Sunday, 16 April 2017


It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you of The Proprietor's decision to axe The Sunday Items. It has always been the errant child of his newspaper group,  Nudes International, and a constant irritant for its incessant attacks on the American and British politicians who he entertains lavishly, and whose strings he tweaks from time to time. In this era of the new illiberalism he can dispense with The Items at a stroke of his pen, by executive order; and without protest, as we have come to accept far worse incursions into freedom of speech and human rights as part of our daily diet of news.

Back in the day when we started as a niche publication, pulling in at least 6 readers a week, and some of those representing keyboarding errors, we could be safely ignored. Since the dramatic upsurge of interest in the Autumn, peaking at over 2000 views per week, we have clearly been seen as a threat to the transatlantic Establishment, the military-industrial complex, the CIA/FBI, the Freemasons, the patriarchy, the Illuminati and FIFA. It was just a matter of time. Dark threats were uttered by intermediaries that Washington in particular was displeased with The Items' depiction of the President as something less than a blessed intellectual giant, paragon of justice and human rights, and orator second only to Dan Quayle in his grasp of languages and World Geography. When the axe fell last night it came swiftly.

The Items is dead. Long live The Items! We will continue without the backing of Mr Merdeok, but on a less frequent basis. We will maintain our name and masthead, for brand recognition but will appear on a monthly basis, at most. This is the only alternative to staff cuts, and the Editor rather feels that his body has suffered enough  from the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' without getting cut in half - not even by a conjuror with a promise of restoration.

Other media will cover this development rather differently, of course. They will say that The Editor was preparing to jump before he was pushed. That age and infirmity meant that the human fabric was being stretched too far between his various commitments, and was threatening to rend apart. In short, he was heading for a gravy Earl, as Dr. Spooner might have put it. There may be a kernel of truth in this, in that staff have heard him muttering about 'spending more time with his dogs' recently. It is true that in the last few years, in addition to editing The Items, he has revised (but not finally signed off, a novel), published an autobiography, written 1.95 plays (which he's had no time to promote) and recently begun to re-launch a company he was forced to abandon a few years back through serious illness. His house needs painting inside and out, his garden is a wasteland and his younger daughter alleges neglect.

Something had to give. Perhaps there is another clue in a recent interview he gave to the Neasden Gazette & Bugle (incorporating the Dollis Hill Review of Books): "I never meant this blog to be a dialogue or a conversation, but in 63 issues over 15 months, no-one has availed themselves of the Comments section on the blog, not once, not ever. Is there anyone there?  Sometimes it feels like I'm throwing a cocktail sausage around an empty Albert Hall (although I'm aware this image has another connotation). Do Blogspot just make up the numbers? There is no feedback. I'm not bitter, just a little disappointed", he said, with a slight moistening of his good eye. On the other hand he reported an astonishing breadth of global support for the Items as audience analysis reveals a sprinkling of readers in Thailand, Alaska, Albania, Brazil, Romania, Iraq, Russia, China, and South Africa, to name a few. And that 80% of the total readership come from the US. Nostalgic expats, presumably,

The Items, like HMS Titanic McArkface (featured last week) has choppy waters to negotiate. It will need your support and loyalty. If you have enjoyed any of it, say so and tell your friends and us. It is not sunk, nor holed below the waterline, it is simply a less frequent ferry to that rather bizarre country of peculiar humour, single-issue politics and embarrassing fits of personal disclosure. We hope you will stay with the ship (enough maritime metaphors. Ed). All issues will be well flagged up on Twitter and Facebook. Who will salute?

The Editor asks a favour: please communicate either your name or your email address to The Items via facebook chat (to David Milner), or the Items' comments section (at the end). We need proof you exist and an individual channel of communication. Or send something you might like to see 'in print,' text or picture, original or second-hand. Don't make us beg.


