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Farewell, then, to Lewis Collins – the greatest advertising campaigner Brut never had.

It’s difficult to think of someone who so neatly epitomises that style of action hero only the British could turn out in the years between Roger Moore’s Bond and Hollywood’s steroidal grotesques of the 1980s.

It’s best summed up as “rugged naffness”.  

In The Professionals, Collins played William Bodie, a tough, yet suave ex-paratrooper, partnering Martin Shaw’s idealistic ex-copper Ray Doyle in an elite anti-terror unit, overseen by Gordon Jackson’s wonderrrful burrrr.

If Bodie were for real, then he’d be drenched in Hai Karate and Old Spice – but he probably wouldn’t shower every day. He might watch 1950s muscle man films without the merest speck of irony or self-awareness, perhaps flexing his own biceps for comparison. And yes, his Ford Capri would be his pride and joy, its white paintjob buffed clean every second Sunday.

Alan Partridge almost certainly has a signed photo of Lewis Collins somewhere in his house.

I’m sorry if I sound facetious. Collins’ death made me sad in a way that Paul Walker’s tragic passing couldn’t; it was a generational marker for someone my age. The Professionals was one of the last times Britain would produce this kind of flashy Lew Grade-esque syndicated action show (maybe Dempsey and Makepeace was the last throw of the dice). These serials would have you believe that British security officers roared around the country in sports cars, stopped off for pints, pulled barmaids and then pulled pistols to do battle with baddies.

The Professionals’ shabby glamour is a time-locked masterpiece in its own right, even down to the two principals’ haircuts. I must confess that Doyle was my favourite Professional – perhaps because his incredible 70s bubble perm, seen in silhouetted profile in the title card, reminded me a bit of Bungle from Rainbow. I’m not sure.

Bodie, however, was my older brother’s favourite. Re-watching the shows on ITV4 gives me a clue as to why this was. In the title sequence – which features the greatest TV theme tune of all time – Bodie schleps down the street wearing the sort of suit last seen on Stop Making Sense, with an open collar almost reaching his elbows. He pouts all the way through this strut, gurning fit to compete with any Bond.

I could see why my style-conscious teenage brother would have idolised Bodie. You could tell this man fancied himself to the very tip of his tail.

Collins’ quotes from the era are terrific. I was intrigued to find that he tried out for Bond, but it seemed Cubby Broccoli found him “too aggressive”. “They wanted another Sean Connery,” Collins asserted, neatly insinuating that he could have had Sean Connery for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then there was his claim that he passed selection for the SAS, only to be told he was “too famous” to serve in the elite unit. This coincided with his only major feature film role, as an SAS commando in Who Dares Wins.

Even if both these claims are true, they are reminiscent of the Viz’s Aldridge Prior. It’s the sort of story you might get from a delusional blowhard in the pub. “Yeah, I could have been in the SAS, me. Double black belt. Can’t fight anyone, though, ‘cos my hands are deadly weapons. You see that Arnold Schwarzenegger? I was his weightlifting coach.”

In mitigation, Collins must have been hard to fend off the amount of hassle he undoubtedly got in the pub. Fame was arguably even more concentrated back then, when you only had three TV channels. I bet he had to look lively.

Viz magazine was a signpost that Collins had an enduring fame long after The Professionals was cancelled – among women who grew up lusting after him. After Viz printed a less than complimentary letter about the actor from a reader, the Lewis Collins Fan Club were galvanised into action, replying in no uncertain terms.

There’s been a strange outpouring of grief over Collins on the internet and in offices around the country. As an actor his CV is not overloaded, but he enjoys a very rich cultural cache. This is something I’m fascinated by. In his own way, Collins was one of the most famous people in the UK, based on a TV show which ran for four years and ended in 1982. Even now, most people over a certain age knew exactly who he was, and even if they’d never watched a single episode they would be familiar with that awesome theme, and the names Bodie and Doyle. How many other people can say that about their work?

And you know what? I’ve watched a few re-runs of The Professionals on ITV4, and it holds up well today.

Collins’ death makes me sad. The feelings of the public are perhaps best summed up by his co-star Martin Shaw. He said that Lewis Collins was “part of everyone’s childhood”, and perhaps there is the heart of the matter.

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I am writing this from an alternate universe in which Margaret Thatcher’s obituaries were all drafted after she died.

Look at Hugo Young! His Guardian piece on Mrs T’s passing survived his own by 10 years.

Anyway, Mrs Thatcher’s death has predictably sparked equal measures of sycophancy, rage and delusion up and down the columns, blogs, broadsheets and bog papers of the UK. There’s more to come, when she gets her ceremonial send-off on Wednesday.

To get it out of the way, I am no admirer of the Iron Lady. There’s no doubt, she built modern Britain with her own mailed fists. She created good times for the south, particularly London, but she also helped create just about all of the messes blighting the nation. For the north, she was simply a destroyer. I’m from the north.

Like it or not I am one of her children. When I was growing up, she was the Prime Minister; seemingly immovable, monolithic, terrifying in stature and intent. I had known no alternative, and electorally it seemed as if there was no other way. She might have been in charge forever, that her reign might outlast my own life.

Under her death-ray blue glare, I saw the Glasgow satellite town I grew up in turn from a thriving place with a population roughly equivalent to Perth to a crumbling ruin filled with bad housing, ill health, unemployment, crime and drugs. The buck has to stop somewhere for that social disaster, and I’m happy for it to stop at Mrs T’s headstone.

When she finally tumbled in late 1990, I was in my third year at secondary school. When the news of her resignation broke, teachers burst into the classroom from elsewhere to tell us; handshakes and slaps on the back ensued.

The effect Mrs Thatcher had on Scotland as well as anywhere north of the M25 has been exhaustively essayed elsewhere, so I won’t take up your time with those recollections. Suffice it to say that the Loadsamoney Eighties seemed to pass me by somewhat.

Having been in power at such an elementary phase of my life, it’s understandable that I should conflate Mrs Thatcher with another female authority figure in my mind; that of a dragonish primary school teacher who terrified me as a young boy. The poor lady in question was probably not as bad as I remember, but she left her mark on me. Put it this way, my parents used her as a threat whenever I misbehaved. Shrieking, bulging eyed and scary, she was the type of person who turned you to stone should you ever be brave enough to hold her gaze.

So, too, with the copper wire-headed Mrs Thatcher. It’s often remarked that many of Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet, not to mention the reporters who hung on her every word, were all privately educated. And so the only woman outwith their own families they encountered in their cloistered public school days was matron – usually an equally formidable figure. Small wonder Mrs Thatcher was able to dominate so many of them, usually just with a look. Because my God, that woman could stare.

What I’m most fascinated by is Mrs Thatcher the woman. The common narrative has it that for a groundbreaking female who took supreme power in her country – it’s almost unthinkable that one of the three major parties would have a woman in charge today, in these supposedly more enlightened and egalitarian times – Mrs Thatcher was no feminist. She was supposedly dismissive of other women, not especially quick to promote any of them and something of a throwback in her public demeanour. This was no master of the universe, the PR shots told us. This was Mrs Mopp, suddenly handed the job of tidying up Britain. Witness those pictures of Mrs T doing the dishes, or dusting the lectern in the middle of some luckless bloke’s speech at a Tory party conference.

Actually, I’d argue that she is an uber-feminist. She is the ideal, hard though that might be for many to swallow. Although there are a great many men who found Mrs Thatcher sexually attractive – doubtless those same boys who clutched themselves at the very sound of matron’s iron footsteps across the dormitory floor, or whose buttocks still tremble at the recollection of her swishing cane – to me she is curious because she was sexless. A woman, yes; immaculately if austerely coiffeured, pearls and handbag ever-present at her side. Powerful, undoubtedly; and relishing that power, brutal with it, unsentimental as a terrible goddess of antiquity. But sex was not part of the Thatcher make-up. She succeeded in her own way, in her own right, as successful men would expect to and as successful women almost never are. Although Spitting Image was hilarious in its depiction of Mrs Thatcher standing beside her cabinet colleagues at the urinals, the contrast is slightly off-beam. She was never masculine in the slightest, but she had a curious feminine power divorced from the notion of beguilement or seduction. It was all about power. Mrs Thatcher commanded awe. In this light, she is closer to Boudicca than Peron, more Medusa than de Marcos.

Mrs Thatcher achieved power and held onto it without any of the bullshit that today’s successful women have to put up with; the pseudo-sexist notion that they must be sexually appealing to men. There was a coincidental comparison on offer the very night Mrs Thatcher died, a British TV interview with Karren Brady, the British entrepreneur. When she walked into the studio, she looked stunning – perhaps literally a million dollars, with her hair and dress and jewellery impeccable. Even the strongest of us might have to suppress an urge to genuflect. This was more Hollywood than the boardroom.

And yet… I couldn’t help but wonder if paying attention to Karren Brady’s looks in the first case means we’re all missing the point. Not so with Thatcher.

That said, Mrs T was very much all woman. The paradox is intriguing. Spectacular as Geoffrey Howe and Douglas Hurd’s hairstyles were at the time – caricaturists barely had to embellish them – it’s hard to imagine them having to submit to a stylist for an extra hour or more every day before getting on with the business of government. Mrs Thatcher had to deal with that extra dimension, her appearance, before running the country. In her antecedents of the time we have Joan Collins’ formidable Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, shoulder pads, power dressing and all. Now that was a character the papers had no problem labelling a bitch; but then, she had sex appeal.

But, this is getting very close to praise, and this I do not intend for the late Mrs Thatcher. Go beyond skin deep, pierce the epithelial thin mythology, and a harsher face emerges. Union power had gone past the stage of usefulness in the 1970s, yes – and maybe they did have to be engaged with. But Mrs Thatcher didn’t engage with the unions – she destroyed them. And with the obliteration of their power base, she also did for the industries that birthed them.  And with the end of the heavy industries – sold off abroad, much like most of the utilities – came the death knell for many parts of the industrial north. The shipyards, the steelworks, and the mines, the mines, the mines… a legacy of ghost towns, despair and broken prospects. For a vision of how badly this policy of eradication worked out, Britons need only to look towards the last economic powerhouse in Europe – Germany, who hung onto their manufacturing base, employing people across their nation and also making things that other parts of the world wish to buy.

She cannot be forgiven. I’m sure she’d appreciate the sentiment. Mrs Thatcher was a curiously unchristian figure for a British establishment figure; it was obvious that Christian virtues were not part of her make-up. It’s a delicious irony that her “no such thing as society” line has been attributed to her address to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly on the Mound (apparently not so; she made the comment to a women’s magazine on the same day, I understand). No such thing as forgiveness, compassion and fraternity (or sorority, for that matter) either. Channelling St Francis of Assisi in her victory speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street in 1979 is one of the grimmer jokes of her premiership.

But wait – what about the services industry and the rise of the City? You can’t argue with the figures, showing that the City is responsible for almost 10% of this country’s GDP. And yet, if one of Thatcher’s key legacies is financial deregulation, then surely she must partly carry the can for the current disasters we are still trying to find a way out of. And what of the current obsession with home ownership in the UK? Surely that’s one of Thatcher’s legacies, too – the idea that we are indentured to mortgages, that such a market can be sustainable and ever-expanding. Thanks to this monetarist notion of our value as people, as consumers, being linked to a price tag on our homes, our cars and our fucking training shoes, we are simply money slaves. And if it’s not mortgages, it’s student loans, another hangover of Thatcherism and the drive to make education competitive. Easy credit, an entire economy founded on debt… It was always going to fail, always.

