The Great Stink, Channel 5, My 5, narrator Dr Xand Van Tulleken, director Janet Simpson.

John Major: “Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less.”

We all know where deregulation and a lack of cooperation take us. It allows us to put carbon into the air and gives our planet multiple sclerosis. That’s a deadly miasma which will be terminal for most of us. Coming to you soon.

Britain 1858 is the uncontested superpower power in the world. Russia with its Emperor, large land mass and serfs remains a feudal society, but is still a superpower in the Great Game as the Crimean War shows. German city states are still to be reunited under Bismarck’s tutelage, but it has no empire. France is a rival, but Britain with its financial muscle, really does rule the waves. Queen Victoria is on the throne. India is the jewel in the crown, an indentured nation, whose goods and services they exported home to Britain.

Britain is also the workshop of the world. London’s population has risen from around one million to three million in 1858. The most populous city in the world. Britain is a prosperous nation. But the average life expectancy was nineteen in areas like Soho and the Bowery in London.  In other words, some people were prosperous, or gilded, as Mark Twain labelled them, but as Charles Dickens showed the great unwashed died in vast numbers.

Part of the reason was sewerage. For example, the mortality rate for children under five in Iraq before and after recent twenty-century wars wasn’t even fifty-fifty because of a lack of chlorine treatment and fresh drinking water. Throw in dead dogs, the run-off from factories and tanneries that dumped their waste into the tributaries of the Thames, add human sewerage and stir. Drink it down. Whisper it, poor people, didn’t have access to tap water. Only the middle-classes had that. It too was contaminated. We should all drink more water is advice from the Nanny state. Try drinking shit, literally.

Cholera and typhoid. Unnatural born killers.

The summer of 1858 broke all records (until now). Sunshine for three months. Population density increases. Water density decreases. Shit storm.

Many of us have had shitty jobs. One of the worst jobs, even in Nazi concentration camps, was cleaning out the human cesspit. Initially, this job was done by the poorest workers. The night-soil men would empty the cesspits of the London population outside their homes. They would put the filth it into a cart and sell their product to farmers. (A good source of nitrogen).    

But with a swelling population, pish and shit were dumped directly into stanks that ran into the River Thames. The intense heat and lack of natural rain water meant underground London watercourses became filled with sewerage and methane gas. It poisoned drinking water (as millions of tons of cow shit and toxic farmland sludge does today, especially in deregulated American farmlands). We can’t imagine the stink as the Thames dried up and had a lid of sewerage on top cooking in the sun. The best the programme could do was some corny acting in Victorian garb and hankies held to the nose, and an enclosed polytunnel with a shitty swamp inside.  Shit no longer flowed but took a cyclical journey, backed up into the rivers feeding it. Even Queen Victoria was affected.

The newly built Houses of Parliament overlooked the Thames. Something had to be done. It meant raising taxes. It meant investing in public works. All the things the Tories hate. But they didn’t then. It meant cleaner air. Benjamin Disraeli was on the right track. Rich people’s lives were in danger. I’m sure there’s a lesson there for us poorer folk. The great stink of 2023 is when and how we leave global warming untreated.  Treat those that campaign against fossil fuels as terrorists, with more deadly results than all wars combined. But this is not a costume drama. The average age of life expectancy is soon to be zero for us all as a third of nuclear-armed Pakistan’s land mass is covered in sewerage and India tries to steal its shared rivers and streams.

Wendy Woods (2019) Good Habits Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes Stick.

I read. That’s what I do. I’ve got books in the toilet. In the kitchen and hall. Down the side of my chair and in my van, stashed behind the passenger seat. I no longer keep a book in the glove compartment. I’m not therefore an addict.

Before deaths and Amens, there’s a line that goes something like this: lead us not into temptation and out of our boozers and strip clubs, or away from offers of half-priced drugs because it’s Black Friday on a Thursday.  

I inhale dopamine, because it’s free, but not for me. Habit habituates. The superhighway of our brains. Neurotransmitters are like Schroder’s cat. Chemicals and electrical impulses. They jump between neurons. Along the sensorimotor pathways. Knock around the pallidum. Shake hands with the midbrain and neofrontal cortex. And this is how you find yourself outside your front door shouting through the letterbox that you’ve lost your keys.

Wendy Wood quotes Mark Twain (more than once, which is a good habit to have) ‘Nothing needs reforming as other people’s habits.’

She tells the reader almost half of what we do is habitual. I’ve got friends that aren’t drug addicts or drunks, but they’ve crawled up inside their phones to die. Sometimes they pop their heads out. I warn them. That’s no good for you.

But it’s just like smoking was in the fifties and sixties. Around 80% of us smoked. Some of us smoked even more than that. They smoked 100%. They were the real addicts, like Laughing Boy on 80 fags a day.

What worked was making it harder for people to smoke. Wood calls that ‘friction’.  Increasing prices until it’s almost £12 a pack. Not allowing advertisements, which is a form of social cueing. It works at an unconscious level by suggesting it’s cool. Making it harder to get fags. Locking cigerettes up. Putting them behind bars. But people still smoke. Mainly poor people.