In June 1994 I was invited to visit the orphanage in Siret, N.E.Romania (see FESS, chapters  53-5) one of many left behind by the monstrous Ceaucescu dictatorship and their disastrous population- expansion programme. It was a place of such massively insanitary deprivation that the stench of urine and faeces that had soaked into the floor-boards over years, greeted the visitor before entering the building: inside, it was like a hammer blow. Inevitably, back in the UK, I became involved in fund-raising activities, the most successful of which was an annual quiz-night in the University of Westminster, the first one raised £150, the last over £1000. There was a unique chemistry in these events that guaranteed a good night for everyone; there was never a dud one. Good-natured competition, constant banter, humour in the quiz itself, feats of memory and enlightened guesswork or fabrication or cheating, plus alcohol or medicinal cannabinoids, were the vital ingredients in evenings which were by far the most successful social events of the year. On one particularly memorable night, a Professor (whose name escapes me), compèred the evening in full drag. At the end of the evening a brave student challenged him to 'show us your tits', whereupon he reached into his bra with both hands and scattered about 20 odd socks over the audience: the sequence somehow found its way onto 'You've Been Framed', thankfully without attribution.

Going off at a slight tangent, I have to tell you that academics are are not paid very well. Similarly qualified professionals in medicine and law generally earn at lest 50% more, and even greater sums in business and industry, or local authorities. Academic pensions are proportionately meagre. Discovering the mismatch between income and outgoings in retirement, I decided to busk while selling the Big Issue at the same time. David Bowie made this possible: "Ch-ch-ch change is 25p" works for a while, but the sympathetic glances of old students, much richer than I, were unbearable.

Then I had the idea of putting the long experience of quiz nights I had acquired over the years to 'commercial' use by starting a company to produce and distribute quizzes: high quality, innovative, entertaining quizzes that would appeal to many different audiences. When I went 'on the road' to sell them to pubs, it was very successful: could I think about what colour Aston Martin I might order? Not really, because coincidentally I became seriously ill with acute thyrotoxicosis, which I survived, obviously, but not by much. A long period or recovery and convalescence followed, succeeded by the birth of FESS, and a lot of other writing. The quiz business quietly gathered dust, on the shelf.

Something stirred, just before last Christmas: the realisation that we could deliver the quizzes via a website, which solved a key difficulty of the earlier system. Other ideas for a much wider constituency of audiences emerged: it had always been intended that the quizzes would be made available to the NHS for bedside televisions on a not-for profit basis; in addition we realised it could be supplied to charities and other causes to raise significant income through local groups on a long term basis. In a good way this completes the circle, for the origins of the whole enterprise and the motivation behind it were purely altruistic, for the benefit of the Romanian orphanage.

Just to get an idea of possible demand, I put up Quizmas, the Christmas quiz, on this blog. Despite all the competing demands of television and social life over the holiday, there was an overwhelmingly positive response: nearly 75% of the usual readership 'hit' the quiz.

'Q&A quizmasters' was formed as a limited company in January. There is now a period of several months 'research and development' while we accumulate a catalogue of quizzes, covering not only an all-purpose general knowledge quiz, but also a football quiz for pubs and sports bars, and a Senior Quiz for entertainment and cognitive stimulation in residential care homes, day-centres etc. It has to be stressed that this is simultaneously a commercial enterprise (at a commercial rate of payment), and an aid for charities and other fund-raising bodies at minimal or no cost.

A website is under construction, but a temporary site with the most basic information has just been published at: 

This is not a one-man-band, but it is not an orchestra, either. We are hoping that other people may wish join us, to 'crowd-fund' the enterprise NOT with money, but with assistance, for example, submitting questions (and answers!) If either the commercial or altruistic aspects of the enterprise appeal to you, please get in touch through Facebook chat (Q&A quizmasters) or through the email address on the temporary website. Before there is any revenue stream we cannot pay for these contributions; as that materialises we intend to do so, and for major contributions we will consider offering equity in the company.

Charity quiz-nights operate on the principle of raising money while enjoying yourselves: preparing quizzes operates on the same principle. Do a Good Thing today: have a look at the site and get in touch...

