Sea Monkeys: how Harold von Braunhut took the USA’s pocket money and gave it to Neo-Nazis (and got away with it)

Sea monkeys were so big even the Simpsons did them (and South Park, and Arthur…) That the USA’s most famous family paid homage to the postbox pets, well after their heyday, shows how enshrined in pop culture this odd little hobby became. 

Like many 20th century American kids, Bart loved ordering junk out the back of comic books  (where’s my spy camera?) junk that would take weeks to be delivered, building up anticipation (WHERE’S MY SPY CAMERA?) before arriving, underwhelming. Harold von Braunhut’s Amazing Sea-Monkeys were the queens of this trade. But, behind the cultural phenomenon was an inventor who funnelled his time and money into far-right activity, and did so with the broad consent of US business. The story of the sea monkeys is much like the little shrimps’ reveal to the once-excited child – what was really in the package is unlike anything you’d thought it would be.

Source: SimpsonsWiki

Sea-Monkeys are brine shrimp, with a genetic twist. As the name suggests, they really like salt. Anyone who has ever kept fish know that fish really like to eat them. They aren’t particularly eye-catching or entertaining, though that is largely because they are miniscule. Those big enough to see resemble writhing skeletons. So how on earth did they become a thing?


Like most US traditions, you can find your answer in the carnival and the comic book. As Jack Hitt wrote in the NYT, sea monkeys were soaked in the art of humbug. Harold von Braunhut was not a carny, but was a savant in its methods. “What made Braunhut’s work so edgy, so American,”  Hitt said, with astonishment nearing on admiration, “was how wickedly far he’d journey – far past the product itself, into the fictional.” Von Braunhut had learned much from sideshow entertainment during his time racing motorbikes as the Green Hornet, dabbling in magic, and representing a mentalist whose act was to dive off a high platform into a 1ft deep pool. In his younger days, Harold hobnobbed with daredevils, tricksters, hucksters and cheats, getting where water could not, always looking for the next big idea. 

His next swindle lay in the booming post-war market of children’s toys. Victory in war had led to babies – lots of them, and US businesses were on a mission to turn them into tiny consumers (or tiny marks). Things were on sale wherever kids looked, and if you could get them to buy whilst their parents weren’t looking, you could make an honest buck. 

X-Ray Specs advert. Source IMDB

Nowadays, we know all about how advertising can lead to us owning a host of mass-produced crap we didn’t want. But von Braunhut was an early exponent, and his secret weapons were the great Carnival tricks of humbug and illusion. One of his most infamous hoodwinks was “X-Ray Specs,” marketed hard at the perverts of tomorrow, promising pubescent boys the chance to see through women’s garments. Of course, they were just cheap blurry glasses. 

Better yet, there was the “Invisible Fish (Do Not Feed)”, which involved von Braunhut literally selling a big bag of nothing to kids. But magic relies on both the show and the audience believing what everybody really knows isn’t true. Most kids (I hope) knew on some level that their purchases were phony. But so was a Buzz Lightyear or a Tracy Island set – von Braunhut’s wares were toys, and it was the marketing that sparked imagination and enjoyment, so long as no-one broke the spell with a “You know it’s fake” reveal. 


Von Braunhut, however, knew that to truly siphon away America’s pocket money, he needed to flog something a little more tangible than the invisible goldfish. The greatest humbugs, after all, have a grain of truth at their heart that hooks the mark. He needed something real that could inspire imagination, that had just enough about it to compliment a marketing campaign and go universal. Inspiration came from Uncle Milton’s Ant Farms, which promised children a micro-civilisation of pets in their own bedroom, at a reasonable cost. 

Source: Pinterest

Von Braunhut aimed to go one better with his new product, “Instant Life.” He came across across the humble brine shrimp, who made their home in harsh salt lakes. The shrimp’s eggs had adapted to their hostile homes by developing the ability to lie without oxygen – essentially in suspended animation – for years, waiting for the arrival of briny water in which to hatch, in a process known as cryptobiosis, or “hidden life.”

The idea was this – sell the static eggs in packets that also contained powder that salted the water enough for the shrimp to hatch, and – hey presto – Instant Life. Children of America – you have the power to play God for just a dollar 25!

Two problems stood in von Braunhut’s way. Firstly, brine shrimp are weird. Children wouldn’t have any idea what they were creating. These skeletal, diminutive shrimp weren’t “life” in a familiar way as, say, ants were. The second issue was that the concept had already been discredited by the Wham-O toys debacle just months earlier. Like von Braunhut, Wham-O were inspired by the potential wonders of creating life itself, and settled on breeding a type of African Killifish as their product. The eggs of this fish used a similar process to the brine shrimp to wait out the dry season. Trouble was, this fish – a complex vertebrate highly entuned to its environment – did not produce enough eggs to fulfil the sales promised to investors, and those that appeared were very difficult to hatch, and even more difficult to keep alive. It was a disaster. 

No promoter would dare touch “Instant Life” after this debacle, so von Braunhut turned to the back pages of comic books to market them himself. That way he could go straight to his marks – children – without retailers and parents getting in their way with logic and the cautionary tale of Instant Fish. Both the product and the message needed improvement, however, before kids would start emptying their piggy banks into von Braunhut’s open palms. Brine shrimp were underwhelming enough as it was; they’d disappoint even more if they all dropped dead before they grew large enough to see. As it stood, this was just Invisible Fish but with a bigger comedown. 


