service is suspended, but here's one we prepared earlier:

 THE CARTOON :  Leonardo to Steve Bell


not at all funny, nor meant to be; cartoon was the name given to a preparatory stage in the process of creating the final painting of The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist.

WILLIAM HOGARTH  (18TH CENTURY)                           

A pioneer of satire and social commentary; in this work he depicts the appalling consequences of alcoholism amongst the population of London.

 ('Gin Street' 1751)


  Gillray was the leading social satirist and etcher and printmaker of the 18th centuryGillray has been called "the father of the political cartoon", with his works satirizing George III, prime ministers and generals.

     PUNCH (Edwardian)


Thurber was a noted member of the Algonquin Club, a salon of literary, artistic, and journalistic wits who met every week at the Algonquin Hotel in New York to argue and amuse each other. He wrote and drew for the New Yorker, and others, producing his elegantly simple cartoons until his sight failed. Another member of the club, Robert Benchley was the person who famously telegraphed the New Yorker from his holiday in Venice with the words "Streets full of water. Please advise." Dorothy Parker was also in the Club, so to speak.

JULES FEIFFER  (American Jewish)    1960s - 90s

Feiffer was a cogent social critic known for his 'comic strip' cartoons, frequently published in the Observer. Somewhere in my papers I have a copy of his strip showing the transitions in terminology for black people in America from Black, through Nigger, Negro, Colored, Afro American, and back to Black. Published around 1968 at the time of the American Olympic athletes' Black Power podium salutes, without comment.

Feiffer was a wry and measured social critic - though also corruscating when necessary - focused as much on the neuroses and obsessions of individuals as wider social issues, but his contributions to the campaign against Richard Nixon were very influential in the Watergate affair.

ROBERT CRUMB (1960s - )

R.Crumb (as he was known) was an icon of 60s sexual liberation and radicalism. His cartoons were technically brilliant, often obscene and frequently sexist viewed from now.  At the time they were also very funny. Anarchic and irresponsible, he was the Hunter S Thompson of the cartoon world.


The home of the American cartoon. It is almost impossible to select a representative image from this treasure trove of graphic art and humour, but these two topical items will have to do.


Giles' cartoons were a beacon of wit and masterly graphic art in the otherwise execrable Daily and Sunday Express, from 1943 to 1991. His cartoons were gentle and observational, and hugely popular beyond the newspapers they graced. As a war correspondent he was present at the liberation of Belsen, interviewed the Commandant and found him, unwillingly, to be likeable and a fan of his catoons. He gave Giles a pistol and some Nazi regalia in exchange for an original cartoon. The deal was never completed because he was hanged. This demonstrates one of the problems with undue optimism.

Caption reads: "Three months in Northern Ireland, 11 weeks Falklands, now report for crowd control duties outside St. Mary's Hospital"  (birth of Prince William)


His cartoons for the Guardian are frequently masterpieces of acid social commentary. He may well go down in history as one of the greatest satirical cartoonists of all.


A selection of cartoons from the last year or so illustrating the diversity of styles and subject matter now produced across the humour spectrum.

AND FINALLY.........

Saturday, 23 April 2016


THE BULLY:    Bal de Jour

Mr. Smith was the local fishmonger. He was part-German, but had left Germany in 1937; he was not Jewish, he just hated what was happening to his country. I can picture him now in his shop doorway with a friendly word or pleasantry for everyone who passed by. Which is remarkable, as in reality he didn’t have a shop, he sold fish door-to-door from out of the back of his van. So much for our reconstructed memories. He was Old School, with a belief in honesty, customer service and value for money. So while 4am found the rest of us still fast asleep, he could be found making his daily journey to Billingsgate: he wanted the freshest fish for his customers. He was a nice man, a gent, happy doing what he did, very well. He was a modest, kind man, of whom you might say “why aren’t there more people like him around: the world would be a better place”.