The myth of the grocer’s daughter is another one that irks me. As a grocer’s daughter, Mrs Thatcher would have been better off than many of her peers in Grantham, Lincolnshire – the notion that she came from nothing is ridiculous. If we wed this to the seldom-acknowledged fact that her husband, Denis, was a millionaire businessman – a far cry from the boozy buffoon he was often portrayed as in the popular press and Private Eye – then surely we can acknowledge that although Mrs Thatcher had the drawback of XX chromosomes in a man’s world, she was also a woman who enjoyed advantages in her path to Westminster.

What we should not overlook is the fact that her intellect was of the first rate. Studying chemistry at Oxford, before qualifying for the bar, we are obviously talking about someone of immense brainpower. That doesn’t fill the moral gap, though. She was a curiously artless figure, not particularly associated to any kind of cultural or artistic leanings. Tony Blair’s floppy-hatted rock n’ roll student days and his guitar-carrying photo opps outside Number 10 may be the very essence of naffness, but at least there’s something you can relate to in there. Not so, the austere, clinical gaze of the lady in blue, who dealt with pounds and pence, valency and molecules, every element in its proper place in the periodic table.

I could go on. But I don’t wish to dance on the woman’s grave. I will grant Mrs Thatcher a sense of dignity she denied many in life. She has two children, and I have sympathy for them. At some point she must have hugged them, kissed them, soothed them when they were frightened. It’s just difficult to imagine her doing so.

Echoing Russell Brand’s superb commentary in the Guardian, I’m also fascinated by how maternal a figure this mother-of-two might have been. There is the naked biological fact of her offspring, but again, there’s a disconnection between Thatcher and my conception of motherhood that I can’t reconcile.

It seems that Carol and Mark might not have sprung from her loins at all – rather that they were born of two of her pulled teeth planted in the soil, like the skeleton army in Jason and the Argonauts. Or perhaps she willed them into existence with a single flash of those eyes, sprung from the ground, blinking, confused and scared before their terrible, terrifying mother: our mother, too. Kali.

I had a chat with a female friend this weekend that struck a chord. She’s got a six-month-old girl, and she said it was an odd thing to imagine her daughter growing up with only a faint idea of who Mrs Thatcher is. For the wee girl enjoying her slice of pear in her high chair, Mrs Thatcher will be as distant a figure as someone like Harold Macmillan, or indeed Winston Churchill, to people from our generation. A figure from an ancient world, someone glimpsed only in the abstract, depicted by actresses and the stuff of unfathomable jokes and references among her parents and grandparents, despite all the videos and photographs available online.

A figure of marble and bronze, scary only to the suggestible, or, if you’re of a separate political hue, admirable only in the way you might admire the sacrifice of brave Leonidas at Thermopylae.

That’s politics, and that’s life.

The age of Thatcher is ended.

It’s a gloomy old town, Gotham City. Everywhere, there’s despair. Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred… even poor old Bane ends up in tears during The Dark Knight Rises. Everyone’s just kind of down; there’s so much regret. Maybe it’s the time of year?

The same is true across the pond at MI6, where another old stager, James Bond, is also pretty maudlin and mopey about things. His story, Skyfall, doesn’t end so happily, either. It was a tough year for our big-screen heroes.

Both Batman and Bond have seen better days. When we reacquaint ourselves with him in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne is hobbling around with a cane, and his doctor’s prognosis isn’t too good. Scarring on the brain? No cartilage? That’s getting awfully close to reality, the true butcher’s bill for a streetfighter.

Ditto Bond, in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall. The British superspy, with his bullet holes and his greying stubble, is made to do a horrible series of pull-ups as part of his physical examination – which he fails. Nice abs, all the same, 007.

But aren’t they a gloomy pair? Batman and James Bond are two men living in the past. Deaths haunt them, peg them back, clip their wings. The two heroes can’t move forwards. If they were your friends, you’d worry. You’d think about having a word with them. Nice and friendly, like, in a pub you both know. If you were, say, Felix Leiter or Wonder Woman.

The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall were bad films, made by directors who should know better. Both had their plus points, featured fine performances and were beautifully shot. But their sins far outweighed their graces. For Batman, the plotting had its backside out the window, and the structure and pacing was awkward from the opening moments. For Bond, bad narrative choices were made in the name of servicing a 50-year legacy. Why all the childhood stuff? It was curious. Did we actually need the backstory?

Daniel Craig is a great Bond, but hardly charm personified. If you were to describe the character of James Bond in five single words, “suave” would probably be in there. But there’s no “suave” about Craig’s performance. He is a physically imposing 007, but he couldn’t draw a bead on Moore’s cheeky patter, or Connery’s velvety malice, or even Brosnan’s sheer smarm. For years, we’ve been told that if he was a real person, James Bond would be a barely functioning psychopath. That being the case, then at last the film-makers have got the character right.

Over in Gotham, Christian Bale is a superb fit for the cowl. But he seems to have had the least fun out of anyone who’s played the caped crusader. Even Michael Keaton’s Batman had a few laughs fluttering around in his belfry once the suit was hung up for the night.

These troubled, dark heroes, who failed as much as they succeeded in this year’s offerings, have some common DNA. And it comes all the way from Shakespeare.

Hamlet had mummy and daddy issues. Like Bond, he had a curious relationship with mother figures in his life; Bond and M’s bickering and counter-punching reminded me a little bit of the Dane’s cut-and-thrust with Gertrude, in her chamber. Don’t forget that Freudian brush-off in M’s house, once Bond returns from the cold: “You’re not bloody staying here.”

Batman, obviously, has people missing in his life, his parents’ murder being a catalyst for his psychotic rage against criminals. So, too, for Hamlet, who is driven to action – and inaction – on his murdered father’s account.

There are more oblique parallels to be drawn. In the Dark Knight Rises, Batman takes a little turn against Alfred, his substitute father figure, protector and confidant. Of course, Alfred’s character doesn’t have the same psychosexual overtones as Claudius, but he takes a Polonius-esque skewering through the arras from a crushed Bruce Wayne once he uncovers the deception his faithful butler used to protect him in the last movie – burning a “Dear Bruce” letter from his lost love, Rachel Dawes.

These heroes are haunted by their past, and by ghosts, like the Dane. Bond the orphan’s choice of the family home in beautiful Scotland for the final showdown with Silva couldn’t be more symbolic. The place is blown to matchwood, though 007 isn’t quite as angry about this as you might suspect. He says outright that he hated the place, and had far more of a dander up about his beloved Aston Martin being turned into fiery scrap. As an aside, I wonder what the Scottish Government, never slow off the mark when it comes to tourist connections, made of Bond’s unsentimental feelings towards his bleak ancestral pile?

Another orphan, Bruce Wayne, also has issues with his childhood, and by extension his very identity. Although Wayne Manor has been rebuilt after the League of Shadows torched it in Batman Begins, Bruce isn’t too keen on staying there once the roof falls in on his business empire. What Alfred knows is that Bruce Wayne’s health and happiness are dependent on him leaving home, getting away from Gotham, and not being a slave to duty.

In both men’s sense of desolation, we can again see something of the Dane, and his apparent madness sparked by his father’s murder, as well as the burden of duty when he accepts the ghost’s mission of vengeance. It’s duty that brings Bond back to MI6 in Skyfall – nothing else.

Hamlet’s notions of the office of king, and the honour of Claudius, the man who would become one, are quite precise on this score. A king may make his way through the guts of a beggar, indeed. But has the prince seen something of his own progress in this, too? And can we see echoes of this in Bruce Wayne’s handling of Wayne Enterprises? Both men seem all too eager to bring the curtain down on it all.

In Hamlet’s Ophelia, there’s another echo of Batman, who sees his true love taken from him in The Dark Knight. You even could argue Wayne’s tragedy is down to an inability to act. Had he simply killed the Joker, the villain would not have been able to carry out his atrocities, including the murder of Rachel Dawes and the fateful disfigurement of Harvey Dent. We could look not to Skyfall, but to 2006’s Casino Royale, for Bond’s Ophelia – Vesper Lynd, twisted and turned this way and that by her quarry-turned-lover, before finally dying the same way as Hamlet’s girl.

So, we have dark heroes, unresolved complexes, deadly hang-ups and – the key driver for all three – enormous, overwhelming grief. What Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises shared, though, was a hopeful conclusion, or at least, a sense that they’d moved on. Batman passes on the cape and cowl to Robin (nice touch, incidentally). He then finds happiness with Anne Hathaway. And who wouldn’t?
Bond, meanwhile, allows himself a deep breath. Everything has been destroyed, his childhood home rubbled and his mother substitute, M, buried. But there’s a new family in place. Here comes Ralph Fiennes as the fatherly M, and Moneypenny’s there to fret over him out in the field.

So there is some light out of the darkness, a sense of moving on.

And thank goodness, because I’m sick of the gloom. The Dark Knight felt like a breath of fresh air in 2008. Nolan’s masterpiece took Joker-esque glee in showing us there are no easy answers in life. Far from a fascist fantasy where a rich guy gets to slap poor miscreants around, it seemed to me like an acknowledgment that our governments and authorities lie to us – and those lies have consequences.

Ian Fleming’s source novel for Casino Royale in 2006 was a post-war reappraisal of western heroes, their place in the world and a sense of disillusionment in the grubby businesses our governments get involved in for the sake of security. While eschewing those politics, the movie version sticks close to Bond’s personal arc. He is a husk at the end of that movie, far from your favourite uncle, and he has not cheered up since.

But aren’t blockbuster movies meant to be about escape? I’ll probably revisit Joss Whedon’s The Avengers the most, out of 2012’s marquee releases. For a start, it was fun. Its most tortured hero – Bruce Banner – didn’t get sulky. He turned into “a giant green ragemonster” and broke stuff. And the Marvel movie dared say things outright which the Nolans’ Batman films only hinted at through gritted teeth. I admired Nick Fury’s candour: “We made some mistakes along the way.”

When Batman and Bond return, I suspect we’ll see different heroes to the ones who’ve scowled at us from big screens over the past decade. They may still be tough, they might still have issues, but there’ll be a bit of colour in there, too. Let’s hope they have not lost all of their mirth.

Well, Rangers are in a heap o’ trouble, and you can bet I had a right good gloat at that.

If I was a TV series I’d be The Love Gloat. If I was a gun killer I’d be Raoul Gloat. If I was a geographical location I’d be John O’Gloats. If I was a – you get the picture.

So I’ve been sharpening the pencil this week to have a right good stab into ailing Scottish football giants Rangers FC. I’m a Celtic fan, you see, so we have a deadly vendetta thing going on. Wait, that’s not right – we have a local derby thing going on. Or irresolvable political tensions. Or sectarianism, or God forbid, a sporting rivalry. Yeah, we don’t get on.

I do hate the team and much of what it stands for, well enough. I could take you through some stories of charming encounters I’ve had with our blue brethren, but I don’t want to bore you. And I’m sure they could just as easily point to abuse from Celtic fans in turn. “Whataboutery” is the nation’s second-favourite sport, after all.

I’ll state the case briefly. They have a lot of bigots among their fans, they embarrass Scotland on a regular basis and, in Sir David Murray, they had a chairman who represented just about everything I hate. Now, he superseded his physical disabilities to amass a great personal fortune, and, however grudgingly, I respect that. But the man couldn’t have been more obnoxious with it. A smug, monetarist, Thatcherite profiteering galoot, the man simply reeked of snobbery, hubris and cultural elitism. There’s lots to like about Rangers’ woes, and the great alarm bell it sounds for mindless capitalism (the club could serve as a metaphor for it), no doubt about that.