Von Braunhut transformed the toy with three important changes. The first aimed to make the shrimp live longer, and so he and biologist Anthony D’Agnostino termed up to create some new life themselves. Through selective breeding, they developed a new type of brine shrimp that was more likely to survive cryptobiosis and live longer in an artificial environment. The new species was named Artemis NYOS, after the New York Oceanic Society, whose laboratory they used. 

Alongside, they changed the set-up procedure so that two sachets were included, mislabelled in a sleight-of-hand bi-proxy to enable the illusion. The first sachet, named “water purifier”, promised to precondition the tap water, but it also contained eggs. The second sachet, named “Instant Life”, did contain some (more) eggs but its most important ingredient was a dye that amplified the existing shrimp, making them visible within a minute, and “thereby giving the impression” (as the patent read) that they appeared as if by magic. Instant life. 

Clockwise from top-left: Harold von Braunhut (source: Mental Floss), Dr Anthony D’Agnostino (East Hampton Star), Joe Orlando (Wikipedia), & Yolanda Signorelli (NYT)

The last change was the most decisive, and saw von Braunhut once more team up with a specialist; this time, a master of comic design. Joe Orlando would later take leading roles in both DC Comics and MAD Magazine, but made his name building the sea monkey lore. The word “shrimp” would not be uttered again, for these aren’t shrimp, they are Monkeys of the Sea – tiny intelligent creatures who got up to all sorts of adventures; they were just too small to see what exactly they were. 

Von Braunhut and Orlando took the elongated tails of Artemia NYOS as their grain of truth. It could be said, with a leap of faith, that they resembled a monkey’s tail. That was enough. From there, Orlando birthed anthropomorphic cartoon characters that had elements of primate, fish and sea monster, but also took notes from Hannah-Barbara. In the era of the Flintstones and the Jetsons, it did not take much imagination to envisage a tiny family at the bottom of the sea that cavorted and capered its way through life.

This was the ingenuity of the marketing strategy – you could see the sea monkeys and you could see their tails. You could also see the characters on the box. What you couldn’t perceive, due to their size and the underwater barrier, is what they were up to in the tank. That’s when the imagination kicked in. “I think kids are pretty clever at finding ways to have fun,” said Patricia Hogan, of the Strong National Museum of Play, to Mental Floss, “even with something that may disappoint them because they’re not exactly as they appeared.” Von Braunhut encouraged this by next flogging a myriad of accessories and add-ons with which the sea monkeys could make their adventures, such as the “Aquatic Speedway,” which he patented in 1973.

The Amazing Sea-Monkeys were a hit. The money started streaming in, as wave after wave of brine shrimp travelled to (and quickly perished in) millions of American homes, lasting just long enough in their tiny tanks to make an impression upon a whole generation. 

Sea-Monkeyspast and present (Source: Mental Floss)


Harold von Braunhut was now rolling in it like Scrooge McDuck. He and his new wife, the ’60s bondage film star Yolanda Signorelli, moved into a sprawling ranch south of DC, which they started turning into a wildlife reserve with part of the sea monkey fortune. Some of the rest, however, soon found its way into the coffers of the far-right.

Many sea monkeys info pages note this connection as a quirk of von Braunhut himself – an example of the lore of mad scientist inventors – while Hitt notes it as the thing that denied him everlasting glory in the annals of American business. Few, however, really explore how the business world’s enduring consent, amidst von Braunhut’s unceasing far-right activity, allowed the inventor to still fill fascist coffers with sea monkey profits. 

It’s unclear when Harold von Braunhut started funding Neo-Nazis, but his affiliation with the Aryan Nations (AN) alone certainly spanned decades. Notably, he was born not with “von” in the middle of his name but with Nathan; Harold was born Jewish. In later life he told a reporter that he changed it to make his name sound more German. Von Braunhut’s concerning connections first came to the attention of the American media in 1979 when he was arrested trying to board a flight with one of his 193 patents – an item, it transpired, he was advertising in far-right publications. Sadly, it wasn’t Invisible Fish. It was a weapon.

USP 3554546A: the “spring whip defensive weapon”. Source: Google

USP 3554546, the “Spring Whip Defensive Weapon,” was a spring-loaded baton that wielded enough force to incapacitate – von Braunhut marketed it to the AN for “if you need a gun but can’t get a license.” The K5, as it became known, was no parlour trick (it worked) but instead a chilling reveal of for whom this weapon was designed. It was also no one-off; von Braunhut updated the patent a few times, and his 1984 edition included the justification “that the need for defensive weapons continues to rise with the crime rate,” particularly chilling as von Braunhut seemed to adhere to Manson’s “Helter Skelter” belief of an impending race war. 

Yet von Braunhut’s reputation went unharmed, however, until 1988 when the AN encouraged members to buy the K5, as some of the proceeds would go to the legal fees of AN leader Richard Butler, who was facing trial for the minor infraction of sedition (inciting insurrection). Following the trail, the Washington Post released an exposé of von Braunhut’s past and present, revealing a $12k loan he gave to the KKK in 1985 so a Grand Wizard could buy 83 guns, and his Jewish origins. The Nazis, for the most part, weren’t fussed about the latter, so long as he kept supporting them. Elsewhere, the Amazing Sea-Monkeys partners Larami continued to market and distribute the product, despite public outcry. 