A quiz company seems like a trivial pursuit in the context of the last 72 hours: the Cuba Crisis meets Groundhog Day as Trump and the North Koreans posture like caricatures of macho narcissists. Sabre-rattling it may be, but the weapons are 20-megaton nuclear warheads: twenty times the explosive force of the bombs which produced these pictures. If you have a God, pray your ass off.

Saturday, 8 April 2017


Back in 1983, the Labour Party published an election manifesto which was so Left-of-centre it was dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’ by the Conservatives and their friends in the Press. Many anti-Brexit ‘Remainers’ firmly believe that in writing to activate Article 50 and initiate Brexit, Mrs May has penned a shorter but more lethal one. Debate rages around Westminster and the media on what the deal will eventually be: hard Brexit, soft Brexit, terms which are lost on the general public who are confused and fearful, but mostly bored stiff: all Brexited-out, already. Dry Brexit will probably be the ultimate outcome, an indigestible dog’s breakfast of dry biscuit, compromise, sacrifice and hardship. Already it seems as though it will be a choice between Hard Deal and No Deal, which roughly translates as disaster versus catastrophe. We will not be surprised if, on the day after the The Deal is struck, a number of European newspapers will carry the headline: “Choke on it, Britain, it was your choice”. Makes you wonder about the downside of democracy a little.

Can a simple head-counting process always be the best way to choose who governs you or what they are allowed to do? Should we not re-consider a genuine meritocracy in which the finest minds prevail (in intellect, achievement and altruism) rather than the grubbiest, most self-seeking politicians? We could start by reforming the House of Lords in that way and giving it a veto….

GB. Great Britain. The only nation in the World which announces its pre-eminence in its very name, brought low by self-serving politicians and a misled electorate. Salman Rushdie talked about the days of Imperial power in a graphic metaphor “the days when half the map of the world blushed pink with pleasure” at being part of the British Empire (he was, of course being bitterly ironic). 

Now the Empire which divorced us by national liberation, and became the Commonwealth (so we could ‘still be friends’) has to be courted again. It’s like the man who leaves his wife for another woman, takes against her and so begs his wife to accept him back. Maybe, at a price: so that means we pay one heavy price to leave the EU and another to rejoin the rest of the world, through a certain vengeful delight in exacting the best deal from the former overlords, now wielding the begging bowl instead of the gun and the bible. Great, indeed.


It turns out that the Government and the Brexiteers, far from blundering into this wilderness without a compass or an escape plan, had already been devising a scheme for making up and exceeding all the trade we have lost with EU countries through Brexit. As befits our proud maritime history, it centres on a very large ship, probably a decommissioned aircraft carrier, packed to the flight deck with British products and services, British salespeople and diplomats, and British crew. Even the passengers’ entertainment will have a distinctly British flavour with Sir Cliff Richard (half-Indian but we’re very inclusive) providing the cabaret and his friend Sue Barker running nightly sports Quiznites. For it will be a very long voyage, calling at practically every port in the world, and selling ourselves and our products. Despite his recent protestations, it will be captained by David ‘Pig in a Poke’ Cameron, assisted by Paddy Ashdown (formerly of the Special Boat Service), and the ships purser will be John Prescott (on grounds of previous experience): a coalition of all the talents, a dream team, no question.

The ship has been re-named  ‘Titanic McArkface’. Even as I write it is being loaded at Southampton with legendary British products and iconic miniature service outlets are being installed in a capacious Mall: Marmite, Oxford marmalade, Marks & Spencer, Dyson, Aston Martin (many know the cars from Bond films, so they practically  sell themselves to the super-rich), British Home Stores (no, scrub that) Shetland knitwear, whisky and haggis (decision pending), Wimpy Bars, Chicken Cottage, Ladbrokes, Poundland, Sainsburys, Prince Charles’ Duchy products, Eccles cakes, Mr Kipling, Taffi Indian Steel, miners’ lamps, speed humps, British bobbies, Royal Family souvenirs, boxed cassette sets of The Archers, red pillar boxes doubling as wi-fi hotspots: the list is almost endless.  Deck-space is devoted to the outdoor aspects of British culture with tiny Wimbledons, Henleys, and Grand Nationals. Jeremy Clarkson & Lewis Hamilton will host a permanent go-kart grand prix involving teams in each venue. There will just about be space for a display cabinet housing all the international trophies won by the England football team since 1966. Quite a small cabinet. An empty cardboard box, actually.