Not so his son, who he had named Basil, which may have been his undoing: less of a Basil it would be hard to imagine. Basil – ‘Bal’ then, probably Bazza now – was a brute. He was not huge, but he was tallish and overweight, not athletic but nevertheless extremely strong, and all this menacing bulk was harnessed to an earnest desire to hurt people and hurt them badly if they didn’t succumb, ask for mercy, or acknowledge his supremacy. My acquaintance with him was slight and agonising: one lunchtime he got hold of my thumb and bent it in a direction and to an extent to which thumbs were not designed to travel. As it happens, I have ‘double-jointed’ thumbs which allows them go some way back towards the arm, but not to touch it, which Basil achieved. The pain was sufficient to tell me it must be broken, but it was not. Some ridiculous schoolboy code of honour persuaded me not to grass him up to the teachers, but it was badly swollen and unusable and so difficult to conceal from my parents that evening.  My father was livid and marched me straight round to the Smith house in Prince George Avenue, opposite the church: he would have it out with father and son and make sure Bal was thoroughly punished. As we neared the house a rather graphic and frightening image came into my mind: of my father, no athlete, bodybuilder or fighting man, going down under a rain of blows, having adopted the classic boxing stance of the silent films, fists rotating; badly hurt and totally humiliated at being thrashed by a 13 year old bully-boy, would probably ground him with a well-aimed kick and carry on kicking. It was not an idle fantasy, it was a racing certainty given my knowledge of the contestants.

It never happened because Mr Smith came to the front door, not Bal. He listened with a palpable mixture of horror and shame, summoned the young thug who was forced to apologise to me (while showing clearly in his eyes that there would be a price to pay for this humiliation) fined a month’s pocket money (which would be recovered in a few days via his lunch-money-tax revenue stream, to the detriment of some hungry first years). I think I remember my father saying "he should be kept on a leash, with a muzzle" and Mr. Smith spreading his hands as if to say "What can I do?" For some reason retribution never came my way. Bal continued to conduct his reign of terror in the school which only ended when he decked a teacher, momentarily forgetting that they had more power than the average small boy, or indeed very large one. The teacher did not press charges, presumably because he did not want to play out his humiliating trauma before a wider audience. 

Bal was expelled but admitted to another local school, on probation, where my primary schoolfriend (MD) went. He told me that Bal immediately set about expanding his empire of terror. Everybody hoped that he would get his come-uppance, but from a fellow-pupil, not just the power of the Feds. That was too good for him, he needed to get a real beating if there was a Just World. Possible salvation came in the form of a new contender (RP) recently moved to the area from Manchester. He was one of those ludicrously early developers who is shaving twice a day at the age of 14; already 6 foot 2, already with a hairy chest, a six-pack, arms the diameter of the average thigh and – wait for it – North West of England Under 15 boxing champion.  Apparently, the school bristled with excitement.  This diffused rather quickly; Basil recognised the threat and, with two fingers to the Queensberry Rules, made the pre-emptive strike. He caught RP at his most vulnerable, naked in the showers, felled him with a single blow to the nose, breaking it, and then set about making adjustments to the likely RP family tree. There was blood in the shower, rather like Psycho, and appropriately so. RP, anxious for his reputation and acceptance in the new school, obeyed the muerta. When encouraged to get his revenge on Bal, he claimed to have become a Buddhist and a pacifist who conscientiously objected to getting his face re-arranged, again.

Bal disappeared, his father left the neighbourhood – in disgrace in his own eyes – and neither were ever heard of again. I am willing to bet, however, that records of Broadmoor or some similar high security psychiatric facility would throw up his name. For Bal was a psychopathic violent sadist albeit in embryonic form when he terrorised us. A bully and a thug with absolutely no conscience, a Broadmoor would be his university, his career, his natural home, in perpetuity. Or possibly not. A couple of years ago I did see a newspaper photograph of someone whose features looked hideously familiar: if I screwed up my eyes for a moment, adjusted for some dietary improvement and gym work to shed a couple of stone, affected some scholarly looking glasses to disguise the vicious eyes – yes, it could just be him. But why would he change his name to ‘Michael Gove’? Of course it was just my imagination and an unfair comparison: Gove’s bullying of the education system was far more dangerous to British schoolchildren than anything Bal could do.

Another National Treasure gone.


Every now and then we get moments when something very familiar, momentarily feels odd; we see it briefly in a new light and question what we have previously taken for granted. Everyone remembers Gazza's floods of tears at the 1980 World Cup Finals (a.k.a. The Nessun Dorma Finals). They were seen by billions of viewers across the whole globe. We know why he cried, what caused his grief, but why do we squirt liquid when we're sad?  But it was a cuspic moment for men: actually they were  allowed to cry...