Nothing changed. This was Reagan’s America after all, where no hateful affiliations need get in the way of a good profit. In fact, if anything, in the early 1990s, sea monkeys underwent a revival. The original duped children were now adults, and many decided to passed on the tradition with their own kids. Some felt like it was a strong part of their youth they wished to share with their progeny; others? Maybe they thought it worked well as a lesson that life is full of disappointment.

Other members of that generation – now in the creative industries – started stocking sea monkeys back into pop culture as nostalgic throwbacks to their youth. Nobody did this better (worse) than Howie Mandel, who produced a TV show called Amazing Live Sea Monkeys. The plot was excruciatingly early-90s – a trio of sea monkeys (of the advertised variety) are ripped from their microcosmic underwater life after a mad scientist (played by Mandel) zaps them with a growth ray. It was pitched to the network as “the next Ninja Turtles” in an accidental nod to the shrimp’s humbug origins. The network somehow allowed it to proceed for 11 episodes before canning it. 

Part II is also on Youtube, if you really want it

Meanwhile, von Braunhut continued to support the AN, addressing rallies and meetings on multiple occasions (even “lighting the cross” on at least one visit), and writing nasty, near-genocidal op-eds under the unsubtle and even-more-Germanic moniker Hendrik von Braun. Business continued as normal, but anti-racist campaigners like the Anti-Defamation League worked hard to monitor von Braunhut and pressure his partners. Larami got antsy. 

Larami was not known for its strident moral stances, having spent much of the ’80s marketing hyper-realistic water guns of such aesthetic that von Braunhut might have designed himself. New regulations saw them forced to remodel, out of which came the runway success of the Super Soaker. Under increasing pressure, in 1994 Larami stopped distributing Sea-Monkeys. A cynic may note that Larami only dropped von Braunhut after the soaker went viral. Indeed, von Braunhut himself towed a similar line. However, Al Davis of Larami told the Los Angeles Times in 2000 that he’d confronted von Braunhut on his views, to which the inventor replied “Hitler wasn’t a bad guy. He just received bad press.” 

His next supplier, Basic Fun, swiftly dropped Amazing Sea-Monkeys again because of von Braunhut’s fascism, but he quickly found another. The sea monkeys contract was just too lucrative. Many of von Braunhut’s partners continued to work with him after rectifying their cognitive dissonance, choosing to believe his claim that he was not Hendrik von Braun (whose correspondence address matched that of the Amazing Sea-Monkeys enquiries address), and his insistence that he was just another guy who’d just received bad press. This series of relationships and rationalisations were documented in detail within another landmark investigation into von Braunhut, this time by Tamar Brott in the LA Times in 2000. Brott pressed one partner on why he believed von Braunhut and he replied “all I know is I have to believe him… Or else how could I live with myself?” 

What is remarkable is that it took another groundbreaking journalistic investigation to once again bring von Braunhut’s associations back in the spotlight and that still, despite this, the sea monkeys trade continued to flourish. Harold von Braunhut could not be cancelled and essentially until his death in 2003 some of the profits from his greatest humbug, the sea monkey, lined the pockets of the Aryan Nations, with the broad consent of Corporate America. 


The sea monkeys’ association with Neo-Nazism appears to have died with Harold von Braunhut. Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut has addressed her late-husband’s associations only with silence, but – according to Hitt’s interview with her – she does not appear to share von Braunhut’s active pursuit of far-right causes. Instead, a committed vegan and animal rights campaigner, Signorelli von Braunhut has dedicated herself to the maintenance of the wildlife reserve, and sees the sea monkey as an important way to teach children about the sanctity of all life. 

I get this, although a quick read on any sea monkey forum can make you sceptical – some of those shrimp have come to unfortunate ends, from the father who came home thirsty from the pub and accidentally necked a glass of his kid’s sea monkeys, to the guy who thought they might hold the key to the sustainability crisis (they don’t) and started farming them. 

After Harold’s death, Signorelli von Braunhut signed a contract with Big Time Toys to market and distribute the sea monkeys. However, in 2013 the toy giant returned to Yolanda and claimed that what she thought was a licensing fee was in fact a down payment on the rights to the Amazing Sea-Monkeys, and so the Artemia NYOS, the secret “water purifier” and “instant life” powders, and all the legend that went with them, were now property of Big Time Toys. Signorelli von Braunhut responded by refusing to send them anymore of the NYOS shrimp, and then sued them for breach of copyright. 

Present day, Big Time Sea-MonkeysⓇ

As of January 2020, the case appears to have stagnated – one can only assume it has yet to be settled (apparently there’s a documentary on Signorelli von Braunhut’s struggle in production, suggesting it’s ongoing). Big Time Toys, however, have adapted to the conflict in a manner of which Harold himself might have been proud, were it not against his own grift. Signorelli von Braunhut sued Big Time because they continued to sell Amazing Sea-Monkeys after she began her embargo; the company started importing masses of regular brine shrimp eggs from China and stuffing them in the sachets instead. Signorelli von Braunhut accused them of selling knock-off products as the real thing.

Big Time responded accordingly. How can we sell something falsely if it does not exist? NYOS are, after all, not one of the seven recognised species of brine shrimp – they aren’t real, and whatever it says on the packet – “hybrid” or “secret formula” or whatever – doesn’t matter – everybody knows it’s only an illusion. Sam Harwell, owner of Big Time, is just being the know-it-all in the playground shouting “the rabbit was in the hat the whole time,” so as to take all the spoils for himself.  