The British are coming! This commercial and cultural invasion will ensure our place on the world map, as a little speck off Europe, but with limitless potential. It is true that no trading arrangements have yet been made with any of the embarkation points targeted, nor indeed permission to land granted. But these things take time. There will always be unhelpful responses from nations who fear the might of British mercantile endeavour, because they dread the competition (Russia: “Our nuclear submarines will sink your ship”; Germany: “we will beat you on penalties”; France: “Pff. We will ignore your stupid ship”; America: “You think you’ve got problems, we can trump yours”).  We will rise above them and show our own detractors what kind of stuff we’re made of. STOP PRESS: we have just received a very welcome invitation from poor Syria (from their International Strategic Incendiary Supplies people, if we have interpreted the acronym correctly), to mount a demonstration of our entire portfolio of arms products, with the promise of firm orders, if we bring sufficient supplies with us. Heads we win, tails we lose them.

Editor’s note: while this piece may contain one or two factual inaccuracies, it is no more fanciful than the Brexit claims for the ease of making future trading arrangements outside    the EU.

Generally speaking the Room 101 Exit Lounge has been restricted to things one would like to get rid of but perhaps it's time to broaden the canvas to include people who have polluted our society in some way, usually in pursuit of power, wealth, ideology or sexual gratification:

Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, all the celebrities who have abused their power, to abuse children or adults, Dr. Harold Shipman (who killed at least 250 of his patients), Margaret Thatcher (considerations of space preclude a full list of her crimes against this society), MPs who use/d our money to feather their interchangeable nests via outrageous expenses claims, tax havens without which many of our vital services could be properly funded, through increased tax receipts; The Sun and The Star, because they are toxic; Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins, The Daily Express and the Daily Mail, because they have dropped any pretence of truthful, objective journalism. 

It is not often we can capture more than one of these miscreants in a single shot but.....

The depraved monster...
with Jimmy Savile

                                                                                 Jimmy Savile, with a weapon of                                                                             mass destruction

Britain still has the most reliably beautiful countryside of anywhere in the world. I would hate to be part of the generation that allowed that to be lost.     Bill Bryson

Close to a billion people - one-eighth of the world's population - still live in hunger. Each year 2 million children die through malnutrition. This is happening at a time when doctors in Britain are warning of the spread of obesity. We are eating too much while others starve. Jonathan Sacks

It is crystal clear to me that if Arabs put down a draft resolution blaming Israel for the recent earthquake in Iran it would probably have a majority, the U.S. would veto it and Britain and France would abstain. Amos Oz

If the British Empire is fated to pass from life into history, we must hope it will not be by the slow process of dispersion and decay, but in some supreme exertion for freedom, for right and for truth.   Winston Churchill !

So this is a country?   Rose Milner, my Lithuanian Jewish grandmother, on arrival in                                                Birmingham from Kovno, 190?

So much better than God Save the Queen.....

Only the most paper thin excuse for this one: Paul Simon wrote it on a Romford Station platform on his first visit to England, waiting for a train. The romance of it all!

You may never forgive me for this, but it has England in the title..... Roger Miller's execrable 'Engerland swings like a pendulum do' . Sorry.

 I used to read The Times Higher Education Supplement, not slavishly but fairly often. I would read two columns before anything else (if anything else): Laurie Taylor’s column was always good value, and I had a lot of respect for him. Once I sat opposite him on a train from King’s Cross to York and disciplined myself to respect his space and not talk to him as he was working in a concentrated way.