Wood has an answer for that. ‘Rat Pack’ I wrote in my notebook. I simplify some concepts so I don’t understand them. That’s when I know I’ve gotten them right. Rat Pack quite simply means some people in Drumchapel take drugs and booze because they there’s fuck all else for them. If they moved two miles and lived in Bearsden, they’d immediately live ten years longer, get better educated, get good jobs, pay their mortgages and live the life of a contented rat. You can’t do that with people from Drumchapel or they’d bust you. So they did it with rats in a maze. One end of the maze was marked Drumchapel and offered unlimited drugs. The other end was Bearsden. Equally unlimited drugs, but also the chance not to take drugs and go and do something else instead.

Wood argues almost 100% of those in rehab programmes do not take drink or drugs. But within two years the majority, around 60-80% are back on it. AA has a better strike rate, even though many of these programmes adopt the 12-step programme.

The medical model of addiction fails because it treats the addict in isolation. She or he is seen to have some kind of deficit that needs medicated.

Context is everything argues Wood. By context she means addiction isn’t innate. We’re all addicts that need to replace bad habits with good. Environment plays a large part in addiction. She shows this with a study of American soldiers, grunts, returning from Vietnam.

In the early 1970s there was a moral panic about these supposed addicts. Heroin was easy to get in Vietnam as were most opioids and other drugs. These returning veterans who had tested positive in urine tests were seen a danger to the American way of life. But less than 5% of these tested veterans became addicts in America. The majority quietly got on with their lives, got educated and married and brought up children that didn’t take drugs, because they were for mugs.

Friction is not fiction. When drugs were on tap as they were in Vietnam, the majority of eighteen year old men will take them.  Rat Pack. When they return home, drugs were no longer on tap.

Simple. Wood strays into dangerous territory. Neo-liberalism calls for no intervention in smoking, drinking or medicating for diseases like Covid.  Manning up. No nanny state. What it calls for is more prisons. More Rat Packs. And our old favourite, the black hole that money pours into as more and more an incarcerated.

Wood tells a story about this. We love stories. That’s what makes us human. I like her story. It goes something like this (I’ve modified it a bit). A doctor jumps into a river to save a man. He brings him ashore and gives him the kiss of live and saves him. But he’s no time to congratulate himself. A woman is floating face down in the same river. He swims out and resuscitates her on the bank. Another body floats towards him. He gets out and does the same things. Again and again. Upstream, supporters of the moron’s moron are pushing in men and women. If they sink they’re true believers with the right stuff. The doctor is warned he better let them sink or swim or he’ll be next. Rat Packers. Read on.         

David Baddiel, Jews Don’t Count, Channel 4, written and presented by David Baddiel, directed by James Routh.

A quote attributed to Mark Twain, but perhaps not said by Mark Twain, the great American writer and humourist goes something like this:

‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.’

David Baddiel shows footage of the moron’s moron supporters of the 45th American President chanting, ‘We will not be replaced by the Jews.’  

It would be better for humanity if bottom feeders and  plant life like this dragged out of the bargain basement of humanity and fed hatred three times a day were replaced by something more humane. Habits form from little lies becoming big lies.

Baddiel interview the actor David Schwimmer. He tells us that Jews make up less than two percent of the population of New York, but account for forty-percent of the hate crime.

Only it’s not really a hate crime to hate Jews goes Whoopi Goldberg. If the KKK came along, or Trump supporters, which is pretty much the same thing, her argument is only the black man or woman needs to scarper. Six million Jews dying, killed by the Nazis, wasn’t an act of racial hatred, because Jews are not a race, but a religion. It’s a whopper from Whoopi, the equivalent of blood libel that goes back to the Middle Ages.

Baddiel’s rhetoric about modern-day antisemitism is about exclusion not inclusion. He uses the example of Labour MP, Dawn Butler. She reads out a long list of exploited and oppressed people that Labour would support. He waits for Jews to be mentioned. He gets frustrated and angry by her omission.  

Miriam Margolyes, who seems to pop up on every programme, on every channel, has her say. She, of course, describes herself as an old fat Jewish lesbian. She would have been on Dawn Porter’s list. She brought up the subject of Israel. She admitted, as an atheist Jew, she felt some responsibility for the mass murder and oppression of Palestine, non-Jewish, nationals (not her words).

Baddiel, described himself as an atheist, non-practicing Jew, and thus felt little responsibility. But he knew it would be a stick used to beat him. In the same way paedophile priest as used against practicing and non-practicing Roman Catholics. As if it was our fault. I side more with Margolyles on this one. In a way it is.

I don’t hate Jews. I hate Rangers. I hate Tories. And I hate Trump and all he stands for. Ironically, the racist, rapist, misogynist, thieving hate pedlar’s daughter, Ivanka, married into a Jewish family of property developer almost equally vile. Sometimes it’s not all black and white.

Many of the synagogues in Scotland have closed. The largest Jewish population remains in Glasgow, but it too is declining. For Jewish boys and girls to marry other Jewish boys and girls they may need to move to larger communities. For Jews, like Catholics, to count they need to fend off secularism and apathy.