This is how the sea monkeys tale ends. NYOS may die with the von Braunhuts, but it doesn’t matter now. Perhaps Big Time will try and breed their own species, but they don’t seem to care too much whether what they’re selling is any good; it’s only sea monkeys after all, sustained by the nostalgia market, mainly purchased nowadays as pulp presents. The wonder of creating a miniature underwater civilisation is not the draw it once was, for whatever reason (kids these days/video games/cheaper goldfish, who knows). The profits from the imported shrimp will go to Sam Harwell who, for full disclosure, is married to Beth Harwell, a prominent Tennessee Republican politician and avid Trump supporter. If you must buy decorative Artemia, you could instead splurge on one of the myriad of knock-off versions around nowadays – Aqua Dragons, Swamp Monsters, Prehistoric Life – and fund whatever horrid things their owners support. 

Of course, you see none of that when you see the box on the store shelf, or the advert in the back of the comic book, or the popup on your browser. You only see the friendly cartoon faces of microscopic sea people, who you can create to cavort and caper for less than $10. That’s the real story of the sea monkeys – from the child blowing their pocket money to von Braunhut’s partners-in-denial – it is whatever you are able to see, and what you believe that to be.

Peterloo’s Jailers

They put the memorial behind bars. Behind their fences, angry little frames, on their side of the divide.

Their conference is held upon the ruins of St Peter’s Field, in a shed once called Manchester Central Station. The rails had brought further riches to the cotton town, not to be shared. The dirty great arch covered the blood of the slaughtered of Peterloo, as it was known, that great assembly of all of the districts of Manchester, to demand their voices be heard.

They were chopped down.

Did they start something? We could sure do with some of that spirit now. This is not a democracy. It has only ever been the shell of such a thing, or the scaffolding, if I dare dabble with hope. Now they are rolling back the years.

You want to vote? Show me your papers. Your papers!

They put the memorial up last month. They forgot to tell anybody. The names of the dead climb its steps until you, the living, reach its peak. It is a pulpit, designed so you feel like you are addressing the world. So that – yes! – the ghosts of Peterloo’s slain may mount you and embibe you with the belief that your voice matters as much as any soul – more so! – that may cower in that shed behind, carving up our remaining commonality, on a tattered map, in a putrid scramble. No firsts among equals atop these steps, only turns taken to be heard.

No great fanfare accompanied its unveiling. Best not to let the people know what great reservoirs of power lie beneath all of us, perhaps. More likely, it simply slipped their mind. It’s hard to stay useful when squeezed on all fronts. (They forgot, too, to put a ramp on it…it’s no pulpit for those most often ignored…)

Not that accessibility is an issue today. That which should be the axis of protest against the descendants of those who would sooner shoot a democrat than hear their words, those who would barricade themselves away with their decisions in their farce entitled “The Will of the People”, is locked away. On their side, they may look upon it with absent curiosity, those who lost their shit when it was suggested that a statue of Cecil Rhodes (considered a genocidal maniac by his peers) be taken away from public eyes. But the Peterloo platform – well, that’s access to certified personnel only.

Move along now.

The protest will swell on the streets nearby, and we will do our best to amplify our despair, but…distant. Without our pulpits, we cannot call such criminals by their crimes. Cannot say “racism” without reprimand. Cannot treat our sick without a photo opportunity. Is that a rock thrown through the window? Or a humbug? What chance have you got against a tie and a crest…

You didn’t actually think this place was for you, did you?

In a few days, the mean little fences will fall, and the goons in gilets jeunes who kept it, they will be gone too. Go on through, it’s ok. But the people you have come to address are by now far, far away. Thing is, you were never even close. The fence was just a mirage, masking a Great Wall that grows bigger by the day.

Ode to Sluggo

How did the world come to know the giant jailer from Bermuda?

Trinidad, 2007. Minnows Bermuda were up against the might of India, who were to bat first. The kid Malachi Jones raced in to bowl to talented opener Robin Uthappa, and the batsman pushed at a ball best left to its own devices. The ball glanced the edge of Uthappa’s bat and skidded to Leverock’s right. Flying through the air, belying his 280lbs, Leverock snatched the ball, cat-like, from the sky and tumbled to the ground victorious. He decided to do a victory sprint in celebration of the greatest moment in Bermudan cricket. “Then Irving Romaine tried to lift me up – I thought I was going to crack my back.”

The Men’s Cricket World Cup has always been the worst of the world cups. It’s known mainly for its torturous meander to the important matches, its boycotts, its predictability, and its inevitable submission to the elements. But, such is the nature of this wonderful game that despite all this, it still produces sublime sky’s-edge drama that is the very essence of sport itself. Of course, you can get all that (and quicker) at the World T20 (Carlos Brathwaite v Ben Stokes still sends shivers). But there used to be something wonderful and unique to the Men’s CWC that would break the doldrums of those month-long group stages.

The Associates – the smaller, lower-ranked, unlikely cricketing nations.

And the greatest associate player of them all was Kevin O’Brien Dwayne Leverock. And yes, it’s because of his size. You see, “Sluggo”, as he is affectionately known, is both an absolute unit and an all-round sportsman.

“He’s big and because of that he attracts a lot of attention, but it does not deter him.” – 2007 Bermuda coach Gus Logie.