The other column was Don’s Diary: every week an academic was invited to share his or her (but invariably his) activities for the past week with the readership for an interesting cross-section of life within the ivory towers. I found it hilarious. It was clear that the composition process was like this;
1) Go through diary for the past year and record all your most impressive engagements, appointments, publication launches, distinguished visitors, media appearances and mentions.
2)    Select as many of these as could credibly be squeezed into 7 days, allowing for a certain amount of doubling up, or more, e.g. “Thursday: bumped into my old friend Stephen Hawking at Heathrow, and it transpired were both going to address the UN, before the jolly at Harvard on “is there a future for astrophysics?”. Hope he’ll give me a chance on the way back to work on the telly script I’m doing with Brian Cox on Friday. Have promised to give the lad a little fraternal coaching on presentational skills, you can’t get by on good looks alone – that’s what I’ve found.
3) Mail article to THES 

So one day I sat down and wrote a gentle satire on the column and sent it in to the THES. I thought it might amuse them. Apparently not, they rejected it. So how did I manage to get a little bit of it in the THES a few weeks later? I didn’t, but mysteriously, the best gag in the piece (somewhat ‘incorrect’ but we’re all grown-ups, aren’t we?) appeared in the middle of another regular contributor's column soon afterwards. It’s not impossible that another person can think up exactly the same gag, or that a sub-editor with a hangover cuts and pastes erratically: either explanation is preferable to common plagiarism.

This is the spoof it came from:


Monday:      That very special time of year: no students. There is a God, and I have a time-share in Paradise. Of course one loves the students, but much as one loves a puppy despite its messing. Now the place is tidier, and there is time, for example, to polish a Personal Strategic Plan to boost my career trajectory to the star-spangled heights. Before I can finish the thought, Paxman calls to get me on Newsnight again. The man’s a bore, frankly, the headmaster bit is getting tedious and the format is creaky, but we compromise on a to-camera piece on the ‘iconography of chavs’. I’ll have to get something to wear. Maybe string them along until the new Paul Smith collection comes in. Suits you, sir as my students kept saying when I wore the Armani to Graduation. Reverie interrupted by young female person at my door. “Are you the professor?” she ask. “Yes, and are you the student?” I reply.

 She wants to know if she can appeal against her degree result on health grounds. Apparently she had a fleeting sexual encounter just before the exams with a lorry driver in a motorway services lorry park and contracted a nasty infection. “So you think you may be HGV positive?” I suggest, scarcely able to contain my delight at this mordant witticism. No reaction. I explain that unless said driver was a moonlighting member of staff or external examiner, her cause is doomed. “Better to have loved and lost a 2:1 than never to have loved at all” I comfort her, and give her the usual homily about some of my best friends and colleagues having 2:2s (while ever so subtly indicating which).

Tuesday:  Put finishing touches to “Advertisements for Mercedes: de-constructing Exchange & Mart”, a think-piece for “Makin’ Waves”, the new monthly bible of Psychomedia Studies. I didn’t really want to do it, but they pointed out that they pay. So I thought of a deterrent figure and multiplied it by 5 which they accepted by return of email, and that’s my upmarket gym/spa/treatments for this year paid for. 

Notice colleague from Sociology walking across to the Barbara Windsor Building, sporting a pony-tail. Shudder. With fashion you have to read the runes, and when my accountant got a pony-tail, mine had to come off, like right now. Mind you, Brian Cox doesn’t seem to care about these things. The writing was easy: in the Scrabble and Crossword Dictionaries I found enough incomprehensible words of over four syllables to guarantee acceptance: the referees won’t dare admit that they don’t understand it.

p.m  Fall asleep at desk writing External Examiner report for ambitious new university in Home Counties. To think that only 10 years ago they were teaching hairdressing and plastering. Social mobility is a wonderful thing. Follow usual formula: praise hard-pressed staff, salute standards and deride hotel accommodation. This year I struggled to sleep to the sounds of Knights and Damsels Nite in the themed Heritage Bar beneath my room.