And yet… I’ve not long watched the Celts whup Hibs 5-0 at Easter Road, and it reminded me of something a writing colleague said, a valediction for the early 21st century. The match felt “like that horrible empty feeling you get when you complete a video game”. Even in the midst of success, with our rivals flat on the ground, never mind on their knees, it doesn’t feel right that we should waltz into Easter Road and take five off the Hibees. And how depressing to see those empty seats in Hibs’ stands.

The Celtic fans made great sport of the occasion, but the occasion was not great sport.

Two things to establish right away; I do not wish Rangers’ survival because, oh, what do the apologists say? “We need them to survive,” or, “without Rangers there’s no point”. Their financial woes are completely self-inflicted, and I’m amazed that Celtic are being put into the equation. We’re a well-run club. Eternal credit must go to Fergus McCann, who not only saved the club but ensured that we’d never have a megalomaniac in charge, like Sir David Murray. And credit to former chairman Brian Quinn, too – another man vilified for his “Biscuit Tin” mentality, but whose prudence has ensured we didn’t follow follow Rangers on the road to oblivion.

And secondly, I’m not echoing the usual “the Scottish league is rubbish” snarks, usually coming from English football fans, either. Scotland is a football-mad country, always has been, and although the quality has dipped in the past quarter century, it can rise again. The big joke on Twitter when Rangers’ 10-point penalty was announced was that they had fallen from second place to second place. But if you strip 10 points from the English Premier League’s second-placed club Man Utd, they’d only fall one place, and still have a good cushion between then and Arsenal.

Life without Rangers is a possibility. They have a massive tax case to come, and if they lose that and are liable for a £50m bill, the unthinkable could happen – a winding-up order at Ibrox. Only a decade ago, this was a club speaking of having three squads – one for the cups, one for the league, one for Europe. That famous quote – “For every fiver they spend, we spend a tenner.” Surely there must be Rangers fans out there who know, in their heart of hearts, the natural justice in such breathtaking arrogance being made a mockery of today.

Oh, how Sir David Murray coveted that European Cup. It was the one thing he couldn’t get his hands on – and he came horribly close in 1993. When is one star on a jersey worth more than five, Sir David? I think you know the answer full well.

Wonder what will happen to Kyle Lafferty’s neck should those titles you cheated your way towards be expunged?

Ah, but I’m falling into the trap here. Watching the match today, with the sinking still-winter sunlight filtering through the blinds, I got a chilly feeling. We shouldn’t be beating Hibs 5-0 away, even if they are bottom of the league and going nowhere fast. This wouldn’t have happened 25 years or so ago. We’d have gone to Easter Road and maybe lost. It wouldn’t have been a shock, of course. To win by the one goal would be considered a good result.

Nostalgia bomb: I can remember Hibs knocking us out of both cups, one season – maybe 1986? In the Skol/League Cup we drew 4-4 and they knocked us out on penalties. In the Scottish Cup they beat us 4-3. Neither result was a shock.

These tussles were common in Scottish football’s second great Golden Age: the early-mid 1980s. Pre-Souness, basically.

I started to fall in love with football in 1985 – properly in love, with that same intensity that the start of any other relationship has – with the 100th Scottish Cup final, Celtic v Dundee United at Hampden Park. Great bowl of a stadium, still mostly uncovered and unseated. Gigantic square goalposts with those lovely, deep curved stanchions you’d know anywhere (were Hampden’s the best, or Wembley’s?). Aberdeen had won the league on the last day, a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park clinching it from us. So the Cup was our last chance of a trophy (and our first since 1982), and it looked ropey for a while as United went 1-0 up through Stewart Beedie. The clock ticked on… And we came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to two magical goals. First Davie Provan – “Only twice before has a goal been scored direct from a free kick in the final of the Scottish Cup. Is this a piece of history… irrrrrissss!” And then, with five minutes left, Frank McGarvey’s moment of immortality, the ball flying in off his Frankenstein’s napper from Roy Aitken’s charging run and cross. Oh, happy days.

That was me, hooked. That sort of euphoria is right up there with crystal meth and full-fat heroin on the Not Even Once List. You never come back.

The following season, Celtic were league champions in another romantic victory, clinching the title on goal difference on the last day of the season at Love Street. Hearts were pipped at the post, having been the form team for much of the year. You can bet I had no sympathy for them at the time, but it was a harsh blow. If you look at the league tables, even allowing for two points for a win, both league championships in ’85 and ’86 were thrilling. In 1986, Hearts and Celtic finished level on points, but people forget Dundee United were only three points behind.

No-one knew it at the time, but this was the last time the league would be un-doped. Things changed that summer, with Rangers under new management, and Graeme Souness taking the manager’s chair at Ibrox, and… nothing being the same. Now came in the millionaires, the big salaries, spending what they couldn’t afford. Sky followed not too much later, and with it came the ruin of the English game.

Because don’t kid yourselves out there – the Premier League in England is just the Scottish league with fancier knickers. Success is bought and money is worshipped. How depressing to see billionaires waltz in and manipulate our national pastime as a vanity project, completely upsetting the applecart. I know more than one Man City fan who is loving the prospect of winning the league and rubbing the Reds’ faces in it… while at the same time appreciating that it’s a gigantic bloody fraud. Increasingly, the top leagues are concerned with money and power, not sport. I remember asking someone from Germany a few years ago if they supported a team; he told me that he hated football, as it had become an industry. He was right, but now it’s worse than an industry. It’s evil empire stuff. Real Madrid don’t buy people like David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo purely for football reasons. It’s big business. It’s ego. It’s three or four absolute monsters cruising past schools of minnows, swallowing them whole when they feel peckish. It’s ugly capitalism. If they win a bauble here and there, it’s not the bottom line. Power, influence and hegemony is. Barcelona remain a ray of light in that they have a hierarchy, some standards and a home-grown team, but that great side will dissolve, as they all must. And what then?

But there is another ray of light, and the death of Rangers can provide it. Their possible liquidation proves beyond doubt that no organisation is too big to fail. Nothing lasts forever folks, no empire stays standing. Even the mountains fall. And aside from the gloating of Celtic fans (and just about every non-Old Firm fan I know, by the way), it can be a good thing.

It may take a while, but with Rangers having to pay back what they owe (best case scenario) or going into liquidation and re-emerging as something new, Scottish football can flourish. The Doomsday scenario can re-set things.

And – I say this as a Celtic fan who has enjoyed our recent successes to the full – it’ll be good to see the Celts cut their cloth accordingly. To live within our means. To produce home-grown sides, like everyone else in the country. To turn the clock back to the 80s, when there was more competition, when our national side getting to the World Cup wasn’t a wistful, impossible dream.

To cut out this dread worship of money, and measuring quality by transfer fees and wages, by how much you spend in the transfer window.

It will take time – maybe years. It might take another couple of big teams going bust or getting in trouble. But I think our game can be resurrected. It’s been living beyond its means for a quarter of a century, and, karma being in action, it may take that long again. But it can happen. Look at Rangers; gaze upon proud Ozymandias. Just ten years ago, the arrogance, the smugness…. The elitism, the certainty that they’d keep on winning, that they could just grind their rivals into the dust.

They almost did it, too, in 1994, if a good man hadn’t stepped in and thousands of fans hadn’t manned the barricades. Fergus McCann should have a statue outside that stadium.

And just think what would happen if the Sky money suddenly vanished. If billionaires suddenly got themselves into professional darts or rugby… If live satellite football went the same way as movies, music and now books could be going.

Ie, available for free off the internet.

This is what I did today. Perhaps this is what made me feel bad. (Not the first time I’ve felt guilty after a wee surf to myself, to be sure). On a whim, I did a Google search for live Scottish football. Within two clicks, I had the game streamed live. That’s frightening. And fraudulent. And at the same time, it has the irresistible pull of the future to it, like the creeping interconnectivity we are starting to see online. The implications of easy-to-access pirated sports channels could be dire for commercial football.

But as a sport? It’ll go on. People will go on doing the right thing. Little boys and girls will always enjoy playing kick-the-ball. Our sports teams can keep good habits. Encouraging the young, becoming a local employer, the focus point of local pride and not just media-driven hatred and hysteria.

Ah yes, the media. Just when you thought an institutionally biased bunch of lickspittles could get no worse, there was Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland after the match on Saturday evening. Where Jim Traynor and Chick Young were a national disgrace, who were going out of their way to avoid criticising the former Rangers chairman, the man who ran up the debt in the first place. They said Craig Whyte was to blame, not Sir David Murray. This is Ministry of Truth-style denial on a quite breathtaking scale. Traynor’s an Airdrieonians fan, apparently… so why does he hold back from criticising Sir David Murray, the man who delivered the coldest dismissal to that team when they went out of business over a relatively small sum of money in 2000? He should be at Murray’s throat. It would only be natural.

Alan Pattullo, too, in The Scotsman (continuing its bizarre anti-Celtic stance), who has urged Celtic fans not to indulge in sanctimony – before doing exactly that, uttering some of the most laughably smug, obnoxious platitudes regarding Rangers’ fortitude and strength in the face of adversity.

Either these people simply don’t grasp the enormity of the hole Rangers find themselves in, or they are backing the man waiting to wheel himself back into the spotlight to save the rampant, ready, royal Rangers. Why are they so loyal to yesterday’s man, long past the end of Sir David Murray’s influence over Rangers?

Only they can know. Perhaps it’s love.

If Rangers’ Titanic impression is a fine metaphor for the failure of capitalist economics, then it has also helped expose a very disturbing tendency in the media. With the exception of one or two reporters such as Graeme Speirs, someone who has called it right regarding Rangers, their cowboy chairman and their more repellent traditions and its adherents, the national press and broadcasters have been given a bloody nose on this issue by the new media. Paul at Celtic Quick News, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain and the methodical Rangers Tax Case have, between them, broken stories on Rangers’ mismanagement that were better sourced and in many cases more accurately reported than the national news. Dishonesty among match officials was finally exposed through its efforts, apparent sectarianism was exposed among men at the very top, and they were right at the forefront as the whole rotten house of cards came down. Take a bow, lads.

Also, take a bow Neil Lennon. A man demonised as angry and mentally ill, assaulted in the street as well as at matches, threatened with death, sent parcel bombs and everything else… if this is revenge for that man for years of abuse, then who could deny him it?

Silly question. I know exactly who would deny him it. But there’s a man of immense strength and intellect, someone of character who took it, came back stronger, and is about to enjoy his reward. And those newspapermen and women who would demonise him and Celtic, who find it offensive that a football crowd has a laugh, but is less appalled when a man’s life is threatened… You get to watch. Enjoy that, won’t you?

Well done, Neil Lennon.

But, vindictiveness aside, hopefully the press can learn from what has happened here. Hopefully it can change its game, and survive by sticking to its duty: the truth.

(Audience erupts with laughter)

So don’t feel too bad, Rangers fans. Sure, you’ve got a lot of pain to come. It’s mostly self-inflicted, and you have had it coming for a long time. But there can be a fresh dawn. It may take a wee while. You could die out altogether… But don’t be afraid. You’re of too much value politically for that to happen. So you might even be a part of a bright future. We could even restructure the league system (as everyone and his dog knows would solve many problems in our game… everyone, that is, but Henry McLeish and his footballing think-tank). Two leagues, three at a push, but not four. Teams playing each other twice a season, not four times. Don’t deny the sense in this. The 10 or 12 team Premier League has only suited Celtic and Rangers. It certainly has money-wise.