Back home, Russell Dwayne Mark Leverock worked in a jail and lived above a curry house. But in St Vincent, 2007, he shot to fame in a World Cup warm-up match against England. Ball in hand, Sluggo strode to the crease, all 20 stone of him, looking the very model of an amateur associate. And facing him down, grasping firm the heavy bat that was the scourge of bowlers everywhere, was Kevin Pietersen, the template of the 21st century batsman – a mercenary that would travel the world playing cricket as if he were a rock star.

Cricket favours the batsman, and all the odds were stacked against Sluggo. Dwayne recalled that Pietersen “was chuckling at certain deliveries”, but the joy of Leverock’s appearance is entirely in its deception. The magic of spin bowling lives within the combination of control and wit to steal a batsman’s wicket, and often render them foolish. Pietersen, aloof, chased Leverock’s delivery up the pitch, seeking to dismiss this associate turner back to the bleachers, where he belonged. But, like the great wizard Murali, Dwayne read his mind.

Leverock celebrates. Source: CricketEurope

“I was always a spin bowler,” Leverock told the BBC after the match. “I watched Abdul Qadir, he was a main influence – then Shane Warne early in his career and Muttiah Muralitharan.”

He’d learned well. Guiding the ball higher and wider than usual, he evaded Pietersen’s violent, vain attempt to clobber the ball. Stumped, Pietersen was done. Like a judoka, Leverock had turned the England giant’s strength against him. The harder they come…

Pietersen’s delivery. I saw he was trying to come down the wicket an I thought I would toss it up higher and wider. He came down the track, tried to drive, missed and Dean took off the bails.”

It was because of his size that Sluggo went viral – but he was most certainly not the side show suggested by the still shots that accompanied the headlines. “I heard it was on the back page of every paper in England.” Watching him in action, you could see his ability. An amateur, yes – but one who had studied his art with the graft of a professional and had, at the age of 35, been granted the opportunity to prove himself at the highest stage. But what he did next left no doubts.

Back page of the Daily Star. Source: PressReader

“I’m not going to do anything extravagant,” he said, prior to the start of the competition proper. “I’ll just do it to the best of my ability.”

The thing about Leverock is that, no matter his size, the man is a fine athlete. Before his 2007 heroics he was a striker for Bermuda’s PHC Zebras football team, and he once visited Humberside to play Hull City. He’s also a fierce competitor. After he made his first international 50 with the bat against the Netherlands in 2006, he was so frustrated with his dismissal that he argued with the umpire and then whacked his bat in the dressing room in frustration. Over his career he took 34 wickets in 32 Internationals – batsmen found it tough to score off his miserly spin, a mark of his discipline and guile.

Then to Trinidad, for the World Cup. The biggest stage of all. It is testament to Leverock’s finest hour that absolutely nobody talks about how in Bermuda’s first match, against a Sri Lanka at the height of their powers, he dismissed a batsman even more prestigious than Pietersen – one of the greatest to ever grace a sporting arena, Kumar Sangakkara. The Bermudans, unfortunately, were ripped to shreds by Sri Lanka’s sublime roster of bowlers. Leverock, out last, was fittingly outfoxed by his hero, Murali.

Next up was India, who batted first. Bermuda were obliterated once again, but who remembers that! This time, the stills of Sluggo’s diving catch could not mask the talent on display. In that moment, Leverock’s legacy was secured.

The World Cup itself was a torrid affair, even for men’s cricket. The ICC had strangled the joy out of that most joyous of cricketing regions – the West Indies – with high ticket prices and embargoes on all the pitchside fun that was intrinsic to the festival of Caribbean cricket. Worse was to come. After their shock defeat to Ireland, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his Jamaica hotel room. The rest of the tournament was surrounded in grief and intrigue. The final ended in farce in Barbados darkness, with yet another Australia win. What sparks there were came from the (then) associates Ireland and Bangladesh, who performed brilliantly and disposed of Pakistan and India respectively, and, of course, by Dwayne Leverock – the man who showed the world that the talented and athletic can come in many shapes and sizes.

Bermuda, unfortunately, quickly fell from grace, overtaken by teams with better resources and strength-in-depth. Sluggo retired in 2009 – Bermuda’s great servant bowing out after the team failed to qualify for the next world cup. “It is time to take a backseat especially with the youngsters coming through,” said a tearful Leverock. “I want to try to give them an opportunity to play and maybe I can spend some more time with my daughter.”

For this 2019 World Cup, the number of participating teams has been slashed to 10. All those who qualified are from highly trained and well-resourced cricketing nations. Yet the tournament is still horrifically long – every team will play at least nine matches, in the ICC’s never-ending quest to extract every penny they can out of sub-continental television rights – is that not, after all, the true spirit of cricket? In a world of pay-walled coverage and the hacksawed chimera of “The Hundred,” it’s hard to think otherwise.

And so we have to endure a six-week slumber to the semi-finals without the joys of the Associate Nations, who always surprised their doubters with their undeniable talents. Against that backdrop, we might have to look at Leverock as a relic of a time gone by, a time when cricket was for everybody.

“It has meant so much to me to have people recognise me for who I am as an athlete,” he once told the Bermuda Sun. “I always have time for youngsters. It’s a nice feeling to sign autographs and give them advice on their cricket.”

Here’s to you, Sluggo.

Frankly, Mr Morrissey

“Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase. Except Morrissey”

Sean Hughes

“If you must write prose and poems, the words you use should be your own, don’t plagiarise or take on loan…”

Some other fool

Frankly Mr Morrissey, these positions you hold, they grab and devour, and lead us headlong into harm.