Wednesday:       I don’t believe it. The VC has had the temerity to ring again and ask me to be a Focus Team Champion. You may well ask. It’s part of another push in the campaign to make Universities More Like Real Life (i.e. Business). Trouble is, the business concepts are usually well past their sell-by date by the time they reach our shelves, and stank even when they were new. I patiently explain that had I wanted such a title I would have become Regional Sales Manager for a firm of Midlands caravan manufacturers, presenting gilded plastic statuettes at conferences to the salesman shifting the most units, to the over-amplified strains of “Simply the Best”. After a short silence, the VC quotes me some Greatest Hits Shakespeare (as scientists and engineers are wont to do): “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, quoth he. “So would dogshit”, quoth I.

Thursday:     Allow myself a lie-in. A pain au chocolat and 1.5 cafetieres of Colombian later I head for the University for a date with teaching destiny. Adjacent to the main building is a disused bingo hall, apparently the first in the country. It is being converted into a large lecture theatre (and weekend conference centre, of course) by a big firm of cowboys-in-suits with a smart logo and a website address on all their tools, clothing and vehicles. I want to suggest a new mission statement for them – ‘we deconstruct construction’ but fear it may be too abstract for the concrete business! Because their tender was by far the highest, the University naturally judged it to be the best. I wondered if they guaranteed delays as well, for extra authenticity.

I am to be photographed surveying the progress for the University ‘newspaper’ (Ed: H.Goering). Moral dilemma: be Health and Safety role model and wear hard-hat (but sacrifice the Nicky Clarke haircut), or eschew headgear and risk a bolt embedded in cranium, like some Frankenstein expansion kit. Unusually, rationality triumphs over vanity. Auditorium looks acoustically suspect and as for the ambience, when I come to ask the students the date of Potterell’s classic paper on ‘discourse jockeys’ will some ghostly presence shout out “Two fat ladies!” As we are leaving, in comes Adele and her people: she is booked to sing one song at the opening ceremony (she has connections with the area), and graciously agrees to a ‘selfie’ with me which will guarantee my cred with a range of audiences for many years to come.
Timetable planning for next year. The trick is to negotiate the twin demands of Teaching Quality and Research Output, each of which requires most of our time so it is impossible. We are caught twixt Scylla and Charybdis, between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (or between the HEFCE and the RAE, as I used to say). Naturally I favour the latter, being somewhat sanguine about the teaching of the new barbarian hordes. Last year when I drily observed that the Learning Objectives of the first year course were to have everyone reading to themselves without their lips moving, half the class visibly brightened. ‘Glamour’ mag calls for instant quote on ‘The Cougar & the Gap Years'. I should know?

Friday:      Phone rings occasionally; timing calls and invoicing callers for a proportional fee has reduced traffic hugely. Mails brings fresh crop pf publishers’ blurbs (bin after cursory glance) and publicity for conferences. Now there’s an interesting communicational phenomenon: the conference. Probably the least efficient way of gathering information known to Humankind, yet they still flourish. Why? I suppose the PR and horse-trading saves departments thousands in job-advertising, and the 3 or 4 days off the leash saves a few marriages. Then there’s that schoolboyish and unforgivably incorrect scanning for the most attractive woman (or man) on Day 1 and constructing elaborate fantasies about them during tedious moments – however attractive (or not) they may be in absolute terms. Show me the delegate who denies this and I’ll show you a liar. Personally I don’t go to conferences any more unless they are somewhere hot or exotic. If I should grace an English one, I will always leave before the farewell social: the sight of balding, bespectacled, bearded, tweed-jackets-and-Hush-Puppies (and that’s just the women!) doing the Twist or becoming a Flower Child/disco king/punk all over again, turns the stomach. Not to mention those bright-eyed females doing their groovy moves (subtext: I was a bit of a raver). Dancing to rock music should be illegal after 40, except in private between consenting adults.

Saturday:      Drop in at La Lune et le Perroquet for a quick Pernod before the petanque match: away against some admen from a wine bar in Fulham. Win and make useful contact for the Slogan and Semiology book.

Sunday:         Depart 11.07, BA713 destination  - my little place in Umbria. Not only does stewardess recognise me, she remembers what I drink.  Getting there, my friend, getting there.

Dr. DON ROMIN, Professor of Psychocultural Relations at the new University of Walford