March Blog

People do get themselves into awful pickles, don’t they ? I’m thinking of the Russian father and daughter who were poisoned by “persons unknown”. I bet those persons aren’t unknown – certainly by those in the UK who play the covert and obviously dangerous espionage game. Why is it played ? Well, we’re told its played to keep us safe from people like the paid assassins who poisoned the Russians in Salisbury. And on the whole it does keep us safe. Occasionally, a lone-wolf nut-job gets through the net and runs over pedestrians on a London bridge. But insane people do tend to do insane things without being terrorists. We rely on our security services knowing about secret stuff. And they know through listening, blackmail and treachery. That’s the way its always been – from the di Medicis pouring poison into enemy earholes – to whatever it is that goes on in every country’s intelligence service.

Am I bovvered ? Well yes, I am, without having a clue about how to change things. Do they need changing ? Yes they probably do. I’m old enough to be fascinated/horrified by World War Two; by Adolf Hitler’s insatiable need for power – not just in his own country, but over anybody who disagreed with him, or, worse still, just happened to be Jewish. Donald Trump got to be President through promising certain sections of the American population to “put America first”. Vladimir Putin [he of no shirt whilst sitting on a horse] boasts of inter-continental ballistic missiles which can hit anybody, anywhere. Trump [no horse, just silly hair] does the same, although I notice that the little fat North Korean guy – also with silly hair – has climbed off his nuclear threat high horse recently. These three really should take a look at something like “The World at War”. They should look at what humans can do to each other in the name of “nationalism”. I also think that there’s an element of nationalism in the thinking of those who voted to leave the European Union.

Meanwhile, back in Wilmaland, all is good. She’s a remarkable dog who has obviously been part of a family in the past. Show her the lead, and she immediately sits and puts her head on one side so you can clip the lead on. God knows what has happened to her between then and now. Interestingly, Sheila, whilst watching Crufts on ‘t’ telly, saw that Clumber spaniels have exactly the same ears as Wilma. Same shape, same unique pattern of spots. So there’s a dash of pedigree in there somewhere. But for now, she’s happy and contented and is my constant shadow. So in the face of Russian assassins and Donald’s hair, that’s a Good Thing.

February Blog

After the sad death of our long time companion, Maggie the Dog in December last year, the house just didn’t feel right. No sound of paws padding around, no soulful staring at mealtimes, no avid wildlife programme viewing on TV, no growling at the window cleaner – and all the other aspects of the canine/human bond dog owners will recognise.

So, after looking at lots of dog re-homing sites we came across Wilma. Why “Wilma”? No idea. All we know about her is that she’s around eight and had spent at least six years as a stray on the streets of Dublin. Doubtless, because of that, Wilma’s scared of everything. Its taking time and patience to gain her trust. But we’re getting there. She’s only been with us eight days but now she’ll hop up on to the settee and look for a stroke. She follows me everywhere and as I type, is curled up on my right foot. She is a delightful animal. Why she was an abused stray for so long is anybody’s guess. What IS certain is that there are people out there who are cruel to animals. Sometimes the cruelty is organised, like fox-hunting – which still goes on, despite the ban – and secret dog – fighting. Badger- baiting, organised and carried out by really damaged people still happens. Why ? Why do humans do these despicable things ? Psychiatry might give us all manner of reasons. Socialisation, upbringing ,inherited psychoses etc., etc. Whilst I do try to understand why humans do bad things to animals and each other, my gut reaction, if I caught someone playing football with a hedgehog [Oh yes – that does happen] would be to take the humans aside and give them a good seeing – to. Some would say that would make me no better than the hedgehog abusers. I’m not so sure. If human animal abusers got a good thump every time they abused an animal, they’d soon stop.

There’s a phrase – a cliché almost which says, “Its only a dog”. I pity people who think like that. Gaining an abused dog’s trust is very rewarding and demonstrates that mysterious bond between two different species. Dogs know a lot more about us than we do about them.

Meanwhile, back in Cartoonworld, its not getting any easier finding new work. All the old faithfuls still need work and soon it’ll be 2020 calendar time. Twelve full – colour spreads and an A3 cover ! That’ll keep me busy for ages.

January Blog

A dog cartoon as Gag of the Month this time because I think dogs can be
very funny. The bonds and understanding between humans and canines – two
entirely different species – is amazing.

