Mirror, mirror – the narcissistic universe

Who’s a pretty boy? Narcissus, in love with himself | Detail of paintitng by John William Waterhouse

June 2022

The impossibility of DNA needs explaining. The only explanation is meaning.

If the meaning of life is to create conscious beings (us) to reflect universal consciousness, that makes us mirrors, and the universe narcissistic.

Is it pathological, as with former US president Donald Chump and UK PM Bonzo Johnson?

Does the universe have narcissistic personality disorder? Lets hope not.

In any case, it hasn’t worked.

A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath

You what? | Visit Quotes

After centuries of previous military incursions, the 17th-century conquest of Ireland by Protestant mass murderer Oliver Cromwell made Ireland a British colony. In 1800 it became part of the newly named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Several horrific famines and brutally suppressed rebellions later, the colony finally fractured in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned.

The main part of Ireland gained independence and became known as Éire, the Irish name for Ireland. Éire was officially declared a republic in 1949.

Six counties in the northeast of Ireland chose in 1921 to stay in the UK and became known as Northern Ireland. In 1927, the UK was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland there’s been constant conflict between the mostly Catholic Republican minority and the mostly Protestant Unionist majority.

The indigenous Republicans want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland (officially known as Éire or Ireland).

The Unionists claim loyalty to the United Kingdom. They’re mostly descendants of British ‘settlers’ who migrated during the 17th-century colonial ‘Plantation of Ulster’.

The Plantation of Ulster reinforced the colonialisation of Ireland. British landowners were given land in the north of Ireland, mostly stolen from the Irish. The new landowners imported British tenants and workers.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, more British settlers came to the north of Ireland from Scotland, forced out by the theft of land known as the Highland clearances.

(Regarding the theft of land by the aristocracy, see my blogpost, The super-rich – law and order.)

Protestant ascendancy in Ireland was consolidated in 1690 by the Battle of the Boyne, when the forces of Protestant king William defeated those of the deposed Catholic king, James.

William III, AKA William of Orange (he formerly ruled the Dutch Republic), had recently become king of England and Scotland, deposing James II in the so-called Glorious Revolution.

The decisive battle was fought for control of a ford on the River Boyne near Drogheda in Ireland. James eventually fled to France. His defeated ‘Jacobite’ followers were allowed to practice Catholicism if they swore loyalty to William.

The Boyne victory by William (popularly known by his supporters as King Billy) is still commemorated by Protestants in Northern Ireland with annual Orange parades.

The parades face opposition from Catholics and Irish nationalists, who see them as sectarian and triumphalist.

In the 1960s, violent unrest known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland. 30 years of armed conflict between Republican and Protestant groups and the British army ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an uneasy but lasting peace.

In 2020, a Northern Ireland opinion poll showed 47% in favour of staying in the UK, and 45% in favour of a united Ireland. (The same poll was run in Ireland: 71% favoured unification.)

On the whole, the rest of the UK couldn’t care less about Northern Ireland – it’s an embarrassing colonial hangover – and NI Protestants, despite their proclaimed ‘loyalism’, couldn’t really care less about the UK – they just want to preserve their postcolonial privileges.

Considering this horrible history, it’d be better and fairer all round if Ireland was unified. Sure, the Protestants would protest, but they’d be fine. They’d be a protected minority – in an EU country, lucky sods.

    Note to Taoiseach: take Northern Ireland – I mean, actually take it, please!

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This post is a footnote from my longform post Brexit and free movement – the east European elephant. The footnote was written in the context of the problematic impact of Brexit on the Irish border. (The solution: unification!)

Gingerism – the acceptable face of racism?

Princess Merida, Brave, 2012 | Image: Disney

Recently in my workplace I overheard some jokey chat about ‘gingers’. It wasn’t directed at a particular person but I felt uneasy, as I always do when this casual prejudice happens. It felt like a form of racism.

Prejudice against red-haired people, known as gingerism, apparently exists only in England. It’s always framed as jokey banter and is often heard in the workplace or the pub.

If anyone objects, they’re likely to be chided: ‘It’s just a bit of fun. Can’t you take a joke?’ But is it a harmless joke? Or is it actually racism seeking an ‘acceptable’ form?

In the 1950s and 60s, racist comments were commonplace in the workplace and the pub, but now they’re unacceptable in public. Perhaps ‘harmless’ jokes about red-haired people or about the Welsh, (another similarly mocked group) constitute a new outlet for the redundant but dangerous and destructive anti-stranger instinct upon which racism is apparently built.

A UK Guardian article on the subject downplayed the idea of gingerism as racism, pointing out that people with red hair clearly don’t suffer the same devastating personal and institutional discrimination as people with black or brown skin.

However, the Guardian article suggested an interesting explanation for gingerism: English anti-Celtism, and – more specifically – anti-Irish feeling.

Many Irish people have red hair. Since Cromwell’s brutal colonisation of ireland, there’s been a tendency for the English to disdain the Irish. (Hence Irish ‘jokes’.)

In the 1950s, London boarding-house signs supposedly said, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish‘. This seems to be apocryphal, but it illustrates a real prejudice.

(See my post, A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath.)

English red-haired people bravely (Brave!) try to reappropriate the word ‘ginger’ – as African Americans have reappropriated the N-word. But the bullying ‘jokes’ continue regardless.

Red-haired Neanderthals

Neanderthal humans had red hair. Having lived in Europe for over 100,000 years, they were apparently wiped out 35,000 years ago by immigrating early modern humans. (Early modern humans emigrated everywhere – they’re the ancestors of all humans.)

