SO, about a dozen or so years ago, Pete Burns had one of his flurries of millennial fame, long before Celebrity Big Brother.
As a result, my newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, did a spread on him, seeing as he was a local chap. It was a nice interview, the sort that newspapers regularly carried in those days. We did not take a picture of Pete, though. Interviews conducted by local newspapers tend to be done over the phone, and Pete’s publicist emailed us a portrait of the reborn star.
It was quite a restrained look for Pete. He was wearing a suit and patterned tie, and he had short hair. The suit, though, was purple, and his hair was green, and his lips were pink. He basically looked like The Joker.
You can see a cropped version of it at the top of this blog entry.
Still, it was a decent picture, and I used it well, even if I do say so myself. I am a newspaper designer by trade, and it was my job to lay out the spread. I did a cutout of Pete’s torso, and ran the text around it, and it looked jolly good.
It appeared in that Friday’s Echo.
On the following Monday morning, my editor at the time called me into his office, and suggested that I might elaborate on the thought process which led me to use that picture of Pete Burns. He explained that he had received dozens of complaints from readers.
I made some noises about homophobia, and said that we, as a modern newspaper, should be treating…
“No”, said the editor, “I’m talking about the tie.”
“Oh,” I said.
I peered at Pete’s patterned tie.
“Oh,” I said.
The pattern was not apparent in the black and white proofs of the pages which I had checked and had been checked by others, nor was it apparent on screen as the pages were laid out.
Only when it was printed on a colour page did it become clear – abundantly so – that it was not a pattern at all. It was an anatomically correct line-drawing of a eye-wateringly enthusiastic gay orgy.
EDIT: @anyabike off of Twitter found the picture in question, for reasons I cannot begin to comprehend. I’m not putting it on my website, but here is a NSFW link to the article in Digital Spy.
THEY say that before you die your life flashes before your eyes, a Big Brother-style showreel of your best bits. I have often wondered how they know this. Seances, probably.
It must be awful finally to remember in which programme you first saw that man who was in that thing, but not be able to say because you are now dead.
Sorry for the morbid thought. It was prompted by one of my surprisingly infrequent brushes with death. It may appear unlikely that a man as accident-prone as myself is rarely confronted by mortality, but my mishaps are usually minor, if frequent.
For example, only yesterday morning I had a minor mishap. What I did not realise at the time was that it would turn into a more serious threat to my wellbeing.
This story features, as so many do, a cup of tea and a bus. I was due to work an early shift. An early shift to me is what most people would call an ordinary shift – a nine-to-five slog involving traffic-clogged journeys to and from work and a lunch break taken at exactly the same time as everybody else. I don’t know how you do it.
I got up, made a cup of tea, showered, dressed, and drank my tea. I was a model of early-morning efficiency. And then I went to wash my cup and it all went horribly wrong.
There was a teaspoon in the sink, and I had somehow managed to leave it in exactly the wrong place. The water hit the spoon, and it was then deflected into the air making a textbook arc straight for my light blue shirt and turning it into a piece of modern art.
I chuckled. “Ho, ho,” I said, as I removed my sopping wet shirt. “At least my daily mishap has already happened. Argh! I don’t have any ironed shirts.”
I set up my ironing board and started the pointless time-sucking job of temporarily removing creases from a clean shirt. Seconds were ticking by, but at least I would just about make it to the bus stop in time. Years of practice have taught me exactly what time my bus will arrive at the stop.
“Oh,” I thought, as I arrived at the stop. It turned out that the bus arrives three minutes earlier at that time of day. I had missed it. “Silly me for thinking that the spoon incident was my daily mishap. THIS is my daily mishap.”
I started to walk. I would have to get the train to work instead. It was annoying, but not the worst thing. Assuming it was on time, I would arrive at work five minutes late, giving my colleagues the gift of less time with me.
The sun was low in the sky as I reached the corner of my own road again on the way to the train station. I checked the road for oncoming traffic, as directed by the Green Cross Man.