It’s time I settle the score – I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday, and I would like to give you this gift, in which I re-issue, re-package, and re-evaluate your words…


Well, there are some bad people on the rise – the Newsworld hands them stardom. They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives. They creep into my thoughts like a bad debt that I can’t pay, and in the wasteland of my head I hear the shrill cry of:  

“you still don’t belong to anywhere.”

And as evil people prosper, you, the one who claims to care, what do YOU do? You say “shelve your western plans…life is hard enough when you belong here.” There is no one but yourself to blame – guilt by implication, by association.

But nobody minds.                                                                  

The fawning give you every opportunity. They are half-ashamed of your meat-is-murder radical views but nothing else leaves a disenchanted taste in their mealy mouths. They’d sacrifice all of their principles for you, or else they’re too jaded to question stagnation.

“The songs we sing, they’re not supposed to mean a thing.”

They’d rather not get involved – they ignore all the new songs, and cling to the old. But my patience is stretched. These words you use –  they’re too close to home and they’re too near the bone.

You don’t know a thing about us, our loves and hates and passions, yet you look into our eyes, and still you think that we’re faceless, with no right to take our place in the human race. The land that we stand on is ours, as well!

My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned

“What became of you?” they hoarsely cry, “why did you change?” But have you changed? Really? The hate hangs too freely on your lips, like a dulling wine, to be something new.

You royalties brought you luxuries, but the squalor of the mind…oh, how the boy next door turned out. “Used to be a sweet boy!” they hoarsely cry, as they are shocked and ashamed to discover…but they should have known where you’d gone because again and again you’ve explained –

“England for the English!”

Somewhere deep in the cell of your heart, (amid concrete and clay and general decay) you’ve always needed to cling to something – to the old dreams, miserable lies, to an afternoon nostalgia, to an England hemmed in like a boar between arches. Further into the fog you fell, hiding from The Bomb, Hindley, belligerent ghouls, the unholy stench of murder…


There once lay behind the hatred a gentle tone of kindness, a fumbling politeness, and some hope! I am remembering the time when I was 16, clumsy and shy. I spent warm summer days indoors writing frightening verse (that’s nothing, you should have heard me play piano). Back at the old grey school – I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible. I was prematurely sad, equally dour, I walked a pace behind you, (very closely, like a moth to a flame) for I thought that you knew the full extent of my distress. You asked me to get along with myself and say – “if I seem a little strange, that’s because I am.” You claimed that whilst scavenging through life’s very constant lulls, all that a tremulous heart required was a devout faith in love – a light that never goes out.

Except then you let your juvenile influences sway, you took the easy way and gave in – who did you turn to when you were backstage? To a grown man who said he’d cure your ills?

Vile frustration rendered you hateful – you can’t see the good things anymore, just the bad things. Gripped with the romance of crime, you stay with your own kind – spineless swines, cemented minds, jealous of youth – these are the last “truly British” people you’ll ever know? (please keep them). Try living in the real world, instead of a shell.

The person underneath – where did he go – did he slide by the wayside, or did he just die?

Entwined in the midst of this, I just can’t find my place in this world, and there’s nowhere to go but down. But to give up would be a bad mistake. I’m older now, and a clever swine. I had just about scraped through, but now, I’ll fight to the last breath – I’ll boot the grime of this world in the crotch, dear. Yes I KNOW it’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, and it takes guts to be gentle and kind. Yes I KNOW Heavy words are so lightly thrown, but I’m too tired.

Now, I’m so sick and tired because anything is hard to find – for heaven’s sake – because enough is too much! The critics make me feel so ashamed because I’ve only got two hands – how can they say I go about things the wrong way, for having rejected being gentle and kind?

Show me a barrel and watch me scrape it…

Politely, at first. I’m so sick and tired of this land’s cheerless marches – fifteen miles of shit. But when they try to break my spirit – it won’t work, nor will they infiltrate my mind.

Until the earth that wants me finally has me, I will be brash, outrageous and free – at ease – fighting ignorance, dust and disease, until darkness lifts and the room is bright from a sun shining on a better world – not in the next world or another world – this world.

So now you. People said you were virtually dead but they were so wrong. Your name still conjures up deadly deeds. Your songs – more songs than I can stand – are just any excuse to write more lies.

Here you are, just another who has maddening views, you poor, freezingly cold soul, just another lock-jawed pop star thicker than pig shit, nothing to convey, too scared to show intelligence (it might smear your lovely career).

In the days when you were hopelessly poor, I just liked you more…

Old friend, your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight. An inbuilt guilt catches up with you…at 5am – wakes you up, and you wonder why the love you long for eludes you…can you see (the) answer in your heart? Can you delve so low?

Full of fear, you cling to the old songs that once made me laugh, the songs that once made me cry, and you ask me “when you’re dancing and laughing and finally living, will you hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly?” –

Frankly? Thank you, but no. You frame of useless limbs, I don’t owe you anything. What can make good all the bad that’s been done?

I must leave you behind me tonight. Please put your tongue away, good and proper, forever.

Small Islands, Big Histories: Diego Garcia

Short dives into Earth’s diminutive islands that tell more than their size suggests

They cleared the island of its custodians and dropped a military base atop of where a society once lay. This secretive base is what Diego Garcia is known for today – it captivates the minds of spy-movie directors and shadow government junkies alike – it’s known for this because that is all there is now on this isolated atoll. This never used to be the case.