If you Bears had to start again at the bottom, with no money but what your fans brought in, that could work out well for you. Back to the top within a couple of years. Those Glasgow derbies you’ll have missed will come back. Spread the wealth among smaller clubs. Don’t be greedy. You might even win a trophy within six… maybe seven years.

And this is a chance – a fat one – to remove the bigotry from the game, the anti-Catholic/Irish hatred that seeps from Ibrox’s stands, and was in such vast supply at the Kilmarnock game. Let the poison dissipate for one, two years, with the Old Firm games consigned to history… Let’s just see what happens. Let’s see if it stops.

It isn’t the end of the world! It’s just a game – our mothers were right.

Show some nerve, and things will be better for us all. Who knows – it might spread to other leagues, too, once the TV money bubble bursts.

Now, to dessert. Jelly and ice cream for me. And yourselves?

It’s coming. Can’t you see it? Can’t you hear it?

It’s all around you. Closing in. Right now, as you read. There’s nothing you can do.

I’ve been slow to the party regarding social networking, suspicious of living life online. Facebook in particular seemed to be rife with opportunities for people taking advantage of you and violating your privacy. I know at least one clown who thinks it’s funny to take unflattering pictures of people while they are eating and post them online. Look at this, snigger, snigger, guffaw.

Yeah, I know you can “untag” these photos. But they’re still there. Someone has violated your privacy. You shouldn’t have to “untag” stuff, or change your permissions, or dive into the small print in order to come up with some esoteric means of ensuring your privacy, if not your dignity. This is disingenuous.

But we are all accepting it. We’re shuffling zombies. We are the Swarm.

Facebook photo violation is a small example, but all the small examples add up to a very unappealing whole. The online world, in the space of less than ten years, has a very firm grip on our lives. Data now equals currency. This has happened almost unnoticed.

The intrusion of technology and its exploitation of private lives has led to high-profile incidents. Many of these have been illustrated by the Leveson Inquiry into privacy and the press. There have been some interesting twists and turns, and more to come. The Milly Dowler voicemail scandal – which precipitated the end of the News of the World – looks like it had more to do with the police, rather than the press. But the idea that someone could get into your voicemails, listen to them and delete them, whoever was responsible, is frightening. Your private, intellectual property isn’t quite your own. It’s starting to encroach into your very time and space. If you’re not frightened by this, perhaps you should be.

In that inquiry, we’ve had two astonishing evidence sessions. One was from Formula One boss Max Moseley. This is a guy who successfully sued the News of the World for a slur made about him contained in the fine detail of a story about his encounters with ladies of the night. The amount of money he won was irrelevant; as, indeed, was the action. Max Moseley can sue about any aspect of this he likes, but it doesn’t take away the fact that his sexual activities were splattered across the front pages of a national newspaper. We know about this, and so does his wife and children. Max Moseley is not a vicar, nor is he a politician espousing family values. But even at that, when it comes to private life, is it anyone’s business, no matter who they are? Does anyone deserve that exposure and humiliation?

Here is a question I will ask of any gossip whore: if it’s alright to have a laugh at a public figure’s peccadilloes, how would you feel about having your own sexual proclivities revealed to millions of people? Even if you have nothing to hide? Don’t support something you would find personally unacceptable.

Moseley was eloquent, honest and forthright – it was a masterclass in oratory, and I had so much respect for him. That very same day, a former journalist called Paul McMullan appeared on the stand. He was not as composed and articulate, but he was equally forthright, and his testimony was devastating.

“Privacy is dead,” he said, going on to blithely comment that he thought it was perfectly justifiable for newspapers to hack emails or phone messages, or even rake through bags of rubbish, in order to get to the heart of a story. What he was hinting at, I think, was that there is a basic idea of truth to be gotten at. And it was here that my criticism of his former line of work ran into a serious obstacle.

This idea of privacy being dead is spot on. No matter what parameters you set yourself on the internet, they are being compromised before your very eyes.

You want some personal examples? Sure. The other day I did some Christmas shopping on Amazon. Once the transaction was completed, a window opened up: “Do you wish to share your purchase on Twitter or Facebook?”

I sent their customer services department an email: “No. Not under any circumstances do I wish to share purchases with a social networking service. How ridiculous. Don’t ask me this again, and please remove this feature immediately.” I was told that “some people do like to share their shopping habits online”. And basically, I can like this feature, or lump it – either way, it stays.

But I don’t think this is acceptable. You should be able to switch this function off. You should be asked if you want it in the first place. This is god-damned creepy. And the scope for social disaster is vast.

Can you imagine? On the innocent side of things, let’s say you buy a surprise present for your auntie Jemima – and whoops, with the accidental click of a button, you’ve shared it with everyone you know, including her. And of course, there are bigger potential embarrassments. Someone, somewhere, will have bought a Mrs Rubbit blow-up doll or a shiny new Feels Just Like A Biggun sex toy, and will have hit that button automatically. You know it. Someone will have done it. That’s… actually pretty funny, just like that picture of you biting into a hamburger was funny. But it’s not right.

Newspapers have gotten all manner of strange plug-ins on Facebook. If a friend of mine clicks on an article on the Guardian or the Independent, it sends a message on their Facebook wall. I’ve seen a couple of people read articles they might be a bit red-faced about. I wonder: do they realise they’ve done this? Do you really want your friends knowing that you read Pamela Stephenson-Connolly’s sex column on the Guardian? If you do, fine. Not sure I’d want that, though. And, just to stress, it’s all easily controllable… but I do wonder if some people actually realise the advertising settings on their accounts.

I have a mate who didn’t seem to have any idea that he had signed up to advertising alerts from Asda appearing on his Facebook profile. Every time he does some online shopping, Asda pings out a message. Does he enjoy any benefits from this service? Does Asda knock money off his shopping? Or – crazy idea, I know – do they pay him? If not, whom do they pay for the free advertising?

And it gets creepier still. You’ll have spotted this yourself, I’m sure. Let’s say you send an email to a friend about going on holiday – or, in my case, getting an injury. All of a sudden, adverts pop up about holidays, or support bandages on your server. Something, somewhere, is scanning your emails. I’m not suggesting a team of evil email elves is poking through your posts; there’s probably some sort of bot or other automatic, digital dimension to it. But it’s still creepy and wrong.

“Well, that’s the price you pay for a free email service,” I’m told. Is it? Did we ask for any of this? Is there somewhere you can go where you don’t have to assume your privacy is being violated?

And then there’s Spotify. It shares everything you play with your Facebook friends. Should it? Isn’t this a bit creepy? “Bob has been listening to Prussian Martial Music all night.”

These are fripperies, though, compared to some of the diabolical things being done with your data in an official capacity. Just the other week, the Government announced that our medical records will be sold to private companies. This was spun as good common sense in the present economic climate – that our medical records are a treasure trove for multinational pharmaceutical companies, and can open new doors in research. Money for nothing, effectively. Hey! Great!

But this is our private fucking medical records. Things which your closest friends and family shouldn’t necessarily be party to. Being sold off to the highest bidder!

And there we have it, acceptance in an official capacity – data is money. And the Government wants it. The Government! It’s beyond Orwell. It is an absolute, stone-cold outrage.

On the positive side, there are plus sides to scrutiny of data, records and in particular internet habits. Online child abusers have no place to hide any more. But is it fair that everyone else should be subject to having everything tracked, recorded and possibly opened out into the public eye?

Don’t doubt that this is the way it is going. Very soon, everything you do online will be opened out into scrutiny. It’s only a matter of time before this is seen as normal. “Jim searched for ‘What to do if you’re impotent’”. “Betty looked for ‘depression tips’.” “Augustine bought ‘incontinence knickers’”.

It’s coming. Our privacy will become completely eroded, because there is serious money to be made from our personal information. But will we even mind? And should we?

Paul McMullan thinks privacy is dead. Lots of internet entrepreneurs may well wish it was. McMullan posited a logically sound idea – that with the death of privacy, we will actually have the full, total truth. Is the truth enough? Is complete and utter honesty something we should worship?

Let’s look at the future, and where this openness could get us. Interconnectivity on an almost subliminal level might have some positive aspects. We might have human hive minds. It could boost team work; it could lead to the death of ego, and even a golden age of tolerance. I’ve been brewing a sci-fi short story idea about hive minds and instant neural connections for a while now. Imagine that; if your every thought and feeling was instantly shared with everyone you know, and even lots of people you don’t. If everything you see, from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you close them again at night… and even afterwards, when you’re not even conscious, your very dreams… is automatically shared. Is this a good and right thing? Is this the direction the human race is headed?

Or is there a part of you that you want separate from the internet, from other people’s attention? Isn’t this idea of the self, the individual, actually normal and healthy?

In this future, I suspect that what will actually happen is that we’ll go on being human. Therefore, there can be no technological utopia. We’ll be slaves to advertising. And there are some ugly examples of human nature out there on the net right now – prejudices, ostracism, pigeon-holing, lying, smearing, bullying. Unless you can work out a way to eradicate these human symptoms, they’ll be very much a part of it. And that sounds like a nightmare to me.

My humble advice is: don’t allow it to happen. Don’t let technology add tags to your life. Don’t be controlled by stealth. Check the settings on any internet services you use, make sure they’re as tight as you can make them. Ask questions about things which aren’t clear; ask internet service providers to list their rules and regulations. Report things you don’t like to Ofcom and other communications watchdogs.

But above all, be prepared to disconnect yourself, and switch the computer off. This is your only means of keeping the Swarm at bay; treasure it while you can.

I had this great idea for the new Batman movie. Hollywood producers with lots of money, please take note.

I wanted to start with Bruce Wayne down on his luck, to reflect the times. Wayne Enterprises would haemorrhage money, just like the banks did. Except there’s no bailout on offer for Bruce Wayne.

Ironically, despite his company’s ethical policies, it goes to the wall. Bruce Wayne goes from billionaire to pauper in the space of an afternoon. He has to lay Alfred off and moves from Wayne Manor to an eight-in-a-block. Downstairs, there’s a baby crying. Next door, the music’s always on too loud, and sometimes there’s screaming.

And of course, there’s a knock-on effect for Batman, too. No more Batmobile, for a start; he has to trade that in for a 1996 Fiat Punto and a Raleigh Burner. At least they both come in black. And no more utility belt with its get-out-of-that tricks and cheats; he has to rely simply on his fists and his wits to solve problems and get out of dangerous situations. He may even have to go back to hilarious home-made costumes with a bright yellow bat symbol and blue underpants, cut by a sympathetic seamstress, instead of sleek, musculo-skeletal body armour.

He may even have to get a job.

There’d be villains, of course. I could see how Christopher Nolan baulked at using the Riddler in his own saga; his moral dilemma schtick would have seemed like a remould given the Joker’s homicidal tricks and schemes in The Dark Knight.

No, I’d have gone for the Penguin. And, just as Heath Ledger’s Joker was a million miles away from Cesar Romero’s guffawing clown from the old TV show, my Penguin would have been a very different character compared with Meredith Burgess’s waaak waaaak waaak waaaaking buffoon.

I’d have made him a shark in a suit, a banker with barely-suppressed psychotic tendencies, someone who knows exactly what his industry does to people not just in his own country but across the world. And he doesn’t care because he has lots and lots of money.

And if there’s one thing this world respects above all other things, it’s money.