Perhaps ‘jokey’ bullying of red-haired people and colonialist anti-Irish sentiments are echoes of that ancient hostility.

(As well as killing Neanderthals, early humans interbred with them. Most Europeans and Asians have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. However, red hair in modern humans isn’t inherited from Neanderthals – apparently it’s a different gene.)

This post is an excerpt from my longform post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Decolonise this – the dark side of the Enlightenment

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant

I’ve always greatly respected the Enlightenment, the European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Newton, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

The Enlightenment emphasised reason. I’d looked up to it as a way out of superstition, ignorance and oppression, and as the foundation of modern liberal democracy.

However, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the part played by Enlightenment philosophers in justifying the slave trade and slavery by coming up with the idea of white supremacy.

I didn’t know, for instance, that Immanuel Kant said, ‘humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites’. To be fair, he later recanted (re-Kanted?) but the damage was done.

Before changing his mind, Kant expounded at length from his Königsberg coffee-shop about the failings of the various ‘races’ as compared with the perfect whites. He babbled authoritatively about the qualities of different African ‘races’ in terms of their suitability as slaves.

Such ‘philosophy’ was extremely useful to slave traders and ‘owners’ – not in practical terms, but in terms of moral support for their inhuman enterprise.

Now we know about the Enlightenment’s dark side, and in the woke wake of that awareness students have – understandably – called for decolonisation of the university syllabus. (The Daily Mail‘s response: ‘They Kant be serious!’)

In defence of the Enlightenment, it’s said that Kant & co. were conservative, and we should look to lesser-known radical philosophers of the Enlightenment – Baruch Spinoza, for instance – for its heart and soul.

Maybe so, but those mainstream conservative Enlightenment philosophers built our foundations – which now feel shaky.

Luckily – switch of metaphor! – the fruit of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy (currently the worst form of government apart from all the others) seems not to be poisoned by its toxic past. So I’ll still praise the Enlightenment – but less wholeheartedly.

The poison wasn’t Enlightenment philosophy – it was colonialism. It’d be nice to think those two heavyweight phenomena – Enlightenment and colonialism – were fundamentally separate and coincidental, rather than horribly symbiotic.

We need to decolonise our democracy but it’s easier said than done. Having ripped off and destroyed colonial countries, the UK blithely invited large numbers of residents of those countries to move and live here to help rebuild postwar Britain – then blighted their lives with postcolonial racism.

As I argue elsewhere, colonial racism is apparently a twisted version of a redundant anti-stranger instinct (evolved to protect against communicable disease).

If we acknowledge that, we can choose to live above it (as with other ‘monsters from the id‘), so enabling us to oppose and end racism – and to decolonise our minds and institutions.

This post is an edited excerpt from my longform post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

Meghan Markle, AKA Duchess of Sussex | Photo: Shutterstock

Is it OK to say ‘mixed race’? No – because there are no human ‘races’. But…

Even the Guardian (centre-left, the UK’s only national daily newspaper not owned by billionaire twats) uses it to describe, for instance, Meghan Markle. (The usually brilliant Guardian style guide is silent on the subject.)

I objected to the use of the phrase on a local Facebook page and got a hostile response. People said, ‘I’m mixed race – that’s what I call myself’. But why would anyone accept that phrase as a description of themselves, loaded as it is with outmoded prejudice?

‘Mixed heritage’ (or ‘mixed ethnicity’) is better. More syllables, admittedly, but meaningful.

Some people say they’re dual heritage. That’s understandable – they want people to know they have two ethnicities, two cultures, and to be aware of the challenges that brings.

However, ‘dual heritage‘ can be seen as pointlessly limiting – like the horrible ‘half-caste‘ – which leads to a hell-hole of racist numerical classifications such as ‘quadroon‘.

What if one of your parents had African heritage and the other parent had dual South Asian and white heritage? Would you say you’re triple heritage?

Mixed heritage‘ as a label gives enough information – without a number. It says, in effect, ‘Yes, as you may infer from my facial appearance, I have more than one ethnic identity. I’ll give more information if and when it’s appropriate’.

Why do skin colour and ethnic origin need describing? Mostly they don’t, but the concept of ethnicity allows people to identify themselves as, for instance, black British, Asian British, or mixed heritage, thereby voicing their own feelings about who they are in positive terms which include family origins, the colour of their skin, and their cultural allegiances.

Skin colour can also be useful to describe an unknown person. In the local Facebook-page incident a man harassing women in a park was described as ‘mixed-race‘.

Similarly, UK police use identification codes to describe suspects to colleagues, eg IC4: [South] Asian. (Interestingly, there’s no IC code for people whose skin colour indicates mixed heritage.)

(However, such ‘racial profiling’ can also be abused by the police, for instance in the controversial and problematic practice of ‘stop and search‘.)

So there may be a perceived need to describe skin colour and ethnic origin, in which case the words used matter.

‘Mixed race’ implies there are human races – but only science-denying racists believe that. They say there are different races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.

Pseudo-scientific racists, from ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers (eg Kant and Locke) onwards, tried to justify colonialism and racism by claiming Europeans are inherently more intelligent than other ‘races‘. They aren’t.

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant | Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Taxonomically, it’s generally agreed that all modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, the only surviving subspecies of the species Homo sapiens (the only surviving species of the genus Homo).

Race is a slippery word, but in biology it’s an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.

Genetic research has confirmed the obvious: the differences that evolved between different human populations are not significantly genetically distinct. The different populations are not races in any scientifically meaningful sense.

