100. Slow train cancelled.

What does it mean to score zero in the Eurovision song contest? James Newman, the UK contestant, seemed quite cheerful about it; his reaction has been described as ‘iconic’, dancing in the crowd and raising a glass to the cameras. The British have a peculiar reaction to losing and still celebrate major military defeats like Dunkirk and the Charge of the Light Brigade. The word ‘plucky’ usually comes into play.

But zero, really? If Newman had pretended to set fire to himself with paraffin, or even, like Sophie Ellis Bextor, burned ‘this goddamn house right down’, he wouldn’t have scored any less.  

Newman’s fire-based song, Embers, was written as a reaction to the pandemic. Newman told the BBC ‘I feel like everyone wants a party and to have some fun so when I was writing, that’s what I had in my head’. 

Like many songs, from Fire, by Crazy World of Arthur Brown, to Firestarter, by Prodigy, Embers has fire-based lyrics, but is pyrologically under-researched. The fire metaphor suggests that love will grow back from the embers and light up the world (while remaining, strangely, ‘cool under pressure’). 

Which is the opposite of what happened after the song, which sucked all the oxygen out of the room, but not in a good way. There’s a lesson to be learned from master songwriter, Billy Joel, who famously ‘didn’t start the fire’.

There’s also a lesson to be learned from the paper, ‘We’re shit and we know we are’: identity, place and ontological security in lower league football in England’.  (Mainwaring and Clark, 2011). People at the bottom of the league, year after year are left with no option but to celebrate, see ‘red wall’, see ‘second highest death rate from covid’ (Poland have gone ahead again in extra time). 

I know people who regularly attend non-league football, grumble all the way through, eat a terrible pie and leave before the end. Perhaps it’s a reaction to getting judged all the time, from SATs and GCSEs to Masterchef and the Employee of the Week award. 

In Eurovision the scoring section takes as long as the musical part. Some people just tune in for the scoring, the same people who loved to watch the football results come in on the BBC teleprinter as hors d’oeuvres to the Full Classified. 

These people, who love making assessments, have been in control for the last century. They are the people who make children compete in local music festivals and adjudicate best artichoke awards in the village show. They are the people who opposed the European super league, because no-one could be relegated and what was left was just ‘a series of exhibitiion matches’. Like, who wants to see an exhibition?

Flunking a song contest can maybe be seen as a reaction against scoring systems. 

Perhaps then, James Newman, an Eddie the Eagle for the 2020’s, is ahead of his time in overturning the notion of attaching a number value to a subjective judgement.

When he wrote ‘Down herе in the ashes, yeah, thеre’s something growing’ was that a sexual innuendo, or something more fundamental – is he imagining a popular revolt amongst the underclass? 

Sadly, the euro judges didn’t get any of these deeper meanings. Many of the songs are super-ironic, but the performer has to look as though they are totally serious and 200% into the performance. Any glimmer of insight, like Newman showed, a this-is-a-bit-silly look, then all is lost. Newman and the audience seemed to enjoy his losing far more than performing the song.

Newman has done for songwriting what the Light Brigade did for cavalry tactics; what Dunkirk did for running away; what Count Binface did for democracy and what Gainsborough Trinity have done for football.

Rather than a simple story about the end of the pandemic, Embers was quite subversive. It might have succeeded if the song had been any good. Unfortunately, The Guardian analysis was ‘began like a Daniel Beddingfield B side and went downhill from there’.

As such, Embers was a protest song, but it was no Blowin in the Wind. 

No-one, not even Bob Dylan, ever managed to include the word ‘ontological’ in a song, but I think Supertramp could do it. Next year?  

Mainwaring E, Clark T (2011) We’re shit and we know we are’: identity, place and ontological security in lower league football in England

Ed Mainwaring &Tom Clark 

Pages 107-123 | Published online: 19 Dec 201

68. Getting told not to be so stochastic.

Image

A new design to discourage revolving door admissions

 

If you don’t use sub-headings nowadays, people will laugh at you. Reports, for instance, need to be have all the paragraphs and lines numbered.