Everybody knows that the tear ducts secrete a fluid which lubricates cleanses and protects the surface of the eye, but that's different. 'Why do we cry?' Why should the eyeball need to be awash with fluid when we are shocked, very sad or in pain, or extremely happy?  It seems to make no sense, nor to have any function or evolutionary role. Maybe it's a primitive, pre-linguistic signal to an attacker (or the world in general, that you are hurt, 'disabled' offer no threat and are deferring to them (I'm making this up as I go along, like most amateur ethology). That's not implausible but it) doesn't account for the depth of emotion experienced (similar to the other end of the spectrum, laughter. As with laughter, there is a great outpouring of energy, a need to externalise the emotion, that is almost too much for mere words and so it needs a physical conduit to channel its release. Maybe, as I've often felt, popular sayings express these things, these truths better than theories do: "Go on, have a good cry, let it out, you'll feel better afterwards"......

A Psychologist has been pondering these questions for the last 10 minutes without a satisfactory answer. It's a topic which deserves a book, not a part of a post of a blog. If you want to read a non-jargonised account, click on:

Meanwhile, consider the high profile tears have had in popular music: As Tears Go By, Tears of a Clown, Tears for Fears, Tears for Souvenirs, Big Girls Don't Cry, Crying in the Rain. Are you crying yet, because tears are contagious, like laughter? How about Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontear?





The extraordinary measure of her power and popularity is that were she to take this course, the issue would be settled decisively, with a huge majority, for good. On difficult, complex, ambiguous and uncertain issues we are often relieved to simply vote with the people we respect. Do it, Your Majesty, then abdicate for having broken your rule, have an enjoyable retirement and leave us to Green Charles - he can't be put off for ever, so we might as well get it over with....


FASHION: our correspondent writes:

Who invented light grey tracksuits and hoodies? They don't suit anyone! Whoever it was should be apprehended for this crime against humanity and aesthetics. No punishment is too severe, short of being stuck in a lift with Boris Johnson, Nicky Morgan and Nigel Farrago.


Despite everything, no one can dictate                

who you are to other people...


Sunday, 17 April 2016


THERE WILL BE BLOOD                                            (WARNING:  18 certificate)

Why are people afraid of blood? It's the stuff of life, and we are lost without it. Presumably it's because of the association with harm, injury and death, or major operations, for we only see it in any quantity in those scenarios. Perhaps quantity is the key: generally people are not too bothered by the sight of a paper-cut, a nosebleed or a blood test – except that many look away when it is being done. Needlephobia may be something different, though. I’ve had a lot of blood-tests in the last few years so they are very routine for me, but I always look at other patients in the room and it is clear that some of them are highly anxious. The truth of the matter is that blood tests are seldom painful; but there is a truth within that truth, which is that they are much more likely to be painful in your GP surgery than the blood test department of a hospital. No offence to GP Practice nurses who may be very experienced, but the fact is that they will do a few a day at the very most. The blood test department does hundreds every day and they simply have a higher level of skill. At the two extremes, I had a blood test at the Royal Free where I was genuinely unsure whether the needle had actually gone in or not – all I had felt was something like an itch.  On my next visit to the GP a practice nurse just couldn’t find a blood vessel in my arm to hit, with the result that what should take 3 minutes took 15 and left an arm that looked like a junkie’s.

Blood in quantity, blood flowing, blood from serious and clearly painful injury are a different matter, I think. This is much more likely to be traumatic and the reaction of recoil and disgust tap into some really primeval emotions and instinctive patterns of behaviour which are very persuasive and hard to resist. Flight, that is, leaving the scene, is one of them. There is a whole field of Social Psychology known as ‘bystander intervention’ or 'bystander apathy' which looks at the factors which influence whether people help or ‘look the other way’ in emergency situations. Broadly this suggests that there are more factors which inhibit helping behaviour than encourage it – though of course many people will overcome these constraints and offer help.

Sometimes you can’t, because you are prevented from doing so. When I was 9 we went to North Wales on holiday. On the A5 beyond Shrewsbury we encountered a slow-moving tailback which after a couple of miles passed a serious accident: a truck had hit a minibus head-on. It was absolute carnage with several badly injured or dead people lying on the ground. My father told us not to look, but I did. He was right: it was an indelible image. It was raw because the paramedics had not yet arrived, though the police had and were waving traffic past as quickly as possible. Theoretically my father could have helped, having some medical knowledge, but he wasn’t allowed to do so by the police, just waved on. Looking back on it, in his shoes I would have been inclined to offer help, and been privately relieved not to have to. It was an absolute horror show and you wouldn’t have a clue where to start (not having the necessary knowledge or skills is one of the biggest inhibitors of helping behaviour).