And the Penguin wants more of it. Specifically, Bruce Wayne’s money. Because Bruce Wayne does things differently; ethically. He invests in not-for-profit back-to-work schemes, local healthcare, environmental programmes, education grants and the arts – you know, picking up the tab for what your taxes should ideally be funding.

The Penguin, whom we should see as a shadow version of Bruce Wayne’s rich-but-tormented heir, hates this sustainable fiscal enlightenment. He wants to destroy that legacy, and build his own dark empire on the ruins of Bruce Wayne’s. He wants to fund weapons and big oil, to exploit and pillage developing countries for their mineral resources. It should go without saying that he has a lot of political power, with his own personally-anointed candidate for the White House. He has no concern whatsoever for ordinary people who don’t have much money. He’s basically any oligarch or high-rolling trader you care to think of.

Now there’s someone you could get to hate. You know, Christian Bale might have played this guy, in another universe. Channelling Patrick Bateman.

We need muscle, of course. Engaging though it is, you can’t just have a villain Batman trades snappy lines with. You need a bit of KAPOW! and SOCK! You need to be able to watch men dance – because that’s what every cinema fight scene is, folks. Men dancing with each other.

So, I did have Bane in mind for the physical threat/choreography. Tom Hardy was an excellent choice for this role in the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises, although I would have been comfortable with Vin Diesel, too.

The Mutant Leader in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns would have been a good template for this character. I wouldn’t have made him a global terrorist, but simply a terror to his neighbourhood. A gangster, a drug dealer, a pimp, a sadist, a murderer, a pit bull owner. Someone who lives in the type of area that the police wouldn’t patrol. The type of person who would lick his lips at the prospect of a down-at-heel rich dude parachuting into his manor.

So it would be down to Batman to clean up the trash at a street level in downtown Gotham, while Bruce Wayne attempts to combat the capitalist thug who has destroyed his business and is wrecking the wider economy with his immoral and flagrantly illegal practises.

Come on! It would have worked! With revisions and rewrites.

But the ending leaves me with a problem. It needs Bruce Wayne – moreso than Batman – to stand tall right before the credits. It’s a “comeback” film, so it needs to end with the billionaire playboy back in the hotseat, a winner once more, as the Penguin’s empire collapses and he is sent to Arkham, barking mad like we always suspected he was.

We need to see Wayne Enterprises risen from the ashes. Ethical, ecumenical and egalitarian, the company needs to spearhead a new kind of thinking in the world of finance. One based on fairness and justice. These concepts are key to a story about a guy in a mask who arbitrarily beats people up whom he perceives to be “wrong”, a somewhat problematic predilection given some of the things we’ve seen going on at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests.

Then I thought: hold on a minute. That’s a joke. People will never believe that. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire at the head of a multi-national company. And you don’t stay at the helm of one of those by being a nice guy, even if you did inherit it.

And as for justice? Well. Batman’s idea of this is hardly progressive. Nor is it accountable; he can do what he wants. So we need to reconnect with Batman as a force for good, a guy who doesn’t just punish people, but gets on the side of the ordinary person. A not-so-dark knight.

Batman must be a better type of champion. Because in a certain light, he seems to be a bit of a fascist.

There are a lot of people walking around the streets who probably deserve to be physically and mentally punished for their actions. But who’s got the right to make that sort of judgement? And what caused the criminals to behave like that, anyway? Batman must seek to uncover the answers to these questions; this may well prove more important than dispensing brutal summary justice.

This is one area that Christopher Nolan has got 100% right in the two movies he’s produced so far. In Batman Begins, the young Bruce Wayne rejected his privileged background in order to train himself as a streetwise ninja. Who wouldn’t want to be a streetwise ninja? And yet, there was a suggestion that Wayne Enterprises would become a more ethical company on his watch, perhaps the most subversive thing in the first movie.

“I want to fight injustice,” Bruce Wayne declares at the temple of Raas al Ghul. It wasn’t about the money. Something the Joker understands.

The sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, was a moral conundrum rarely equalled in recent marquee movie history. An indictment of post-9/11 US foreign policy (it was written and directed by Brits, it’s worth noting), its messages seemed to sail over so many heads it was almost comical.

You had Batman being castigated by his retainer, Lucius Fox, for using phone-taps to get the information he needs and bring the Joker to justice. And yet this same Lucius Fox, earlier in the movie, has participated in what was effectively rendition when Batman invades Hong Kong, violating just about every international treaty going, in order to apprehend the money man for the mob operation in Gotham. He is arrested without a warrant and held without trial.

No-one seemed bothered by this, either on-screen or sat in front of it. The ends justified the means.

Later, you’ve got the sight of prisoners in orange boiler suits being treated as sub-human by supposedly “normal” people in the ferry scenes. The majority of the civilians vote to effectively execute them. “They had their chance,” one man sneers.

“These, so-called, uh, civilised people?” says the Joker. “They’ll eat each other.”
Ah, the Joker. The face of chaos and anarchy. A freak. Lot of these freaks around the news at the moment, it seems.

The people taking part in OWS and other protests have adopted Alan Moore’s rebellious Guy Fawkes lookalike, V, from V For Vendetta, as their personal symbol of struggle against capitalism and market forces. But they could do better, save money and stop funding Time Warner through the sale of branded “V” masks by painting their faces to match Heath Ledger’s make-up in The Dark Knight.

The Joker doesn’t quite know what he wants, but he does target hypocrisy and mendacity in people. Psychosis, violence and murder aside, he has a point. Everyone lies, as the Joker demonstrates, especially those in power. Batman, Jim Gordon, the police, politicians, Alfred the butler… Everyone says something they don’t mean, to make things easier for people. Or more usually, themselves.

How many governments and public officials have lied, as our economies slide towards the abyss along the fault lines of an economic system which is now patently not working?

Plus, the Joker’s filthy in that movie. He is unkempt, his hair hasn’t seen shampoo in months. This made me think of the characterisation of the OWS participants as “dirty”, “filthy” and “unwashed” by some right-wing US commentators.

It’s so easy to denigrate people in terms of personal hygiene, isn’t it? To take away someone’s legitimacy on the basis of a perception of dirt, uncleanliness, whether it’s there or not. So many bullying victims will appreciate that one.

I think Occupy Wall Street is doomed to failure, short-term. But not because of a lack of conviction on the protesters’ part, or the actions of half-witted fat men in uniforms with pepper spray. But because things aren’t bad enough yet. I think real, meaningful change requires the sort of chaos that only a crash in the housing market and sky-high interest rates will cause. In order to spark true radicalism, these, uh, so-called “civilised” people need to panic. To start eating each other, perhaps.

I don’t want that. I’m not saying I want chaos, urban horror, deaths and rioting. I certainly don’t need economic woes, nor does anyone else. We don’t need Kent State style crackdowns, either. I would love us all to go back to normal. But everything our economies try to do to get back to normal are failing. What are we on now – plan D? E?

You wonder if a big crash is coming. You wonder what we’ll do, and who we’ll turn to.

Batman – and Christopher Nolan – addressed this at the end of The Dark Knight. It’s a disturbing movie in which the hero is beaten at every turn by his nemesis. But there is one moment of catharsis for the good guys. The part where everyone suddenly becomes human, and looks out for each other. The people on the two passenger ferries refuse to blow each other up, as per The Joker’s plans (did you suspect, like me, that the Joker actually had rigged the detonators to go off corresponding to the boat where they are triggered, counter to what he’d told them? That’s justice of a sort.)

And for that one wee moment, the smile is wiped off the Joker’s face. Order has prevailed over chaos, but not at the expense of peace, and not with the use of a fist or a gun.

“What were you trying to prove?” Batman growls. “That inside, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone.”

Batman, and Bruce Wayne, are meant to be exceptional. One is an unbeatable strong-man, whom we trust to exercise good judgement in selecting those he goes after. Does Batman ever get the wrong guy? we might wonder. He has to be better than simply a thug. A bit like the SWAT policemen, whom he beats up in The Dark Knight when they threaten to misread a situation and kill innocent people.

And in Bruce Wayne, we have an even greater paradox. He is one of the 1% OWS are complaining about. Can he do things better than his contemporaries? Can Bruce Wayne change the world with his money and instil better practises for the rest of the world of finance to follow?

Can he be a man who can make a difference – and not a thug or a fascist? Who can do the right thing? There is morality, and the right choice to make, no matter what station in life you find yourself. We all know what the right thing to do is, from Wall Street to Cairo to Damascus. We can all make a moral choice. In this, there’s true courage. Empathy, restraint, compassion, tolerance, in no particular order, can create a workable solution for the world more quickly than kung fu skills or a utility belt. Or pepper spray.

It’s about sending a message.

Nolan’s Batman is a great hero. And he reflects the times beautifully. I expect great things from The Dark Knight Rises next year. In the meantime, we have to keep looking for the best way to do things, the right way to behave. That’s you, me, the bankers, the businessmen, the politicians, and the fat coppers with sprayable condiments. There is always time to change. We don’t need to be vain, petty and greedy.

There is always time to take a mask off, no matter whether there’s a Raleigh Burner or a Batmobile in your driveway.

I’ve got this problem. It’s far more common than you might think – or so I am told. But it’s rather delicate, and not often discussed seriously in public. To do so is to risk ridicule.

But I’m going to step right up to the plate and admit it, here and now. If I talk about it in public, then maybe other people will be inspired to seek help. So, here goes:

I have textile dysfunction.

Phew! I do feel better after saying that. This is the talking cure they told me about. Better out than in, as the eunuch said.

Textile dysfunction affects roughly 40% of all writers – but the figure is thought to be a vast underestimate, if we take one-off failures, miscues and misfires into account. They say that just about every writer has had this condition at some point, or knows another writer who has experienced it.

For anyone who doesn’t know what textile dysfunction is, it’s an inability, or a reluctance, to write about making love. The actual lubricious, pulsating event itself, two bodies (or more) entwined, the beast with two backs, the thrusting gasping thrill of plunging our skills in and out and in and out and, oh GOD –

Ah. Sorry. Wrote that a bit too soon. That sometimes happens, too. We’ll try again in a wee bit.

No, it’s okay. I’ll get the wipes.

Part of me wants to blame the Bad Sex Awards for this. Writers, the successful and the unknown alike, now live in fear of making the shortlist, where poor skills in the metaphorical bedroom are rewarded, celebrated and ridiculed. Some very famous names have appeared here, and whether they take it in good sport or not, it’s a bloody nose. It has probably eclipsed that other celebration of over-wrought prose, Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner, as the feather in your cap you truly do not want.

The thing is, sex – even if it’s on your own – is a common experience to just about everyone. It’s an activity we all take part in much more than other things we write about. Stephen King, you would hope, has made love more times in his life than he has killed people. And yet, how many characters has he murdered in his books? How many books have been published which rely on violence either as a driver of the plot or its most memorable feature? Yet, no-one would think it odd to write about violence. But you can bet eyebrows would be raised if you wrote exclusively about sex.

It’s a long time since I’ve punched someone in the face, a rare event in my life, thankfully, whether giving or receiving. And yet I would write about such an act without breaking stride or thinking too hard about it. I would worry about a sex scene, though; that would be on my mind for days, long after the event. It’s silly. You would hope that love is on our minds much more than violence is. I haven’t punched too many people in the face (he hinted darkly, mysteriously and sexily), but that pales in comparison to the thousands of women I’ve slept with.

Ah, I’m joking of course. It’s more like hundreds.

All that talk of violence has left the atmosphere a bit tense. How about a nice back rub? Just pop your top off and lie down. It’s okay, you can keep reading if you like. I’ll warm my hands up on the radiators. How’s that for you?