For the time being, everything has to be written in fives or tens. If I had to write about my recent trip to Wakefield, for instance, it would go like this:

Five brilliant things about Wakefield:

  • Industry: If you buy a can of Coke anywhere across Wakefield and the north of England, the chances are it’s been manufactured using water from East Ardsley reservoir
  • Talent: Ed Balls visited Wakefield College recently where he had the opportunity to speak with senior College staff and also to try his hand at bread making with a group of talented catering students.
  • The Arts: Wakefield had a brilliant new art gallery called The Hepworth. It’s free but parking costs £4.50
  • Celebrity: Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, paid a visit to HC-One’s Carr Gate Care Home in Wakefield to spend time with his godmother, who is a resident there
  • Free speech: Outside the cathedral, a man is shouting loudly to himself, stating that something should be done about the smackheads.

The cathedral should be in the top 5 instead of Ed Balls, but it was closed, despite a large banner saying ‘the cathedral is open’. Smackhead trouble, I presume.

In conclusion, Wakefield just cannot be itemised. There’s a square concrete gallery full of curvy shapes, on the banks of a river that seems to be flowing in several directions at once. It’s all a bit random.

Our response to complicated questions tends to be five simple answers. For example, surveys keep revealing that there are absolutely no available mental health beds in Britain, and patients are having to be sent to the International Space Station by rocket ship, as there are still vacancies in the sick bay.

Like most other mental health news, such revelations cause no reaction whatsoever, as mass readerships turn to more interesting news within a millisecond, like Desmond Morris’s scintillating analysis of why Kelly Brook is the most attractive female, ever.

Yet, ‘on the ground’, the bed drought is massively stressful for the agencies involved, not to mention the service users and their families. What might begin as a bad hair day, muddling your tablets and starting an accidental chip pan fire, ends up as a 200 mile trip to a private sector secure unit in Yorkshire.

Why the shortage of beds?

Here are some reasons. At first glance, as often seems to happen, there are exactly five:

  1. The number of beds has been reduced by at least 1700 over the last 3 years
  2. The population has increased
  3. Community services have been pruned along the lines of Norman Tebbit’s rose garden in March
  4. Agencies are increasingly risk-averse
  5. The hospitals are inefficient in their workings

At least, that’s the common sense explanation, based on an analogy with any other system. This week we had floods. And overcrowding on the railways. The prisons are overflowing again. Similar reasons – simple reasons, to do with not getting quarts out of, or into, pint pots. Researchers have analysed the flow through hospitals using so called ‘stochastic’ modelling, which is derived from the mathematical properties of random events.

Once hospital departments are more than 85% full, the system jams up, just like a Dyson. Mental health acute wards are more than 100% full all the time. All the leave beds are in use and occasionally, mattresses are put down in day rooms.

But the ‘bed crisis’ is not really a simple capacity issue. Like roads – with the single exception of the M181 into Scunthorpe – and housing, there will always be excess demand. But society is quite flexible in determining which marginal group goes to which marginal venue. My impression is that there are large numbers of semi-homeless people – sofa-surfers – existing in the penumbrae between prison, hospital, homeless projects and the public library. This group meanders between the different institutions, like a shallow stream, filling any gaps it finds. Some of them fall into the police, some fall into A and E. From there, a random selection fall into the mental health system. By accident, some get into the cathedral.

Managers know there is no ‘irreducible minimum’ for mental health beds.

Managers know that beds mean hospital staff and hospital staff are a nuisance. Managers love community services, because dispersed personnel manage themselves. They seldom meet to fight or plot.

Trust managers are continuing to close mental health beds, like sheepdogs that have tasted mutton. The impact of these changes is that if you are depressed, you are extremely unlikely to get admitted to a mental health unit.

And if you do get admitted, you will very quickly decide you weren’t feeling quite so bad after all and ask for another go at community care.

Luxury items like research centres, respite care, therapeutic communities, specialist units for resistant depression, alcohol rehab, etc, are just material for Michael Gove’s new history syllabus.

Here’s the bullet point version. It turns out there are five main points:

  • There’s a rising tide of homelessness
  • Depressed people, for better or worse, have been displaced from the residential part of the mental health system
  • People unable to manage themselves are milling about the country like fluid particles
  • Put away the Airfix Kit – it’s time for Stochastic Modelling.
  • If you have a cathedral, you need to check regularly for smackheads.