Recently, Diego Garcia’s past has at last received more attention for the violent eviction of its settled community – the Ilois – from its paradisiacal shores at the whim of the US and the UK. The history of Diego Garcia is of the forced creation and attempted destruction of a people, of decolonisation and the Cold War, and of how the history of an island is always a story that crosses oceans and continents.

Life is Elsewhere

Describing the island for its new American arrivals, the US Navy’s welcome pack calls Diego Garcia a “lush, tropical paradise.” It was not always seen in this way. In old Maldivian societies, the Chagos archipelago – of which Diego Garcia is the largest participant – was known as the isolated, mysterious place over the horizon met only by castaways and sailors lost.

Diego Garcia. Source: BBC

The lure of the tropics and the crops it might yield eventually brought explorers from further afield to Diego Garcia. In the 1500s, the island was discovered, forgotten, and rediscovered by Portuguese sailors busy building up their oceanic trading networks, and trying to make a name for themselves in the process. The name “Diego Garcia” eventually stuck – a conglomeration of those who’d decided to name the place after themselves or their friends upon landing, and of the saying “deo gracias.”

There was no native population then, fortunately. No population to trade with, to infect or to enslave. There were no major raw materials to exploit, aside from coconuts or crab meat. The Chagos Islands were, for the most part, passed by for more alluring prizes, until colonial competition hit fever pitch in the 1700s. The French and the British East India company both made abortive attempts to settle Diego Garcia, before the French decided instead to play on the atoll’s peripheral status and maroon Mauritian lepers there.

The lure of the land, however, proved too much. In 1793, the French opened a coconut plantation on the eastern portion of the island, and African slaves were spirited away from their homes to toil there. This was the same year that, thousands of miles away in the Caribbean, the slaves of Saint Domingue marched on Cap-Francois to demand their freedom. Their wish was granted and, the following year, pressed to prove that they truly believed in liberte, egalite, fraternite, the revolutionary government in Paris ceded freedom to all the slaves in the colonies.

However, thousands of miles away from the hotbeds of revolution, France’s Indian Ocean islands never honoured this proclamation, and the slaves of Diego Garcia remained in chains. Once again, a major colonial power exploited the Chagos Islands’ diminutive size and isolation to thwart convention and pursue their crimes unheeded. This would not be the last time. 

Isolated at the Centre of Things

1814. Mauritius and its associates transferred to Britain as spoils of war. The slaves remained bound to the masters of the coconut plantation until 1840, but their fate remained tied to the crop for much longer. After emancipation, the freed were joined by indentured workers from India. The population named themselves the Ilois – “islanders” in Chagossian Creole – and mainly settled at Minni Minni, north of the plantations, and across the lagoon at Point Marianne. By 1882 the plantations, still producing copra oil for European machines and lamps, were all owned by one company – the Société Huilière de Diego et de Peros; run in far off Mauritius.

Diego Garcia from entrance to East Point. Surveyed by Commr. F.C.P. Vereker … 1885. Natural Scale, 1 : 24,188. (Southern portion. Natural Scale, 1 : 72,560.) [Admiralty Chart]
Publisher: London. From British Library

In the 20th Century, as the great distances across oceans grew ever shorter, Diego Garcia once more became wrapped up in violent geopolitical struggle. Recolonisation began during the Second World War, when the British set up an airstrip to contribute to the fighting in South Asia. After the war, the increasing calls from the colonies for independence collided with the fallout of Cold War regional destabilisation. The breaking point came in the mid-1960s.

In 1966, the USA expressed interest in establishing a small naval base on Diego Garcia, and Britain was only too glad to discuss terms. The apocryphal tale is that the US picked up the island for a mere fistful of dollars, but the nominal fee masked the real bill; a $14m debt for nuclear secrets, wiped off.

There were still two hurdles for the US to overcome; The fear that the Chagos archipelago may yet fall to an independent Mauritius, and the Ilois, who continued to make a life on the coconut plantations. In 1965, the coalition dealt with the Mauritian issue with the ruthless ease of a gunboat diplomat. If you want your independence, Harold Wilson told Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam , you must cede your control of the Chagos Islands. He duly did and the Ilois were cast off from the Mauritian nation.

Lowland clearings

The US and UK, meanwhile, plowed on with their plans to build a base on an “uninhabited” island. With this mindset, a couple of thousand Chagossians represented no more than overgrowth to be cleared.

The plantations had in 1962 been bought a British colonial company – the Chagos Agalega Company – based in the Seychelles. Its directors took £600,000 of persuasion to relinquish control. The coalition then began a subversive campaign to dislodge the Ilois from their home. The first stage saw the ports closed; any Chagossian who left the island – usually to Mauritius or the Seychelles for medical treatment – was informed that they would not be allowed to return home. Next came a policy of terror and intimidation, designed to rip Chagossian families and communities apart. This culminated in Governor Sir Bruce Greatbatch’s order to massacre of Ilois family pets. Using chunks of meat, British officials lured pet dogs into an enclosure and gassed them.

Still, the British could not dislodge the community of this supposedly uninhabited island. But, mired in Vietnam, by the 1970s US ambitions for the base had grown from a small air strip to a fully-loaded Indian Ocean base. In 1971 the plantations were destroyed and the last of the Ilois were forced onto the beach and marched onto boats, boats that took them to other islands in the Chagos (soon to be cleared themselves), or west to Mauritius or the Seychelles. Boats that were not fit for human transport, boats they were crammed into, sharing a deck with piles of guano. After such scatological nightmares were endured, the Ilois were taken off the boats and abandoned at the ports, their lives in tatters.