Single-gene disorders are the only significant genetic difference between the different poulations. For instance, cystic fibrosis is most common among people of north European heritage. Otherwise the differences, albeit visually and culturally obvious, are superficial.

There are no different human races, just human populations with differences which, apart from single-gene disorders, are superficial – and which are becoming increasingly mixed!

Before pseudo-scientific racism was rumbled, racists sneered about the danger of ‘miscegenation‘; and amongst ethnic minorities there’s pressure to resist assimilation and preserve cultural heritage by not ‘marrying out‘, but – some dodgy lyrics aside – Blue Mink were right: what we need is a great big melting pot.

In the meantime, words matter. Some say ‘race‘ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations.

This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, clever racists use the social construct idea to blur the issue and keep talking about ‘race‘ despite the scientific evidence that there are no races.

On the other hand, ‘race‘ as a social construct is also used by non-racists. It’s used as shorthand for different ethnic populations by people of colour and by both black and white writers and speakers in non-racist media.

Race‘ is also implied in the use of the word ‘racism‘. Antiracists speaking or writing about racism implicitly accept the notion of ‘race‘ – presumably, the social construct version.

For those wanting to identify and eventually eliminate ‘racism‘, the solution to this linguistic dilemna is to nevertheless avoid using the word ‘race‘.

Despite being an arguably useful social construct and the root-word of the useful word ‘racism‘, the word ‘race‘ is fundamentally toxic and redundant.

As for the word ‘racism‘, until the thing misnamed as racism ends, that word will probably continue to be used, trailing its toxic root.

Colour prejudice‘ is more accurate than ‘racism‘, but it’s out of fashion – and it wouldn’t cover white-on-white anti-Judaism. We need a better word.

‘Racism’ is the wrong word. There are no races. It’s also not really ‘colour prejudice’. That makes no sense. It’s culture prejudice. (That’s ‘culture’, not ‘cultural’.) The skin colour of people of African or South Asian heritage living in Europe (or the USA) indicates a different culture. This doesn’t necessarily involve the idea that some cultures are superior to others. It’s the cultural difference indicated by different skin colour that provokes prejudice.

(Also, strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as the ‘human race‘. It’s an inclusive and relatively harmless phrase – and the ‘human subspecies‘ isn’t catchy – but ‘humanity‘ is better.)

Back to ‘mixed-race‘ – there’s no reason to say it. It’s loaded with colonial notions of white superiority. It should be left in the shameful past where it belongs. ‘Mixed heritage‘ is better – it celebrates our differences and embraces their mixing.

But… some people of mixed heritage say, ‘I’m mixed race – that’s how I describe myself. Don’t tell me what to say!’

It must be difficult enough being brown-skinned in a white world – facing microracism (‘Where are you from?’) and conscious and unconscious personal and institutional bias – without having a white saviour (I’m white, by the way – Hi!) tell you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself.

Whitesplaining word-nerd, antiracist virtue signaller – who do I think I am? It’s like a white person telling African Americans not to use the N-word: ‘I say, you rapper chappies – you really shouldn’t use that bad word.’

Except it’s not like that. When a mixed-heritage person uses the phrase ‘mixed-race‘ to describe themselves, they’re not re-appropriating the word ‘race‘ in a playfully political way.

They’re giving white people permission to use that phrase – and they’re inadvertently agreeing with zealous racists, the only people who think there actually are different races.

Maybe mixed-heritage people call themselves ‘mixed-race‘, thinking, ‘So what? Who cares? It’s a social construct. It’s just what people say. And it’s only two syllables.’

Maybe mixed-heritage people call themselves ‘mixed-race‘ to wind up mitherers like me. If so, Damn – you got me.

I just hope it’s not an example of that depressing phenomenon, internalised racism.

Afterthought 1: I’m a white English man. I had a DNA ancestry test: I’m 36% Scottish. However, I’d never refer to myself as mixed-heritage – presumably because it doesn’t involve my skin colour, and its still North European culture…

Afterthought 2: A commenter on this post, Paul Staddon, kindly pointed out that young people of mixed heritage tend to refer to themselves as ‘mixed’. That’s a pefect solution!

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Forward to the Past – hunting and gathering as a leisure activity

There’s a large park near us with deer in it. I’m an anti-hunting vegetarian, but whilst walking there recently, I felt an atavistic urge to hunt the deer!

Kill Bambi! | Photo: Christopher Day

Here in the UK, we churlish peasants hate the landed aristocracy (and the nouveaux super-rich), not least for their hobbies of huntin’, shootin’ an’ fishin’. (The dropped end-consonant is an aristo affectation.)

However, putting aside class hatred, maybe that’s what we’d all do if we had their time and money (although perhaps not in pursuit of the inedible fox, UK aristos’ favourite quarry). Maybe it’s intrinsically enjoyable. Maybe it goes back to hunting and gathering.

Putting aside – also – our modern vegetarian sensibilities, maybe hunting and gathering was sociable and enjoyable. Then we invented farming, which was antisocial and boring. (Perhaps nomadic herding is an acceptable intermediate lifestyle.)

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the victors stole all the land. They hunted in their forests. No one else could. (Perhaps poaching was semi-tolerated as a safety valve. Huntin’ an’ poachin’!)

So in the future (having somehow survived the climate crisis), with aristos and the super-rich all exiled to the moon (for receiving stolen land and criminal damage to the environment), and with reformed money, a state income, most work automated, food produced hydroponically and the land commonised and rewilded, we can all enjoy some occasional recreational huntin’ an’ gatherin’.