Three years later, one afternoon in the summer holidays, I went to Grovelands Park, Southgate, with some mates from school. We wanted to have a couple of rounds of pitch and putt. Two guys, in their 20s, got to the office just before us and so they went off first. It was about 2 in the afternoon, and it looked like they may have spent some time in the pub first. One of them set up his ball on the tee, had done a few practice swings. The other was standing diagonally behind him at what he thought was a safe distance. The first one brought his club back, brought it down and smacked the ball very hard, and on the follow through with the club over his shoulder, hit his friend full in the mouth with the club head. The guy grabbed his face, screamed with pain and instantly poured blood and spat out teeth, then fell over backwards. There was actually very little we could do – so we just looked after him and tried to comfort him while his mate went to call for an ambulance. It occurs to me now, although this was not a fatal injury, how many lives have been saved by the advent of the mobile phone? 
I was involved in a further emergency situation much more recently, one that involved a scenario which would be everybody’s nightmare. I had finished lecturing for the day and made my way to the Bakerloo Line northbound platform at Oxford Circus tube station. I was reading the Standard, minding my own business, as they say, when the train came in. If you are of a squeamish disposition it would be better to stop reading this point. I was trying to finish what I was reading as the train was slowing to a halt, but I became aware of a disturbance of the crowd on the platform, the sound of gasps, whimpers, low-level screams and of people drawing back from the platform edge, the crowd parting to reveal that the train was a dragging a man along the platform, with one leg caught underneath it. That was bad enough, but as the train stopped the man was able to pull himself away, further onto the platform, and revealed the really horrendous sight of a bloody leg which had been severed a few inches below the knee. It looked just like a leg of lamb in a butcher’s window, only with shattered bones not neatly cut ones.

At this point there was some hysteria. A lot of people left the scene as quickly as they could, in fact most people did that. I couldn’t, for two reasons (or I probably would have, the situation was so overwhelmingly difficult and horrible).   Firstly, with supreme irony, I had just been lecturing to my second year students on Bystander Intervention in emergencies – or lack of it. Secondly. The train had not just dumped him on the platform, it had dumped him literally at my feet; I was by far the nearest person to him. It was almost as though God, to punish me for my years of atheism, had said “Right mate, you tell your students what they should do in emergencies, let’s see what you do, so sort it out! Yes you

What to do? Haven’t a f*cking clue. Panic and freeze. Get the idea of using the station intercom to get help. Damn. Someone’s doing it already. Stare, transfixed, at the man’s leg, see he’s still losing a lot of blood, can’t see what I could use as a tourniquet, nor how to get one on him, given his overcoat, trousers etc. Suddenly remember A-level Zoology (so have only waited 40 years for it to come in useful in any way at all) – isn’t there a big ‘femoral artery’ which is fairly near the surface near the groin? Get toe of boot in there fairly hard. Almost as soon as I had, the cavalry arrived, and the paramedics unceremoniously bundled me off the victim and upstairs. They have closed off Oxford St and Regent St to bring down the Virgin Air Ambulance which has paralysed the whole of the West End in the rush hour, so it promptly takes off again without him. Priorities. Ambulance takes him to St. George's (Middlesex Hospital 300m away no longer has A&E...). He survived but lost the rest of that leg. All my subsequent lectures on bystander intervention were rather more vivid and heartfelt than before.

                          (with acknowledgements to our sister publication The Daily Mash)

Recent  research has shown that some                                               
advertisements may not be true

Others may be a slight exaggeration                                    

Why does this picture remind us of lemmings prepared to throw themselves off a cliff? Nothing to do with that fine little car which has given so many District Nurses sterling service, obviously.


On Have I Got News for You on Friday night it was reported that, as claimed, David Cameron's Mum had indeed given him a gift of £200,000, but it was important to stress that this was for both Birthday AND Christmas...



What a beautiful image: the throng of people trying to get in to Washington Square Park, which is already packed tight, to hear Bernie Sanders speak; and the glorious colour that the sun gives the buildings as it heads off for the night.