The sun was in my eyes, and I looked across the road, seeing a boy wearing the same school uniform as my own son. I wondered what he would have been up to at that time of day, then I stepped into the road without checking again.
That was when the car hit me.
My life did not flash before my eyes. The only thing that flashed before my eyes was the sun, and the strong awareness that I had just been hit by a car, and I was not sure how long that state of affairs would continue.
It must have lasted only a second, but time really did seem to slow down. It hit me in the leg and I felt it buckle, but I did not fall over. Instead I was pushed along the road as my palm hit the bonnet.
Luckily, the car was driving slowly after having just taken the tight corner into my road. If I had been a few feet further down, I might have been in more trouble.
Shocked, I shouted out a bad word. But the impact had been so minor that nobody had noticed it apart from me and, I would like to think, the driver.
And so, all any onlookers noticed was a forty-ish, respectably dressed man screaming out an expletive in the street for no apparent reason.
Embarrassed by the whole business, I fled. I can only hope that it does not appear in my end of life showreel.
SO somebody asked me: “Where are you from?” And I said: “Well, I was born in Liverpool.”
And he looked me in the eye, and he said: “No, but where are you from? Where is your family from?” I blinked. “Er, Liverpool. That’s why I was born there. It was more convenient.”
He stared at me, his eyes boring into me. “No, you’re not getting it. Where is your family from? You’re not British, are you?”
“Oh!” I said. “Well, I’m not really sure about my dad’s side, though Bainbridge is a village in North Yorkshire, so I suppose they must have come from there at some point.
“But on my mum’s side… well, there’s some Irish in there. I mean, see how pale I am. I make milk look brown. I could hide out in a paper factory for months.
“But there’s also some Italian in me from a few generations back. Half my mum’s siblings looked Irish like me. The other half looked like Al Pacino.”
“Ah! I thought so,” he said, and made to wander off. “Hang on a sec,” I said to him, “are you a figment of my imagination?”
He nodded, and vanished in a puff of smoke, his point made.
I’m quite lucky in that I am white, and usually pass for a native. If I were brown or black, I would have been asked those questions so many times I would not have had to make up an anecdote.
But ask yourself: “Where am I from?” If you can go back more than four generations without finding a foreigner in your forebears, you are a very unusual and rare flower. Even the Queen is part German, and married to a Greek.
The fact is we are all immigrants, or the children of immigrants. So when the Government starts talking about cutting immigration, and about taking us out of the European Single Market just so that we can halt immigration, you should feel uneasy.
When the Government talks about cutting the number of foreign students who come to Britain, pay fees to learn here, and then go back home, you should feel uneasy.
And when the Government talks about forcing companies to publish lists of their foreign workers, you should feel worried. Because while this is bad enough, where will it end?
It is becoming clearer than ever that Brexit is going to hit this country hard. The pound is crashing already. And instead of surgically unpicking the legal and social veins which bind us to the EU, this gang of vandals is going to yank us out.
And as the blood spills and the damage mounts up, the Brexiteers in government who blundered and blustered and said we had nothing to fear from leaving the EU will not take the blame.
David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has already said that if Brexit is a failure we are all to be held responsible. Well, not me, matey – I am not going to be accountable for this disaster. And neither will the half of the country who voted to remain in the EU.
So who do you think will be considered responsible? It will be the ones who always get the blame, the easy targets already being lined up – the unloved immigrants. It will be the people like your great-grandparents, the people who spoke foreign in shops and even so were allowed to stay and work and marry and eventually produce you.
They will be blamed for taking British jobs, as if there is a queue of Brits outside the hotels and fruit farms dying to do a hard day’s work for a pittance. They will be given the blame for why you are unemployed after the car manufacturers and call centres leave this post-EU country. And God help them.
We’ve seen all this before in this continent. It ended with a world war and millions dead. That’s why we had an EU, why we had to make it inconceivable that the countries of Europe would ever go to war with each other again.
But the question is, which side are you going to be on?
Are you going to be one of those cheering as people like your great-grandparents are hounded out of their homes and this country?