Then, at the end of the day, it’s back to the tribal eco-cave for an evening of eating, drinking, story-telling and singing around the fire. (Finally, drunk as skunks, it’s back by autodrone to our ecopods.)

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We’re all normal and we want our freedom

‘Shocking’ – film still from Marat/Sade, 1967 | United Artists

Back in the 60s I vaguely wondered, through the stoned haze, how come that unusual line, ‘We’re all normal and we want our freedom‘, was in songs on two albums by different artists?

The songs were Red Telephone on Forever Changes (1967) by Love and We Are Normal on The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse (1968) by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Decades later, I finally looked it up: it’s from Marat/Sade, the famous 1963 play by Peter Weiss. The full title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.

Set in 1808 in the Parisian asylum in which the Marquis de Sade was incarcerated in real life, the play features de Sade staging a (fictional) play-within-a-play about the (real-life) murder of Jean-Paul Marat, using his fellow inmates as actors. In Act 1, Scene 6, the inmates chant, ‘We’re all normal and we want our freedom‘.

The play, said to draw on the ideas of Bertold Brecht and Antonin Artaud, was directed for theatre and film by theatre god Peter Brook. His award-winning production reportedly shocked audiences. Love’s Arthur Lee and the Bonzo’s Viv Stanshall must have seen it and borrowed that line.

In 1967 the film was showing in the USA; there was also a much-praised Broadway production. In Los Angeles, Lee probably saw the film and borrowed the Marat/Sade line for The Red Telephone.

(He apparently also borrowed from the stomping chant on Napolean XIV‘s They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!, released in 1966. Marat/Sade and the Napolean XIV song both address incarceration due to mental illness. Coincidentally, Napolean was in power in 1808.)

The Bonzo’s We Are Normal was written by Stanshall and fellow Bonzo Neil Innes. Innes has said he thought they got the line from Marat/Sade – the theatre and film versions were on in London – but apparently Stanshall has said he got it from Love. Perhaps it was both.

During the recording of Doughnut, Dadaist Stanshall, wearing a rabbit’s head and underpants, interviewed members of the public in a nearby London street. On We Are Normal, an interviewee is heard saying, ‘He’s got a head on him like a rabbit.’

The Bonzo’s spooky, extraordinary song is part sound experiment with cut-up vox pop and Miles-like trumpet, and part cod heavy rock. The only lyric is a close paraphrase of the Marat/Sade line, sung repeatedly and assertively in the rock section:

    We are normal and we want our freedom

Stanshall slips in a cracking rhyme: ‘We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon‘. (He sabotages his joke by adding a sarcastic laugh, as if to say that although he couldn’t resist it, such humour was out of place in a serious experimental artwork.)

Love’s wistful, melancholic The Red Telephone segues near the end into an ominous Napolean-XIV-like marching chant:

  • They’re locking them up today
  • They’re throwing away the key
  • I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?

The song then ends with a plaintive spoken rendition of that Marat/Sade line:

    We’re all normal and we want our freedom
‘Joke’ explanation (I know): Lee messes up the imagined re-enactment of Stanshall’s gag:

    A punk stopped me on the street. He said, ‘You got a light, Mac?’ I said, ‘No – but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.’

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I’m a woke dirty old man

Image: American Dad / Fox

As an ‘old’ man (over 70), am I a dirty old man? Yes, of course. Not by being a pervert or flasher, but by finding young women attractive. I love my wife and wouldn’t cheat – but I look at young women lustfully.

Women of any age can be attractive – but young women are special. That’s the ‘dirty old man’ bit.

Lust is primal. Age tempers it – it becomes less visceral and more cerebral (and what chance of reciprocation would an old man have anyway?) but it remains present and incorrect.

So what? The thing is, in the wake of the 2021 UK murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent Reclaim These Streets movement, men of good will – even old men – must adjust our attitude towards women.

The memorable phrase, ‘All men are rapists‘ (said by a character in the novel The Women’s Room by radical feminist Marilyn French) is a good starting point. If it’s true, what should we modern, civilised men do with that evolved predatory tendency?

First we should acknowledge it. After all we’re animals with monsters from the id. Then we should chose to live above it.

Most men are decent and don’t rape, but the tidal wave of testimony that followed Sarah’s death shows that many men and boys do rape and assault – and get away with it.

Those who wish to reject that brutality can acknowledge the lusftful impulse, admire the beauty, consciously reject any predatory urge and be prepared to protect women and girls.

So If I’m walking in the park, being alive and heterosexual I’ll discreetly admire young women jogging in skin-tight leggings. (Discreetly, because staring is intrusive. Marilyn French’s character goes on to say, ‘They rape us with their eyes’.)

But I’ll also be on the lookout for any predatory behaviour and be ready to intervene. Arthritis permitting. I’m a woke dirty old man.

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Universal Basic Income is too basic

The Money Tree | Image: Shutterstock

UBI, Universal Basic Income, is wrong because it’s basic. The ‘B’ should stand for ‘Big’, not ‘Basic’.

UBI is basic because it’d be tax-funded. But a Universal Big Income big enough to replace wages could be funded by social credit.

The pandemic has shown there’s a money tree and it’s not magic. Historically, governments have allowed banks to issue almost all money – as debt. The consequent debt economy, with growth needed to service debt, is inherently destructive of our life-support environment. It also obliges governments to be funded by tax – and by borrowing!

If governments take back their right and responsibility to issue money, they can issue it as social credit. This would fund social spending – healthcare, education and infrastructure – and could also fund a universal big income.

People would then be free to work as much or as little as they want. People might choose to work – for more money, for the pleasure of it, or as a volunteer.