Early in December 2017, Maggie the Dog, my constant companion for 13 years
died. She’d been ill with heart and breathing problems. She’s stopped eating
and whilst its a cliché, I think she’d lost the will to live. And after she
went to sleep for the last time, the visiting vet said as much. People say
kind things like “Well, she had a good innings.” And she did, but that’s not
the point. She’s left a huge hole in our lives. She was a kind, funny dog
with a taste for TV wildlife programmes; was scared of our two hens, but big
friends with our cockatiel. Should we get another dog ? Don’t know. We’ve
looked at lots of dog re-homing sites and the trouble with them is the
featured dogs all look SO needy. But that said, its very strange not hearing
a dog about the place, or having one come and visit me up here in the studio
– just for visiting’s sake.

But life goes on, and those arrogant Australians have won the Ashes. Huh.
Worse than that, Boringbrexit continues not to grip the nation’s
imagination, whilst the Prince Harry/Megan Markle thing does. Actually, he
seems like a good egg – undertaking all manner of good works. Can’t really
say much about Miss Markle except that she sounds a bit like a TV detective
and has strange hats.

Every year around this time, REALLY snowy places around the world laugh at
the UK where 4cms of the stuff make headlines. True, its no fun battering up
the M62 if its snowing, but compared to Canada or New York, we’re nowhere.

I don’t vote Tory, but I am worried about our present government. What
with Mrs May’s conference cough and slogans falling off the wall behind her,
to the sacking of a prominent minister for having naughty pictures on his
computer, quite apart from the continued backing of the horrendously
expensive HS2 and the drip-feed starvation of the NHS, we now have a
super-expensive aircraft-carrier which leaks. I think its time for a
change.

December Blog

Less than a month to go to Christmas. Hmm. I have to admit that Christmas doesn’t have me jumping up and down with excitement. If you’ve only got a small family – I have – and what few there are are spread far and wide, all those cosy candlelit television ads showing a dozen or so folk attacking huge Christmas dinners are a bit annoying. “Scrooge!”, I hear you cry. Not really. I quite like buying presents. And I like some Christmas music. A good choir giving “Hark the Herald Angels” the beans certainly lifts the spirits and reminds me of childhood.

But at this time of year, television ads are relentless – from laptops to foot spas –from hand-crafted crisps to incontinence knickers- they’re all at it, and so many of them are very shouty too. What the hell is a hand-crafted crisp ? I don’t think any of us actually like television ads. If they’re not banal, they’re shouty – with a few exceptions like Marks and Spencer. Yes, yes, I know that advertising revenue pays for programmes, but so many of the ads are badly made and deeply irritating.

I’m fed up with Brexit. Just think, if 3% had voted the other way, we wouldn’t be taking this huge step into the unknown. Three percent ! I bet the Leavers are horrified at the mess we’re in.

Cartooning’s taken a very welcome- if temporary- upswing. It always does at this time of year, with companies and individuals needing Christmas card cartoons. But cartoon publishing generally is still very poor. Looking back over a long career in cartooning, I think my generation’s had the best of it.

I’m coming to the end of my time as Chair of the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation. I will have done four years. During that time, thanks to the excellent PCO Committee, PCO has made a difference. For example, on Nov 21st, I went to Westminster Reference Library in London for the Private View of a cartoon exhibition called “Gagged” – in support of cartoonists across the world who are persecuted by repressive governments. Getting a London exhibition at a decent venue is very difficult. But thanks again to the PCO Committee, we managed it.

London was a very long [17 hours] day so it was midnight when I finally got home to Maggie the Dog who isn’t very well. She has to take lots of pills for heart and breathing problems and is very clever at finding them buried in food – and spitting them out. But I persevere. Maggie’s elderly and on the last lap now. I can’t imagine life without her.

I heard bits of a debate recently about whether animals have feelings or not. What a stupid, ignorant question. Of course they have. And those who are cruel to animals should be shot. Whilst I know we can’t do that, lifetime bans and longer spells in jail should be the order of the day for those who are cruel to animals – including fox hunters.

End of rant.

And so – back to Christmas card cartoons – and I’m running out of red.

October Blog

Another Rant…………

Its difficult to argue against electric cars without sounding like Jeremy Clarkson. Mind you, quite apart from punching the odd producer, he did make some interesting observations about these short- range, expensive vehicles some time ago.