Nice? Mmmm.

There are two classic symptoms of textile dysfunction. One is “writer’s flinch”, where we get as far as the bedroom door, then turn away. I’ve done this a fair few times. It has the feel of class to it, an admirable, almost Victorian sense of restraint. Let’s draw a discreet veil over things and then refer to the act now and again in abstract terms. Yes, yes, that’s cricket.

The other one – I’m even more guilty, here – is to turn it all into a joke. Look how funny the sex is! Let’s celebrate sexual disasters! Some films and TV shows are concerned exclusively with sexual misadventure, close encounters that somehow missed the target. The Inbetweeners relies solely on it, as does the American Pie films and Bridget Jones’ Diary. But even if you turn your nose up at these pleasures, there are many great works of art which celebrate sexiness, and even seediness. Martin Amis’s prose absolutely crackles with a sense of comedy about sexual acts, he thrives on it. Even Shakespeare, with his bed tricks, innuendoes and misunderstandings, was as fond of smutty jokes and silliness as you or I.

We resort to that out of realism. Because we’re not perfect, and sex is rarely a perfect enterprise. Even pornography has its gag reels and out-takes. Sometimes our bodies don’t “go” – square pegs into round holes, you might say – with as much incompatibility as minds and personalities. And even when we do get it right, and settle with a partner, our tastes and activities can change. If you’ve ever been in a restaurant and watched a couple sat in front of each other with absolutely nothing to say, you have to wonder how they get on in the bedroom. You might even have been in a relationship like that. It’s just life. Even when you don’t think you’ve changed, you have.

Personally I think the main anxiety over writing about sex comes from a sense of perfection. There’s a very schoolyard gossipy feel to having written down sex and suspecting you’d somehow got it wrong. “Oh my god, did you hear what that guy wrote about the other day? He thinks babies come out your bellybutton!” Because sex always aims for the sublime – even when it’s patently not – we strive to make it sublime in the minds of our readers. Because we’ve entered a sexual concordat with our audience, just as surely as we have with our sexual partners. All those old ladies you see taking out Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper or even good old Mills n’ Boon at the library… you know why they’re reading those, right? So, if we’re going to snuggle in and get really close, it’s as well to make it as good an experience as possible.

It’s to do with Plato’s forms. We have an idea of perfect sex, and we want to express and create that in our writing, whether it actually exists in the real world or not. We want it to be perfect, or as close to that as we can get. Mutually satisfying for both parties – and any interested spectators.

But let’s gently close the door on this topic, now.

Wait a minute… What… what are you laughing at? Why are you sniggering? I’ve not been well lately… been really tired… Yes, I know it happens to everyone! You’re not helping!

I can’t remember what the weather was like in my city on September 11th, 2001. To hazard a guess, probably raining. But I will always remember what it was like in New York City.

I worked in a newsroom at the time and, as such, I probably knew about the incident before most people on the planet. It was just after lunchtime, round about the time everyone’s brain slowly re-engages after fresh coffee is brewed.

I can’t remember what we were covering that day; can’t recall anything else that happened across the world. Like my memories of the weather, everything seems to focus on one time, one place, that day.

Our ancient computer software used to send out irritating pinging noises whenever we would get a message on our terminals. The long-dead software system seems so archaic now that the messages might as well have been in Sanskrit, or hieroglyphics.

Sometimes the pinging would denote a personal message – usually some gossip or flirting between colleagues. But if everyone’s terminal pinged in chorus, then that meant there had been a snap.

For those who don’t know, a snap is a one-line statement put out on the wires as a major breaking story.

It’s never quite a cause for astonishment, far less panic. Snaps are sent out to let us know when the Dow Jones is opening or closing, or if a football team has won a trophy, or if the results are in for an election in Central America. They’re worth keeping an eye on, of course, just in case something really big happens.

I know I was the first person to take note. Lucky me.

“Hey – did you see that snap off AP? ‘A plane has hit the World Trade Centre.’”

A mark of the times, indeed, as there were only one or two murmurs about the possibility of terrorism. But no, surely not – we thought it was probably just a light aircraft. A little six-seater, maybe. They always seem to crash, the smaller planes.

We tuned into Sky News for live footage of the incident. By this point you could see an ugly pall of smoke rising from the North Tower, and the South Tower was still fully intact. Witness testimony was starting to come in that an airliner had hit the North Tower. That’s when the real dread started.

We all know what happened next. We watched it happen live.

I’ve never known astonishment like it in a newsroom, and probably never will again. And after that came the dread, the uncertainty. By the time the Pentagon was attacked, and United Airlines Flight 93 went missing in Pennsylvania, anything seemed possible. Where else would be hit, we wondered? If attacks were synchronised across the United States, then they could be synchronised anywhere. They could even have been happening right at that moment.

I remember joking that if a fresh snap was to come through to tell us that alien invaders had landed in Trafalgar Square, we would have believed it.

The images of what happened that day in Manhattan are tattooed on our collective consciousness, repeated and burned into the memory like a song, or a poem, or a prayer. The phrase I keep hearing is “never forget”. It isn’t possible to forget. God only knows how you recover from something like that if a friend or family member is involved.

In personal terms our office had a small stake in what was going on – one of our colleagues was stationed in Manhattan, and had been on his way to the site after the first tower was hit. Of course, mobile phone coverage was completely nil by the time it became apparent that something more sinister than a bizarre aviation accident had occurred. We feared for him.

He got out of the area alright, thankfully, with only a coating of dust to trouble him on the outside. I can only hope his long-term mental and physical health hasn’t been affected.

When those tight vertical lines vanished from the Manhattan skyline – became un-lines – it created an indelible scar on our consciousness. It unleashed literally untold horrors on some of the poorest people in the world. It created the vectors that led to the current economic crisis in the west. It has turned dark-skinned Muslims the world over into bogeymen, the subject of fear, ignorance and demonisation on a par with how the Nazis perceived Jewish people.

And it’s far from over. We are still being swept along by the tsunami created by that seismic event – the ultimate Black Swan incident – and the end result for the western world is potentially dire.

I want to find a way through it, and to examine how the events of the day they call 9/11 affected us all, and how we can recover.

VIRTUAL UNREALITY

September 11th 2001 was the world’s first fully interactive disaster. We actually watched it unfold in real-time, in high definition. It was a digital catastrophe. Even 10 years on, it’s difficult to imagine something so brazen, so in-your-face, in media res.

The closest equivalent may be Challenger exploding in 1986 – but even at that, all we see on the TV footage is the smoke and flaming debris from afar as the Space Shuttle broke up.

But here, everything was in grisly detail. We didn’t have to imagine. We did not even have the mercy of cropped newspaper photographs, the safe distance of sober prose and broadsheet columns. Even the original TV war, the first incursion into Iraq, displayed a sanitised version of armed conflict – silent explosions, nice clean lines, lurid green and black night vision images like an ancient video game. September 11th offered us no such mercies, unless it was edited out of footage before we could see it. The impact of those atrocities remains unique.

In a year when one of the new dictionary entries would have been “reality TV”, when shows such as Big Brother, Survivor and Castaway gave us a distorted look at real life and real people in unforgiving close-up, September 11th was a terrifying irony.

And it prefigured all the hells that the burgeoning internet can unleash upon us, from videos of beheadings to the very worst pornography. In its stark depiction of a dreadful reality, it almost had the gloss of unreality to it. Small wonder the conspiracy theorists should become so fascinated with the attack – it almost invites fictive framings and plot devices, as if packaging those events into a neat narrative lessens their impact.

Perhaps we even felt we had seen its like before at the cinema. It was a true-life disaster movie; about five years previously people had cheered when invading aliens zapped the White House in Independence Day. The idea to crash a plane into the World Trade Centre had certainly been addressed before, in the movie Escape From New York.

Now, here it was, for real.

SOLID GEOMETRY

Looking at images of the standing Twin Towers now gives me a sickening feeling, especially in considering the geometry of the structures – the straight narrow lines of the windows and the stonework.

Watching a jumbo jet go through them is to see the limits of human design and aesthetic control corrupted; a brutal reminder of the forces of chaos, disharmony and malice. When I went to see the last Batman movie at the Imax, I had a flashbulb moment in the opening shot, where the camera zooms in on a similar building, and the vertical lines seem to shimmer and converge. I thought of the Twin Towers.

Many people point out that even worse horrors and even bigger body counts have been racked up before and since the events of that day. I’m one of them. As the joke goes on Team America: World Police, the body count in Afghanistan and Iraq of civilians killed as a result of the US-led coalition forces’ occupation of both countries could be 911 times a thousand.

But this does not match the impact, the lasting horror, and the hideous damage to the western psyche involved in those towers coming down. It wasn’t just one specific menace. It was a confluence of them, a council of worst nightmares – air terror, death by fire, death by falling, the very floor beneath your feet disappearing. How many millions of people have woken up screaming since that day after dreaming about those scenarios?

Lockerbie was still fresh in people’s minds, after Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi had been convicted of the atrocity following a special hearing at Camp Zeist in January 2001. The 1988 attack in which Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over a small town in the Scottish Borders had seemed the very worst in aviation terrorism at the time, but it was obvious that what we were watching was far worse.

And then there were the people trapped inside the building. In particular, the people stuck on the floors above the inferno, who had presumably tried to escape but found the way blocked. Those poor, poor bastards we watched waving out of the smashed windows, calling for help. Hoping for a helicopter, a high wire, Superman. Anything.

We couldn’t do a thing.

And then there were the ones who clearly knew that their time had come. The ones you can actually listen to making their final telephone calls. The ones whose last words of affection were delivered to answering machines. The ones who jumped.

I want to say that I can’t imagine what those people were going through – but the horrible thing is, I can. The pure panic, the fear. Perhaps, with the floors collapsing beneath them, they jumped in the hope that they would effect some miracle escape. Catch hold of a window pane, maybe. Land in the awning of a bagel store.

Perhaps they had lost their minds.

But I prefer to think that some of them were calm. That they accepted their time was up, and made a choice to take their own way out. It seems that some of them fell in twos and threes, and I’ve read stories about some falling hand-in-hand. It doesn’t comfort me, exactly, but it’s better than thinking about the alternatives.

WHAT CONSPIRACY?

It fascinates me that there are people who persist in conspiracy theories about what happened, even though they probably watched exactly what happened live on television, like me.

I don’t know whether to be heartened or depressed by some people’s obsession with any number of bizarre conjectures as to how the towers fell. Some believe that a missile actually hit the Pentagon, that it was actually the Jews who did it, or rogue elements in the secret services, or Elvis, or Roswell aliens – or (inevitably) Barack Hussein Obama. There’s comfort in great delusions, sidesteps from reality. It’s like playing a shell game with the truth.

Look, we all saw the airliners hit the buildings. You don’t have to be a structural engineer to understand how the towers fell. There’s your answer, surely. If it was mass delusion prompted by really good computer graphics on Fox News, or maybe some nerve gas released into the atmosphere in Manhattan which altered thousands of people’s perception, then thumbs up – great fucking job.

Perhaps it goes back to what Jung theorised about belief in UFOs or ghosts or anything supernatural, otherworldly or unusual; it’s a search for a god, or some ultimate order. Some delusions reach terrifying levels of complexity and interconnectedness. In this, conspiracy theorists are approaching the same wavelength as the 19 people who hijacked the planes. They were searching for meaning in a chaotic universe as surely as the tinfoil-hatters. If anything, the terrorists had at least one foot planted in the real world.