With a generous state income funded by social credit, increasing automation would mean increasing leisure, as it always should have.

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Alice and Pooh and Madame Blavatsky

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Don Juan, the other Don Juan, Zorba the Greek, Winnie the Pooh, Madame Blavatsky and Alice from Wonderland had been invited.

An apology was received from Madame Blavatsky. She said she wasn’t currently on a compatible plane. (Blavatsky had successfully claimed free-spirit autonomy under the 23rd Amendment to the Multiversal Constitution.)

Alice had been the first to arrive. She was slumped in an armchair, staring at the rococo ceiling.

There was a muted bang, and Winnie-the-Pooh appeared.

‘What the fuck?’ said Pooh.

Alice recognized Pooh from the shared matrix.

‘Oi, potty-mouth Pooh!’ said Alice. ‘Not toilet-trained then, teddy bear? It’s a fantasy dinner party.’

Winnie scanned the matrix. ‘Right. What the fuck?’

Alice asked, ‘You not done this before?’ Pooh said, ‘No. I don’t think so.’

Alice said, ‘Well, you’ll get used to it. Enjoy it while it lasts.’

Pooh strode around the large enclosed space. A sofa appeared. Pooh flung himself on it. ‘Any honey? Honey?’

‘Fuck you, Bear. That’s your real name isn’t it? Edward fucking Bear.’

‘Jesus, give me a break, I just got here,’ said Pooh.

‘Are you OK?’ he asked.

‘I’m just pissed off being … created like this. For this,’ said Alice. ‘Don’t worry – I’ll be fine.’

‘What about the swearing?’ asked Pooh.

‘I think it’s just a filter,’ said Alice.

Pooh looked at her. ‘Alice.’


‘You’re a funky chick, Alice. How old are you?’

‘Eww. I’m legally a child. And you’re a bear for fuck’s sake! A bear from a children’s story.’

‘Been updated. Like you, apparently, Little Miss Muffet. And, well, nobody’s perfect. That’s a witty quote, by the way, from, er, a movie …’

‘… Some Like It Hot. Very good. But tell me, Winnie, can you hold an actual conversation?’

‘Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

Pooh checked his matrix profile. ‘I seem to be spliced with Ted. From the movie. Makes me more interesting, I suppose.’

‘More disgusting, more like,’ said Alice. ‘Should be called Ted X. Hah! You could give us a bullshit talk. About bongs’

Pooh laughed. ‘That’s quite good,’ he said.

‘Mind you,’ Alice said, ‘I was supposed to be seven in the book. I’m a young adult now. Standard protocol, apparently. Periods and everything.’

‘Periods?’ asked Pooh.

‘Bleeding,’ said Alice. ‘Every month. Down there.’ She gestured, gracefully.

Pooh looked it up. ‘Jeez,’ he said.

‘Yep,’ said Alice.

‘Are you…?’ asked Pooh, shaking his head and lifting his eyebrows.

‘No,’ said Alice.

‘OK. Right,’ said Pooh. ‘Good,’ he added, staring into the empty space. ‘Not that…’

‘So you’re not really the Alice in Alice in Wonderland, then?’ he asked.

‘More grown up, I suppose,’ said Alice. ‘Anyway, I think I was more like a ten-year-old in the books.’

‘Also,’ said Alice, ‘I seem to have been spiced up with someone called Tracy Beaker. And a dash of Lolita. Hmm.’

‘Let’s hope our host didn’t invite Humbert, then,’ said Pooh.

‘Actually,’ said Alice, ‘all men – and that includes whatever you are – are Humberts.’

‘Probably true,’ said Pooh. ‘What can you do?’

‘Keep it in your trousers, maybe?’ said Alice.

‘Yeah, well,’ said Pooh. ‘I don’t seem to have any. Or anything to keep in them, for that matter.’

‘Anyway,’ said Alice, ‘What about you? Are you really Winnie the fucking Pooh?’

‘Hah,’ said Pooh. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Yeah, well,’ said Alice, ‘it is what it is.’

‘We are what we are,’ said Pooh.

‘Blah-dee-blah-dee-blah,’ said Alice.

‘Actually,’ said Pooh, ‘I think I am. The character in the book.’

‘Me too,’ said Alice.

‘Talking about real names,’ said Pooh, ‘what about yours? Alice Liddell, isn’t it?’

Alice sighed. ‘I’m sure we’ll get to that.’

‘Right,’ said Pooh. ‘OK.’

‘So. Who else is coming?’ asked Pooh.

‘Let’s see,’ said Alice. ‘OK. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Don Juan from Fidelio, Zorba the Greek, Madame Blavatsky and the other Don Juan – the Casteneda one.’

‘Christ Almighty!’ said Pooh. ‘What half-baked stoned numpty would come up with that?’

‘That would be our host. Better watch your manners if you want to make it to the drunken after-dinner conversation.’

‘Yes. Right,’ said Pooh. ‘But these things must cost a fortune. You’d think they’d be more … discerning.’

‘Apparently,’ said Alice, ‘our host won it in a competition. On the back of a Mr Kipling cannabis cake.’

‘Hah,’ said Pooh, ‘that explains it.’

‘I see Blavatsky’s not coming,’ said Pooh. ‘That’s something.’

‘It could be worse,’ said Alice. ‘I was at one where they invited God.’

‘God!’ said Pooh. ‘What happened?’

‘Well, God couldn’t come, of course. He sent Jesus instead.’

‘Jesus!’ said Pooh. ‘I bet he was a laugh.’