Indian nationalist have made Muslims scapegoats in many of the same ways Hitler branded the Jews. Populist governments all over the world are doing the same thing, scapegoating, including Israel. Jews, such as Shakespeare’s Shylock or T.S.Eliot’s channelling of antisemitism have always hit a nerve. A form of emotional contagion.  It can be and is deadly as Baddiel shows again and again. His old London Primary school, for example, now has a siren which sounds and Jewish children practice drills in which they flee from their attackers. But it’s also worth remembering that Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts took a good beating in and around those same lanes. Trump’s supporters are in retreat. Brazil has elected a less toxic President and populism, at last, may well be in decline. I may be wrong. Like Mark Twain, ‘it ain’t so.’  

Hate is a habit we pick up from an early age. We don’t need to think. George Orwell in 1984 got it pretty much right with hate-crime that wasn’t a crime, but a way of non-thinking.

Karl Wiggins (2015) Self-Publishing! In the Eye of the Storm!


I’m not sure why Self-Publishing should have an exclamation mark! But I’m not going to argue with an exclamation mark. This book cost less than a pint of beer and more importantly I spent about five hours reading it. I dutifully followed all the links to some impressive Amazon sites that featured self-published authors have set up to sell their novels. I was familiar with some of the names featured. Joe Lawrence and East End Butcher Boy is mentioned, which is a terrific book. Vera Clarke, writer, is mentioned. Linda Cresswell and Denise Marr and the chief executive of ABCtales Tony Cook also get air-kissed. Karl Wiggins has according to Amazon listings self-published seven books. He has gained the experience necessary to give aspiring authors such as myself  advice. And he is generous in the praise of other self-published authors. The problem with Karl Wiggins is Karl Wiggins.

A typical blurb features in the same format several times. Someone is falling over and pissing themselves laughing.

‘…Anyone who …doesn’t mind peeing slightly when they laugh too hard…’

‘…you will have a damp patch in an embarrassing place.’

‘…Due to the laughter you owe my secretary one pair of knickers.’

‘…Best not to read this book on the train if you have a full bladder.’

‘Publishing is easy, but you need to get your name out there.’ The line between selling books and self-aggrandisement, where does it begin or end? Karl Wiggins tells the reader he is no Mark Twain, but he also tells us several times he has been compared to Socrates and Bukowski. What advice would the budding Socrates give Jane Austen, for example? No Facebook page or profile. No Twitter account.  She published her work anonymously and little is known about her life.  I’d be inclined to follow humourist like Twain and his suggestion:  ‘Any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen.’   Take him or leave him, Karl Wiggins is the equivalent of Bernard Manning talking about those coloured chaps with big lips is all he asks. Jane Austen get your tits out for the boys.  ‘…To use piss-taking humour to bring to the fore situations that don’t stack up.’ ‘Oh, the banter,’ as comedian Ford Kiernan as Jack in Still Game is apt to say, before raise his eyebrows to signal dramatic irony to the camera.

‘Can you imagine arriving back on a time machine in the 60’s [sic]  with the quick, ready banter from the 21st century while everyone’s still laughing at a pie in the face?’

Yes, I can, and it wearies me. The sixties were not ruff collars and Elizabethan England. The Rolling Stones as far as I’m aware are still touring. The theory that how the speaker perceives and reacts to the world is dependent on the language they have at their disposal (Whorf’s hypothesis) is not new. Humour was not invented in the twenty-first century as Mark Twain and Laurel and Hardy show.

Other straw men include chavs: ‘I hate toilet seats because they is better than me. At least they have a job’.

The beardie is the kind of highbrow that Karl Wiggin’s despises. He’s skint because of his ‘superior intelligence’. I’d guess an online group such as the Mc Renegades fall into the beardie category: ‘We’re a bunch of Scottish writers who have some things in common. We write for pleasure, not money…’ I write for pleasure too, but I’d be more inclined to follow Spike Milligan’s lead: ‘This book is dedicated to my bank balance’. But as anyone knows the average earning of an author are under £4000 per annum. Even ‘vegetarian bicycle wearing, [I’m not sure what a vegetarian bicycle is or how to wear it] frowning, long-faced, stupid hat, stupid beard, stupid glasses, miserable twat, disapproving wanker into the broken, bitter mind, that is Bearded Hattie’ or people like me, would find that difficult to live on.

Harpie, one of my favourite authors, but one or two punctuation errors such as putting ‘Lizards Leap’ in italics and adding apostrophes [one or the other, but italics for the modern writer is better] gives ready ammunition to Beardies that self-publishing is not real publishing. In ‘Delusions’, she put it this way, her son ‘has gone without to fund my vanity and ego’. Later she says ‘Amazon sales is the definition of fool’s gold.’ But for the self-publishing author Amazon’s algorithm is god. Twitter’s algorithm tells others who we think we are. And the Facebook algorithm is fairground hall of mirrors in which nobody looks at the same thing, but everybody seems to be laughing. This book is a hotchpotch of different elements drawn from different sources. It needs a good edit. Would the real Karl Wiggins please stand up?