I remember going for dinner with a group of friends, and among them was one lovely man who suspected that just about every major event in recent modern history is interlinked and controlled by a shadowy US secret service group. And I do mean everything – from JFK’s assassination to the alleged Roswell incident to John Lennon’s death right up to the Twin Towers themselves.

He didn’t understand when I laughed at him. I feel bad about it, but I had to laugh. The banal truth is that a handful of fanatics were able to bypass lax security and change the world. Whether they believed they were headed for some virgin-paved paradise or not is irrelevant. The September 11th terrorists had real-world motives, grievances based on US foreign policy. That’s why they did what they did.

MAN ON WIRE

One thing that serves to debunk the conspiracies must be George W Bush’s gopher-in-headlights act once the scale of the attack was revealed to him.

As Michael Moore so cruelly exposed, the man simply sat there before a group of schoolchildren, blinking, once his adviser whispered in his ear. Before we scoff – and there’s lots to scoff about in that man – let’s put ourselves in his shoes for a moment.

If I can imagine what went on in one of the jumpers’ minds, then I cannot imagine what was going on in the mind of the American president. It almost makes me want to have sympathy for him, even when he vanished for a few hours on Air Force One, leaving Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to provide a sense of comfort and reassurance on the streets of New York.

So, no. That wasn’t a man who was in any way involved in a conspiracy against his own people. A man out of his depth; a confused man at the mercy of the hawks of the right, a man who would go on to wreak untold havoc in the Middle East and elsewhere. But at that moment, it was possible to feel sorry for that man.

His sloth was the sloth of the security services, who had their eye off the ball. I’ve mentioned before that September 11th 2001 was the ultimate Black Swan Event; all the signs pointing to the acts of terror committed that day were all there. There was even an alert issued over some of the terrorists, and a warning that an attack was imminent, all of which was ignored.

But there had to be a response – swift, sharp, spectacular. Anything else would have been weakness, even cowardice. Right?

INSECURITY

About six months later, I travelled to the United States for the first time through a work scheme. Homeland Security was under way. They took my fingerprints – the authorities in Britain don’t even have my fingerprints – as well as a retina scan. And this was after I’d already done the funky chicken through security, trying not to let my trousers drop clown-style while being groped by a bear on the security staff. Feet away from me, an absolute monster of a guy in an army uniform with an automatic rifle kept a close eye on things. He was built like the type of henchman James Bond might have a fistfight with, and may only just escape from alive.

“Welcome to America, Mr Black.”

I understand why all this happened. You make a mistake once, you don’t make it again. But it felt disproportionate. And I also thought: the resourceful terrorist will bypass all of this, anyway. Sooner or later, bombs will be placed inside people’s bodies. “Bomb mule” will be a new phrase for the dictionary. What will the response be then? “You must drink this emetic and take these laxatives before you fly.”

I also joked that they might as well make us strip naked before going through the scanners, for all the dignity they’d taken from us. Not that I had much dignity in early-noughties cargo pants anyway.

But sure enough, we’ve got machines that do that for us, now.

Solving the world’s problems will take action of a more fundamental nature than improved security screening and surveillance. You can’t let your guard drop, that much is obvious – but you have to look at root causes of terrorism to stop it happening in the first place.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE TURKS AND CAICOS

A couple of years after that, I was in the Turks and Caicos islands. Nominally part of the British Commonwealth, it was a US-run place which, at the time, was in the process of being turned into a playground for rich people. All around me, building work was going on; high-rises, more vertical lines and solid geometry on what was otherwise an island paradise with sugar beaches and dolphins gambolling in turquoise water. Looking back on it, it doesn’t seem real. As if such a place could not physically exist.

I had a fantastic time there. The islands’ subsequent history makes for an interesting read, if you can be bothered to look it up. And on an individual level, every American I met was generous, polite, friendly and treated me like a king, albeit a strangely-accented one.

But it was here that I first encountered what appeared to be rather blunt attitudes from American people. In talking about my experiences with Homeland Security, I was reminded that “people are trying to kill us”, and if anyone didn’t like airport security, well, no-one was forcing them to come to America. How welcoming, I thought.

Then it got even more bizarre. One intelligent, articulate girl, who was clearly Hispanic in origin going by her name and complexion, spoke about erecting walls around the United States and barring immigrants. Without much prompting, she also opined that the US should get tougher on international issues (bearing in mind the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was already under way) and, “if anyone gets out of line or disagrees with us – bomb them”. I was taking that to mean great big bombs rather than little ones.

Respect for George W Bush, long viewed as an utter buffoon in the UK even before he caused chaos worldwide, was also a given. That any educated person should profess adoration for a leader – far less a warmonger – baffles me. There are people out there, even now, who probably miss George W Bush.

On that trip, I noticed an appalling atmosphere between the Canadians and the Americans. It sounds more like a clash of clichés than a meeting of individuals, but the Canadians were more moderate and considered; the Americans a little more combative and right-leaning. In the United Kingdom, there’s a sense of rivalry between the separate countries, with the Celtic nations sometimes rubbing up the wrong way against England, “the auld enemy”. But in truth, to remove competitive sports from the equation, if you had a table full of English people and they were joined by a group of Scots, the two groups would mingle and there would be no tension whatsoever.

I was staggered by the differences between the Americans and Candians, and supposedly among articulate, intelligent people, too. The polarity of views shocked me, and there was a lot of spite.

We can now see that ideological dualism running across internet message board forums wherever you care to look. Left and right, Democrat and Republican, sliced as thickly and as crudely as that. I suggested to people on Facebook a while back that the atmosphere of political spite in the States was unprecedented; I was pointed to any number of dirty campaigning tricks carried out in history in response.

But this missed my point. The difference is the interaction element, the plugged-in feeling we get from debates through the internet. There are worrying attitudes out there, often espoused by those who can shout the loudest.

America has got to get away from this dualistic thinking. What’s happening now in America – where Barack Obama has to get on his knees and beg for any legislation to be passed, even with the economy on a ventilator – is an obvious consequence of this polarisation as much as a flawed political system.

And we’re getting more and more extreme views out there, circulating in the mainstream. I read an article on the Guardian this week where the film-maker Michael Moore recounted how a well-known right-wing commentator in the US fantasised on air about killing him. He then detailed the security measures he had to go to in order to protect his family as well as himself, often involving direct intervention by security guards to halt physical assaults.

That’s where we are, now, when someone tells the truth and questions the rhetoric and the motivations of the right.

We all should cherish the freedom of speech, but sometimes there are side-effects. Sometimes, there’s discharge.

This was one consequence of September 11th on the United States – the creation of mass paranoia, a nation hostile and suspicious of the outside world, vengeful and bloodthirsty abroad. It’s just one way in which the terrorists won.

WAR PIGS

Just under three months after September 11th – on the morning of my birthday, as coincidence would have it – I returned to my alma mater to speak to some pupils about journalism at the invitation of an old teacher of mine.

The school had changed names and religions in the ten years since I attended, but I still felt a chill at walking through the same old corridors, smelling that same smell (asbestos probably), seeing that same reassuring lack of solid geometry in the campus’ haphazard blocks and crumbling brickwork.

They were a matter of weeks away from knocking part of the school down, preparatory to building a new one on the spot, so this was my last chance to look at the place one more time. I have very fond memories of that school.

The children I spoke to who were interviewing me for the school magazine that day asked me about the unspooling situation in Afghanistan, and the war on terror in general. I remember wondering if I’d overdone it a bit in my answers; I was quite forthright, more than I would be anywhere else in public. Do not trust everything public officials say, or what you might read in the papers, I told them. Question everything. We might find ourselves in Iraq – but what did Saddam Hussein have to do with September 11th? I asked.

We now know the answer: “Nothing.”

And yet the US – with Britain’s Tony Blair trotting faithfully behind – invaded Iraq anyway. The reasons behind this were spurious. Invading Afghanistan was on equally flimsy pretences.

America wasn’t attacked by a country, or even a religion, as some people still believe. It was attacked by a set of fanatics, extremists, with an anti-US, anti-Zionist agenda. Those wars were a gift for the hawks in the US government who want their hands on some lovely oil and to feed what is known as the military-industrial complex. The world is a far less safer place. And if there’s long-term peace and stability to be had in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’re a long way off it.

That’s not to say that the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were ever nice guys. But what gave the US and Britain the right to invade them on false pretences?

I refer you to the answer I gave above in relation to Saddam.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

At least in September 11th the US had a viable excuse for taking some kind of action. Doing nothing was out of the question.

But quite what was going on in Tony Blair and his cabinet’s minds at Westminster, I don’t know. I suspect Blair, a committed Christian who only recently came out of the closet as a practising Catholic, had a missionary zeal, a need to reform and to win hearts and minds based on fundamental teachings. In this, Blair isn’t too far removed from the people who planned to crash the planes.

It’s unfortunate that Blair had something of a success on his international CV already, owing to Nato’s intervention in the former Yugoslavia. And he shares the regret Bill Clinton feels over the west not going into Rwanda when they had the chance (though this was before Blair was in power, of course).

But after September 11th, Blair’s time for righteous action had come. And didn’t he just dive in there, for the greater good?

As I type, Britain’s former Prime Minister has weighed in with new comments in the media about the “long-term” challenge of defeating Islamic extremism.

What, you mean like a crusade? Jesus Christ, Mr Blair.

HYSTERIA AND HISTORY

History rolls on. Hey, that’s 10 years already on the timeline.

Some people – even some who were directly affected – want to draw a line under September 11th. They are tired of hearing about it, they are tired of seeing those Towers fall on their televisions, and some of them appreciate that hundreds of thousands of people have died in acts of war and terror across the world since then.

But I have a feeling that we have an awful lot to go through before we can consign those events to the past. I do want to finish this piece with a rallying cry to fairness, a plea for people worldwide to ditch their holy books and dogma and divisions and to embrace a future of shared goals, shared wealth and common humanity, but I want to burst out laughing even as I type that. I might as well get into the sea and hold back the waves.

We won’t learn, and we won’t stop repeating our mistakes. We are too frightened to let go of hydrocarbons as a fuel source, too frightened of the Middle East without a strong Israel. What’s interesting now is that our greed-fuelled free-market western economies are shuddering to a halt – and war is an expensive business.

Perhaps the terrorists’ ultimate victory from September 11th is still to be fully realised. It feels as if we are inching towards some vertiginous drops, these days.

Even mountains fall, never mind towers. The world is changing. The Arab Spring happened all on its own, and there was no input from the United States on any visible level. That tells us something.

No empire lasts forever. 2012 should be an interesting year.

REBUILDING

Only joking, I can’t finish it like that.

Humans are pretty good at rebuilding. Well, apart from me; you should see the state of the plastering job I’ve just done in the bathroom. I don’t think my brain functions too well when it comes to flat planes and Euclidian purity. It does just fine with porridge, though.

But by and large, we can rebuild things. It can be done; there can be peace and harmony. I’m going to brave the laughter and outline how we can do it. I am drawing in very simple lines, here, but bear with me – I’m using a ruler.

The foundation stone of the rebuilding process must be moulded by the spirit. We’re one species, and we have to look out for each other. Alternative fuel sources that don’t rely on burning oil – thereby marginalising the Middle East’s global importance – would be a start. Simplistic? Impossible? Sure, but consider that humans went from hansom cabs and steam power to the moon in the space of 70 years. Human ingenuity can do it.

Avoiding the idea of a utopia where the poor are fed, clothed and educated properly across the world – how silly! – and assuming that market forces will continue to have free rein – why not actually be proper capitalists and pay these countries for their oil and resources, instead of invading them for it? Another simple idea? Fundamentally weak? Oh, we can’t be seen to be weak, can we?