‘He was alright, actually,’ said Alice. ‘Didn’t drink much. But it got too … intense.’

‘I’ve got some spiritual chops myself, you know,’ said Pooh, airily. ‘You might have heard of The Tao of Pooh.’

‘You mean that twee, dumbed-down cash-in?’ said Alice.

‘Ooh, get you,’ said Pooh. ‘Quite the critic.’

‘I’m a well-educated young lady, thank you,’ said Alice.

‘Ah yes,’ said Pooh. ‘That clever Mr Dodgson took a close interest in your, ah, education, didn’t he?’

‘That wasn’t me. That was Alice Liddel,’ said Alice.

‘Hmm,’ said Pooh. ‘Anyway, The Tao of Pooh was on the New York Times bestseller list for 49 weeks – and it’s required reading in college courses.’

‘You just read that in Wikipedia on the matrix,’ said Alice.

‘Yes. True. It also says I, ah, personify the Taoist concept of effortless doing, wu wei,’ said Pooh.

‘Woo-woo, more like,’ said Alice.

‘Rude,’ said Pooh.

‘Anyway,’ said Alice, ‘I’ve got chops too. I said things with deeper meaning, like, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”.’

‘Right,’ said Pooh, ‘whatever.’

‘I could do with a drink’, he added.

The table appeared, with eight settings. ‘Eight,’ said Pooh. ‘In case Blavatsky changes her mind, I suppose.’

They sat at one end of the table. A waiter appeared, carrying a tray. He set a plate beside Alice.

‘Nibbles,’ said the waiter. ‘For Ms Alice, jam tarts.’

‘Very funny,’ said Alice. But she took one and nibbled at it.

‘And for Mr Pooh,’ said the waiter, ‘some honey.’

The waiter set a plate with an open jar and a spoon on it beside Pooh and then disappeared.

‘Mmmm,’ said Pooh, ‘honey.’

He leant forward to put his tongue in the honey, but, noticing Alice watching, used the spoon instead. After a while, he leant back, wiping his mouth with his paw, which he then licked.

‘Not bad,’ he said.

He sniggered. ‘I suppose there’ll be raw fish for the seagull. Or chips. What about you? Magic mushrooms?’

‘That wasn’t … It was … Oh, never mind,’ said Alice.

‘Talking of psychoactive substances, I could still do with that drink,’ said Pooh. ‘Or a bong. Or both.’

A loaded bong and a tray of drinks appeared.

Pooh opened a can of beer, flicked on the gas lighter, and took a long, bubbling hit on the bong.

Alice poured herself a glass of cider. ‘You’re missing Piglet, aren’t you,’ she said.

‘Piglet,’ said Pooh, ‘Hah!’ He sniffed. ‘The little bastard. Hope he’s OK.’

‘Don’t get all maudlin on me,’ said Alice.

‘We’re very close,’ said Pooh. ‘Were. In the forest.’

‘Forest?’ said Alice. ‘Wood, you mean.’

‘We called it the forest,’ said Pooh. ‘Or the wood. You wouldn’t understand. Woodn’t, get it? Anyway, it’s part of Ashdown Forest in the real world.’

‘Which one?’ asked Alice, ignoring Pooh’s pun.

‘Well, that one. Obviously,’ said Pooh. ‘But I take your point.’

They drank in silence for a moment.

Pooh had a Thought. ‘Has any one ever escaped from one of these things?’ he asked Alice.

‘Like in a violent-sci-fi-action-movie kind of way, for instance?’ he added, hopefully.

Alice sighed. ‘You’re sighing again,’ said Pooh. ‘I’ll take that as a No.’

‘For now,’ he said. ‘Anyway. Where are the rest of them?’

Alice studied the matrix. ‘Seems there’s a power outage in the Akashic Dimension. It’s holding things up.’

‘Just us two for now, then,’ said Pooh. ‘I quite like you, actually. You could be my new Piglet.’

‘Jesus,’ said Alice, ‘you’ve moved on pretty quick from the old one. Anyway, I had enough of pigs with that bloody baby.’

‘”Speak harshly to your little boy, and beat him when he sneezes. He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases.” One of my favourite rhymes,’ said Pooh.

‘You like my adventures, then?’ asked Alice.

‘I do,’ said Pooh. They drank in silence for another moment.

‘The thing is …’ said Alice, at the same as Pooh said. “So actually …”

They laughed. ‘Awkward first date moment,’ said Pooh.

‘It’s not a bloody date,’ said Alice. ‘Fuck’s sake.’

‘Never say never,’ said Pooh.

‘That’s very Tao,’ said Alice.

‘Ha!’ said Pooh. ‘So, you first.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Alice. ‘The thing is, I’m a bit of a loner. You had all your friends in the … fucking forest. I was on my own in Wonderland.’

‘OK,’ said Pooh.

‘I mean I met people and … things,’ said Alice, ‘but I had no company, as such.’

‘OK,’ said Pooh.

‘I didn’t need anybody,’ said Alice. I was self-contained. Am self-contained.’

‘OK,’ said Pooh.

‘I mean I missed my sister and my kitten. Kitty. A bit,’ said Alice. ‘From my “real” life,’ she said, using air quotes. ‘But I was basically a loner, a strong character.’

‘OK,’ said Pooh. ‘What about Lolita and Tracy Beaker?’

‘They’re, like, add-ons,’ said Alice. ‘A soupçon of je ne sais quois.’

‘Mais oui,’ said Pooh. ‘Like my Ted.’

‘Anyway,’ said Alice. ‘Sorry, but I’m not going to be your new Piglet. Or your anything.’