Yes, electric cars in themselves are greener than petrol and certainly diesel cars. They have nice, touchy-feely names like “Leaf” [Nissan]. However, the environmental cost of the mining the essentials – like lithium – for car batteries is huge, and environmentally very dirty, apparently.

I wonder if the Smuggs at No 37 [they have solar panels too] ever think about that as they set off on a necessarily fairly short journey [range is around 230 miles] No, they probably don’t. But at 199 miles they’ll be desperately trying to find a re-charging point, which are few and far between and take ages. A full charge requires an overnight stay.

I suppose the half and half hybrid cars represent a solution of sorts, but their batteries are dirty to produce as well.

Of course, as technology advances, electric cars will eventually become the norm with increased ranges and, who knows, much speedier recharging points on every street corner. But we’re a long way from that right now and Volvo’s declaration that they will be making only electric cars by 2030 seems very optimistic.

But I’m getting off track here. My Main Rant is against Driverless Cars. What on earth is wrong with people who like the idea ? Don’t they LIKE driving ? Don’t they like the way their car feels and sounds and handles ?

Well maybe not if they’ve got one of those apologetic little things like the Suzuki Wagon R, or God forbid, a Yaris. If you’re ever held up at 30mph in a 60mph area, it’ll be by a Yaris. I know, I know, none of that matters if you’re stuck in an M6 tailback.

One of the alleged advantages of driverless cars is that freed from the business of actually controlling the vehicle, you’d be able to get on with work. Really ? Wouldn’t you have to be on instant stand-by to regain manual control just in case the Artificial Intelligence element threw a wobbler ?

I simply do not understand the attraction of driverless cars. I love driving. I wouldn’t love driving if I had a Leaf or a Wagon R or a Yaris. In fact the way many human drivers behave in those dreadful vehicles, suggests that they should be compulsorily driverless. You often see cars like the Yaris on motorways in the inside lane following lorries.  Lorry Followers. I sometimes wonder if they go all the way to the depot behind Bradshaw’s Grommets of Doncaster.

If I had a driverless car, what would I DO ? Gaze out of the window at certain parts of Birkenhead ? Read a book ? Have a nod ? But I don’t want to do any of those things. I want to DRIVE. I want to gauge braking distances, anticipate gaps [in front of a Yaris], press the loud pedal and feel and hear the response.

I can’t do that in a driverless or an electric car, although a certain Mr Musk does offer an electric one at enormous cost which will do 0-60 in three seconds. Then it runs out of juice.

I think I just have to face it. I’m an automotive dinosaur. I’ve got a 17 year old 4litre Jaguar which drinks petrol but goes like stink. Its beautifully made, very well balanced, responsive and a pleasure to drive. If it was driverless, it would still be very nice to sit in, but I’d be bored silly after a few miles.

To be fair though, when I’m driving my 4 litre beast, especially on motorways at 70mph plus [and a bit more in all honesty], I am very aware of what dangerous places motorways are; lumps of metal with very soft bits inside zooming along at approach speeds of 140mph at least, and of how many thoughtless, inadequate and stupid drivers there are out there. BMW drivers have been overtaken by Audi drivers in the arrogance stakes. Then there are the nitwits who don’t know what mirrors are for and blithely change lanes without signalling. Whilst texting.

So logic suggests that taking responsibility out of the human’s hands and passing it to a robot would make driving safer. I have to admit that it probably would. It would also make car travel a whole lot slower. Driverless cars would make Suzuki Wagon R drivers of us all. We’d all become Yarisites.  Everything would be safe. Risk would be eliminated and human judgment redundant.

Because I’m a dinosaur, I simply cannot imagine a motoring world where there are no Jaguars, Maseratis, Alfas, Astons, Bentleys  etc., etc…..the list goes on. They’d all disappear to be replaced by anonymous wheeled boxes which would be differentiated in price by whether they had an on-board Jacuzzi or not.

What is life without risk ? What is life without control ? Human control.

Dull. That’s what it would be. Risk helps you feel alive. Risk helps keep your brain active. Having to assess risk certainly does that.

I know I’m on the losing side of this argument though and I’m grateful that I’m old enough never to be part of a world where I’d climb into my driverless car and read War and Peace  on the way to Swanage. Or Goole. [Thinks ; Are the residents of Goole called Goolies ?]

Ends