As an agnostic, I fully respect anyone’s decision to follow religious teachings. There are a lot of good things to be gained from the Koran, or the Torah, or the Bible. But here’s a crazy idea: why not throw them away? They’re out of date. Why not acknowledge the ultimate truth: that without mutual co-operation, trust, empathy and compassion, we are doomed as a species to be cruel, suspicious and bloodthirsty? A drop of blood in Baghdad or Sangin Valley is worth the same as a drop of blood in Manhattan or Madrid or London. If you don’t believe that, then you are part of the problem.

Let’s imagine a new era of openness, common goals based on fairness, equity, justice and prosperity. It’s sickening to think that there is wealth, food and energy enough in the world to give every human being a decent life, but we can’t – or won’t – make this happen. If the victims of the Twin Towers attacks were to magically have a say on the events that brought them to their ends, I have a feeling their sentiments wouldn’t be far away from that idea.

But let’s turn away from fictions and happy endings. Even if they’re only in my dreams.

POSTSCRIPT

After a long shift, I made my way to the hospital that night to see my father. He was long beyond the point of no return, receiving only palliative care in the cancer ward. He was on what would turn out to be one of his last doses of chemotherapy.

Even there, people wired up to their chemo and saline drips watched the footage of what happened on the television in the common room. Again and again and again, the strikes, the fireballs, the collapses, the screaming. It was horribly reminiscent of a big explosion in a Hollywood film, repeated from several angles to make sure they got plenty of bang for their buck. You couldn’t stop it. Everyone – the healthy, the sick and the dying alike – watched, disbelieving.

Islamic terrorism was suspected by that point. “I’ll tell ye how ye deal wi’ that. Ye drap the big one,” my dad growled. “Drap the big one on the lot o’ them.”

Later, a junior doctor tried to inject a drip tube into my dad. But his forearms, once the size of hams taken from a wild boar, were like brittle sticks. He’d had so many needles put into him over time that the doctor couldn’t find the veins. It was like injecting a wax candle. She had several goes at it with more than one needle before finally plugging him in. My dad asked if she’d gotten her medical degree off a cornflakes packet, but, bless her, she gave him as good as she got.

We had to laugh at all this, and we did. On my way out at the close of visiting time, the doctor walked along with me. I had a good chat with her. She was beautiful, and after I said goodbye to her I came away with the distinct feeling that if I’d asked her for her number she might have given it to me.

What can I say? Life goes on – no matter what happens to you or anyone else, you can rely on that.

I wouldn’t have asked her for her number, of course, as my girlfriend was waiting for me in our flat. Later on that night, we sat next to each other on the couch, numb, while we watched that footage spooling out, over and over again. There was nothing you could say, and nothing you could do.

There’s still nothing we can say, and nothing we can do. May we never know a day like that again.

I’m a bit late to the party with this, but…

In Scotland this year, the following incident happened during a football match before a crowd of thousands, as well as a potential audience of millions on live satellite TV:

During the subsequent trial for sectarian assault, 26-year-old Hearts fan John Wilson – the individual you see running at Neil Lennon and making contact with him – admitted to having hit the Celtic manager on the head.

A jury of fifteen – eight men, seven women – found the assault charge against this man “not proven” last week.

Quite extraordinary.

Sometimes, as a creature trying hard to be rational, I get tired of the conspiracy theories and dualist rhetoric that obsesses some Scots.

And then things like this happen.

One of the many things I dislike about bullfighting is that there’s no fairness in the contest. The bull is a bum of the month. The minute it sets hoof in the ring, it is dead.

Footage usually shows these poor beasts staggering around, shish kebabed, while a spangly little guy humiliates them with a pink cape before running them through. On the odd occasion our bovine heroes actually get some payback – spinning the bullfighter up into the air, divesting him of a pound of flesh, a few litres of blood and maybe a bollock or two – there’s no love for them, far less roses. The concern is all for the matador: but where’s the glory for the winner? It was a fight, after all. Even when the poor bugger triumphs, it gets whacked. It’s inevitable, a fait accompli. Slick with its own blood, exhausted, hunched, destined for a dinner plate or a mantelpiece. Waiting for someone to put it out of its misery.

And so to Rochdale, where we saw another bovine creature stumbling around on its journey to the steakhouse. It wasn’t quite the coup de grace for Gordon Brown, but it’s surely coming. It was the gaffe everyone had been waiting for, and it came from the man least well equipped to handle it. A Sky news mic placed on a lapel and conveniently forgotten about, a snipey comment, a private moment made public in the most horrible way, a little old lady turned into a star – the new Susan Boyle? – and the Prime Minister’s fate was sealed.

The spin machine went into a most environmentally unsound cycle almost from the moment Sky broke the story. Brown addressed the matter within an hour during a radio interview at the BBC, but, in an astonishingly ugly irony, he was unaware that he was being filmed. Tired, unkempt, greying visibly before our eyes, Gordon Brown slumped, head in his hands. First came the words, then came the pictures.

You can only wonder at the horror the Prime Minister must have felt when he realised he’d double-dipped the farce; it seemed like an attack from some multi-dimensional imp, the same one which has been torturing him since 2007. First of all, an invisible Brown was hamstrung by the fact that he uttered sounds which people could hear, without anyone actually seeing him. Then, when Brown thought that people could only hear him, but not see him, there he was, crumbling in horrible detail. The imp shrieked laughter. Brown was William Shatner in Nightmare At 30,000ft.

It’s worth reflecting on the events that led Gordon Brown to the precipice. In an effort to put himself front-and-centre in Labour’s election campaign, he found himself in Greater Manchester, talking to Gillian Duffy, a 66-year-old widow who had apparently only popped out to get some milk. She engaged the PM in conversation, touching on some thorny topics for any Government – immigration, proposed public spending cuts, the deficit.

The assembled political journalists hoping for a slip or a gaffe in this exchange were initially disappointed – Brown was firm and decisive. He explained exactly how he was going to pay for things, how he was tackling the workshy, and rolling out a statistic which many of the immigration-obsessed might not have been aware of – that millions of Britons live and work abroad, just as many people from the continent live and work in Britain. It went well for Brown. Mrs Duffy, perhaps dazzled by the spotlight, confessed at the end that she was a Labour supporter and would be voting for Mr Brown’s party again on May 6. So far, so good.

But there was one comment which seemed to irk Mr Brown. Mrs Duffy asked where all the “eastern Europeans” were coming from. The answer was in the question, surely. But she expressed the question in a curious way: “Where are they flocking from?” Say it quickly to yourself, right now. Especially the “flocking” bit.

Some wags have suggested that the Prime Minister could have gotten away with it if he had simply said, “You misheard me – I didn’t call her a ‘bigoted woman’, I called her a ‘big-hearted woman’.”

In the same vein, it would have been possible to claim that he had mis-heard what Mrs Duffy said – not “Where are they flocking from?” but  “Where are they fucking from?” Which, it’s entirely possible, is what Gordon Brown heard. Leading to him, quite reasonably, branding her a bigot.

So we add a little bit of bad luck, and Brown’s electoral disaster was fully in motion, a juggernaut.

Well, not quite bad luck: Sky fucked him. No doubt about it. You could hardly blame journalists for wanting to go with a scoop like that landing in their lap, but I would wonder if they’d have been so quick to broadcast had Rupert Murdoch’s boy, David Cameron, made a similar comment about the man with the disabled child who tackled him on the street the previous day. It’s easily done, isn’t it? An awkward exchange, then, once you’re apparently safe within the confines of your limousine after undergoing a degree of public exposure and stress which most of us can only have nightmares about, you make a little comment. There but for the grace of god, and all that.

Once Brown’s bombshell went off, Sky had a whole rogues’ gallery of right-wing commentators lining up to give him a kicking – Amanda Platell, someone from the Daily Mail, John Major’s former spin doctor. Who did they bring in for balance (and remember, by law, broadcasters must be seen to be even-handed during elections)? Lord Mandelson.

John Prescott, bless him, tried his best to turn this around, going all-out to brand Sky as co-conspirators against Mr Brown, with Rupert Murdoch pulling the strings. Which would be laudable if it wasn’t for the fact that Prescott, along with Tony Blair, was quite happy to pucker up for Murdoch during the previous three elections when the News Corp chief supported the New Labour Project.

But, back to Rochdale, where the media outdid itself by camping out on Mrs Duffy’s front lawn while Brown went back on his hands and knees, imploring her pardon. He was in there for what seemed like an age while the broadcasters and hacks fought for space in her garden.

What was he doing, one wonders? Passing over a suitcase-full of cash? Drawing a bead on her with a service revolver? Making vague threats as he handled the family photographs on her mantelpiece? We don’t know at this point, but when Brown finally did emerge he was looking better. He’d had some slap put on, had had his hair done. As the press corps drifted away, the Sky News reporter at the time began to grow uneasy, referring to the fact that this woman was now world-famous in a way she couldn’t have dreamed of, cowering behind the curtains as the world’s media milled around her property, unbidden.

What happens if she dies? I couldn’t help but wonder. If all the strain, all that merciless attention, pulls a plug somewhere in her system? How would that affect the coverage?

It certainly pulled the plug on the Labour Party. Whether this incident really changes the course of this singular election remains to be seen, but even if – and it’s unlikely now – Gordon Brown stumbles back into Number 10, he won’t be there long. He’s taken too many of those skewers. The matador humiliating him could just as easily be David Miliband as David Cameron or Nick Clegg.

Gordon Brown has had next to no chance. Some of it’s his own fault – you really, really should have called that election when you had the chance, mate – but the opprobrium he has faced has been far beyond what he’s deserved. He didn’t cause the global financial crisis. He didn’t invade Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn’t him who jumped into bed with a bunch of lunatics across the Atlantic. But he is certainly paying for it all now.

And being Scottish isn’t a crime either, so far as I’m aware. A lot of the anti-Brown caterwauling from good, solid, middle-of-the-road voters like Mrs Duffy have had a decidedly anti-Scots flavour to them. “A one-eyed Scottish idiot” is how Jeremy Clarkson described Brown. Lazy prejudice? Simple facts of the matter? I’ll leave it up to you.

In an election where personality is king and policy is pushed aside – can’t anyone have a proper go at the Tories over this complete and utter nonsense about Big Society? – people just don’t take to awkward, bovine Gordon Brown. They are tired of the Labour Government, and in middle England, where elections are won and lost, this is enough.

But don’t worry Gordon – they won’t actually kill you, fella. You’ll be put out to pasture at your lovely house overlooking the water, with Sarah to tend to you and the little ones to comfort you while you ponder your next move – perhaps to a charity, which will suit you well.

I do think there’s a very upright, moral core to Gordon Brown, in spite of the grumpiness and flashes of sourness. History sometimes looks kindly upon statesmen who were unpopular while in office, and I have a feeling Gordon Brown will be very well respected in future, if never quite loved.

Does he have one last stand in him? One last chance to hurl the bullfighter into the air before they take him out the back and do the decent thing, away from the baying crowds? We’ll know soon enough.

Thanks for reading. Take care now.

Hfff (scratchy sounds). Bloody people… ffff… fucking idiots… waste of time… snort. Yeah, top me up. That’s it. Keep going. Don’t be shy with it, now, come on. I’m thirsty. Right to the top. Great. Yes, cheers. Here’s to me. Gulp.

Hey. Shit – is this thing still on?

(crackle, silence)