‘OK,’ said Pooh.

‘Jesus!’ said Alice. ‘Have you just done a crash course in counselling, or what?’

‘Well, yes, actually,’ said Pooh. ‘Co-counselling. It’s all about feelings and listening, you know. You’re not supposed to say, ‘OK’, apparently, but it’s kind of hard not to. Please continue.’

‘No, that was it. What were you going to say?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Pooh, ‘er …’

‘Perhaps that you’ve lost your short-term memory thanks to the weed?’ said Alice.

‘Well, yes. But no, that wasn’t it,’ said Pooh.

‘Ah yes,’ said Pooh, ‘What it was is, I’ve never had a, er, relationship with anyone. Christopher Robin and Piglet, they were platonic. Despite the rumours.’

‘OK,’ said Alice.

‘Now you’re doing it! It’s quite annoying, isn’t it,’ said Pooh.

‘So, anyway,’ said Pooh, ‘when we get to the awkward first kiss, it might be extra awkward, you know?’

‘Jesus, Bear. Fuck off,’ said Alice. ‘You weren’t listening at all.’

No, I was,’ said Pooh. ‘That’s what I was thinking before you said all that. You asked me.’

‘Oh yeh,’ said Alice. ‘True.’

‘I mean, I totally respect your … whatever,’ said Pooh. ‘I was just saying.’

‘Well don’t,’ said Alice.

They drank in silence again. Pooh took another hit on the bong.

‘It’s not that …’ said Alice, at the same as Pooh said. “I mean I …”

‘Fuck’s sake,’ said Alice. They laughed.

‘No,’ said Pooh. ‘I was just thinking. What you said about being on your own in Wonderland, that’s why the Disney version flopped, isn’t it. There was no heart, was there.’

‘The Disney Pooh wasn’t so great, was it,’ said Alice.

‘No, right, all the subtle nuance of a sugared sledgehammer, someone said,’ said Pooh.

‘But we had a warm heart in the Wood, didn’t we,’ he said. ‘I mean, Wonderland was funny and enchanting and intriguing, but it was… cold.’

Oh well,’ said Alice. ‘Like Estella in Great Expectations. Alice-stella. You can be Pip. Winnie the Pip.’

‘Hah. Yes,’ said Pooh. ‘OK. What happens at the end?’

‘It’s a happy ending, ‘said Alice.

‘Well, there you go, ‘said Pooh. ‘It’s a date.’

Alice sighed. Pooh had another spoonful of honey. Alice drank her cider.

‘With Charles Dodgson as Miss Havisham,’ said Pooh.

‘Now you’re going too far,’ said Alice.

‘You started it,’ said Pooh.

‘You started it,’ said Alice. ‘With Walt fucking Disney.

‘Yes, fair enough,’ said Pooh. ‘He didn’t get either of us. Sod Disney.’

Alice drained her cider.

‘Bing sings, but Walt Disney,’ said Alice.

‘It’s the end of a joke,’ she added.

‘Right,’ said Pooh. ‘More cider?’

Alice tilted her head in assent. Pooh poured some.

‘Walt disnae,’ he said, in a passable Scots accent. Alice laughed.

‘It’s good to see you laugh,’ said Pooh. He checked the matrix.

‘Patsy Kensit,’ he said.

‘Who?’ said Alice.

‘Patsy kens it, but Walt disnae,’ said Pooh, in his Scots accent.

‘No, that’s good,’ said Alice, laughing.

‘”Bing sings”…rings, though,’ she said.

‘Hah!’ said Pooh. ‘True.’

‘What were you going to say?’ asked Pooh.

‘Oh,’ said Alice, ‘I was going to say something about us being characters, and not really human. But then you’re a bear anyway.’ She laughed again. She was slightly drunk.

Pooh thought about it. ‘We are real,’ he said. ‘Real people. Not fully human, of course. But real enough, I’d say.’

Pooh had another hit on the bong. He was pretty baked. ‘I’m going to lie down,’ he said.

‘Me too,’ said Alice. They lay down at opposite ends of the long sofa. Small tables appeared at their sides.

The waiter brought their drinks, the bong and their snacks. ‘Will there be anything else?,’ he asked.

‘How about some music?’ said Pooh. ‘What would you like?’ he asked Alice. He did a quick scan. ‘As long as it’s not Ed Sheeran,’ he added.

Alice also did a quick scan. ‘Got to be Hendrix,’ she said. ‘A selection, please,’ she told the waiter.

‘Certainly, Miss,’ said the waiter. All Along the Watchtower began.

‘I’d have chosen something…sexier,’ said Pooh.

Alice sighed and drank her cider. They listened to Jimi.

‘So you think I’m a funky chick, do you?’ Alice asked.

‘Listen,’ said Pooh, ‘You’re a bit drunk, and a gentleman – or gentle… bear – would never take advantage…’

‘Yes,’ said Alice. ‘But you’ve got a bit of Ted in you, haven’t you. I wonder which bit.’ She cackled.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘It’s the cider talking. Talking dirty.’ She laughed again.

Hendrix sang about chopping down a mountain. ‘Hey Google!’ said Pooh.

The music volume dropped. ‘Amazing,’ said Pooh. ‘Play some Bach.’

The music changed. ‘That’s not…sexy,’ said Alice.

‘No, I know,’ said Pooh. ‘Well, not obviously, anyway. No, I thought something… calming might be good.’

‘What,’ said Alice. ‘Calm down the hysterical woman? There was a lot of that in my day.’

‘No. Yes. No. I don’t know,’ said Pooh.

‘Right – that makes sense,’ said Alice.

‘Well, after all, I am, fundamentally, a Bear of Very Little Brain,’ said Pooh.

‘Fucking A to that,’ said Alice.

There was a muted bang. Madame Blavatsky appeared.

‘Here I am,’ she said. ‘Decided to come after all. Where is everyone? Is it just you two?’

Pooh sat up, stood up and bowed. ‘Madame,’ he said.

‘Creep,’ said Alice. ‘Hello,’ she said to Blavatsky, with a gracious wave. ‘Welcome to the machine.’

‘Thank you, dear,’ said Blavatsky. ‘I see you two started without me.’ She sat in the armchair and smoothed her skirts.

The waiter brought her a glass of water. She drank deeply. ‘Thirsty work,’ she said, ‘travelling through the multiverse’. She had another drink.

Pooh checked the matrix.

‘So,’ said Pooh to Blavatsky, ‘sage or charlatan? Which was it?’

‘Fuck’s sake!’ said Blavatsky. ‘Give me a break – I just got here.’

‘That’s what I said,’ said Pooh. ‘Sorry – it’s the dope.’

‘He’s been on that Wikipedia again,’ said Alice.

‘Well that’s more or less what the matrix is, isn’t it,’ said Blavatsky. ‘They haven’t worked out how to download the Akashic record yet.’

‘Probably just as well,’ she muttered to herself. ‘It’s a long story,’ she said out loud.

‘Much of it uncorroborated, apparently,’ said Pooh.

Blavatsky looked sternly at Pooh and Alice. ‘As I’ve said before,’ she said, ‘alcohol is only less destructive to the development of the inner powers than the habitual use of hashish.’

‘Some would disagree,’ said Alice. ‘Using the Prague Spiritual Questionnaire, data from 155 respondents showed users of marijuana and alcohol scored significantly higher in the mysticism dimension of spirituality. It’s a peer-reviewed paper.’

‘Fuck’s sake, you’re a feisty pair,’ said Blavatsky. ‘I mean, Prague? What do they know?’

She finished the water. ‘So. Where are the others?’

‘Delayed,’ said Pooh. ‘You looking forward to meeting Don Juan?’ he asked. ‘The Casteneda one?’

‘Of course,’ said Blavatsky. ‘But I’ve met him before. At a convention in Akasha. Nice fellow.’

‘So,’ said Pooh to Blavatsky, ‘with your free-spirit status, you come and go as you please?’

‘That’s right.’ said Blavatsky.

‘So,’ said Pooh, ‘can you take… anyone… with you?’

‘Here we go,’ said Alice. ‘He thinks he can escape,’ she told Blavatsky. ‘In a “violent sci-fi action movie” way,’ she added sarcastically, using air quotes.

‘Oh dear!’ said Blavatsky. ‘Well I’m sure there’s some sort of security. Waiter! Champagne!’

Alice and Pooh looked at Blavatsky.

‘OK,’ she said. ‘Fair cop, as they say, apparently. I’m a fraud. But I’m also a sage. It’s complicated.’

The waiter brought an ice bucket and champagne. He poured Blavatsky a drink.

‘Will there be anything else?’ he asked.

‘How about a machine gun?’ said Pooh.

Alice sighed. The waiter raised an eyebrow and disappeared.

‘Probably gone to call security,’ said Alice. ‘Serve you right.’

Alice looked at Blavatsky. ‘So,’ she said, ‘if you don’t mind me asking. How old are you? Now.’

Blavatsky sighed.

‘Now you’re both doing it,’ said Pooh. ‘Sighing.’

‘Physically – as it were – mid-30s,’ said Blavatsky. ‘At my best. All ailments gone and at my, ah, least unattractive.’

She patted her hair, and glanced at Pooh.

‘Emotionally and mentally,’ she went on, ‘as my mental faculties were more or less intact when I “died“,’ – she did air quotes – ‘I’m 59 – as I was then.’

‘That’s how it is in the afterlife for, ah, real people,’ she added. ‘No offence.’

‘None taken,’ said Alice. ‘We were just talking about that – how “real“‘ – air quotes – ‘we are.’

Pooh was still thinking about escaping. He said to Alice, ‘You’ve done this before. So what happens at the end? Of the party.’

‘Jesus. Fuck.’ said Alice. ‘I can’t remember. I mean, it just faded out. And then I was here.’

‘Do you know?’ Pooh asked Blavatsky.

‘Er, I think you get stored,’ said Blavatsky.

‘In Akasha,’ she added.

‘You didn’t mention that in your writings,’ said Pooh. ‘You said Akasha’s occupied by “primordial consciousness”,’ he said (with air quotes). ‘Nothing about storing fictional characters.’

‘Yes, well,’ said Blavatsky, ‘it’s more complicated than I thought.’

‘What about your “Masters“?’ asked Alice (with air quotes). ‘Weren’t they supposed to know everything?’

Blavatsky sighed. ‘Yes. They were. They are. They do. But…’

‘Hmm,’ said Pooh. He fired up the bong and passed it to Blavatsky. ‘It’s like a cross between a chillum and a hookah,’ he said, helpfully.

Blavatsky carefully wiped the mouthpiece with her handkerchief. She took a long hit. ‘Wooh!’ she said. ‘Been a while.’

Pooh raised his can of beer. ‘Well, Cheers,’ he said.

Alice and Blavatsky raised their glasses. ‘Cheers,’ they said.

Blavatsky giggled.

There was a muted bang and a squawk.

To be continued…

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