These acts amounted to warfare against a people, approximating genocide. At best, the Ilois were Cold War collateral damage. At worst, the community was seen as little more than imperial jetsam. So wrote Denis Greenhill, who seemingly thought the whole thing funny;

“The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee. Unfortunately along with the Birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure, and who are being hopefully wished on to Mauritius etc.”

The Footprint of Freedom

An island’s history nestles within its people. The Ilois were the only group to build a free, sustaining society on Diego Garcia. They are the island’s custodians, but since the 1970s the Ilois have been in complete diaspora, scattered across the planet. In 1972 Mauritius appealed for compensation from the UK so that they could provide for the refugees. Britain paid £650,000, for which the 426 Ilois families marooned there immediately sued. The Mauritian government were to cling onto this money until 1978.

Others made a new life in the Seychelles, and a few hundred moved to Britain. The Chagossians were ostracised wherever they went, with different skills, a different language, and a hostile welcome from their new neighbours. David Vine has studied the expulsions and followed the fate of the expelled. He describes lives of sagren – “profound sorrow and heartbreak over being exiled from their native lands.” His friend
Aurélie Lisette Talate told him “I had something that had been affecting me for a long time, since we were uprooted.” Talate died exiled in 2013. Vine maintains that sagren killed his friend.

Meanwhile, back in Diego Garcia, Navy Seebees arrived to build “Camp Justice” and remove any trace that a society ever existed on its shores. Bikku Bitti has gone; Point Marriane became the southern end of the island’s runway. The base is stacked upon the west side of the atoll, a place where soldiers played baseball and tennis whilst nearby prisoners arrived and departed under the yoke of extraordinary rendition.

In 1990, Britain decided to bequeath a flag to the British Indian Ocean Territory, in a strange masquerade that claimed this military sandbox was still a bona fide nation

There are now over 4000 people on the island, more than ever before. They are mostly US military, but there are also contractors – low-level service personnel from Mauritius and the Philippines – and British diplomatic types. None can stay permanently.

These visitors share the island with warrior crabs, geckos, donkeys and birds. The new Navy arrivals are not told of the evictions, only that the “plantations were closed.” They are informed, however, that “all residents make every effort to maintain the ecological integrity of Diego Garcia. As a result, all life forms on the island, including live shellfish, are protected by British law.” The Ilois and their descendants have never known such protection. They are not allowed to step foot on the island.

The British have renamed this ersatz territory the “British Indian Ocean Islands.” The Americans? They prefer the “Footprint of Freedom”.

Sagren has not stopped Chagossians from fighting tooth-and-nail to return home. In 2000 Ilois in Britain managed to get the British High Court to declare their expulsion from the islands as unlawful. The government responded by offering Chagossians British citizenship so long as they rescinded any claim to the islands. This mimicked an earlier policy granting Mauritian Ilois an additional £4m compensation in return to sign away any right to return.

Unfortunately, it’s now known that British citizenship can be made conditional with the stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen. Ilois in Britain have been caught up in the UK’s Hostile Environment policy that has demonised minorities. Their residence here is threatened.

By this time the British government had already betrayed the Ilois twice more. In 2004 the Blair Administration used Royal Prerogative to override the 2000 ruling and ban the Ilois from ever returning. The fight continued, but in 2008 the House of Lords finally settled the matter in favour of the government. The Ilois had lost again.

As if that wasn’t enough, in 2009 David Miliband (allegedly against the instructions of Gordon Brown) moved to declare the waters surrounding the archipelago a Marine reserve, cowering behind green politics to cling onto this fossil of a colony. The idea was to prevent any potential returning population from being able to fish. On this occasion the government were, thankfully, thwarted.

“A marine park would, in effect, put paid to the resettlement claims of the Archipelago’s former residents”

Reportably said by FCO employee Colin Roberts in 2009 according to wikileaks.

At last, last month, the International Court of Justice told Britain to give Diego Garcia and the rest of the archipelago back to Mauritius, giving a ray of hope to the dwindling population that had once been allowed to call it home. But the odds are still against them. The UK have no obligation to heed the ICJ’s request. Even if they did, there is no guarantee that Mauritius would support the Chagossians, let alone stand up to the USA and demand that the island be returned to their custody.

Source: The Guardian

In any case, the USA has little intention of abandoning their base that serves the global power with a strategic panopticon over East Africa, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. Recent tensions between India and Pakistan have only served to tighten the grip of the American boot stamping upon the footprint of freedom. Many Chagossians are pragmatic about this, and hope that they may instead, like other Mauritians, be allowed to work on the base as contractors.

There is another danger to the future chance that Diego Garcia may once more house a society. The island has a maximum height of 7 metres and is on average just over 1m above the Indian Ocean. A warming planet, bringing rising seas and unpredictable weather patterns, may yet render the island a victim of the anthropecine. And if the past is any measure, not enough will care when it, and its five-hundred years of history, drowns.

2018: The Wrong Year


Time passes slower when you’ve lost direction. You spend it dawdling, looking for a missing path or a new way forward, or better yet, pretending that you’ve not actually lost your way. Head down, determined, you plow on foolishly, but no matter how far you drive into the woods, you cannot escape that nagging feeling that there’s something you need to be doing.



As the rain falls on your head, you use it to straighten out your scruffball of a haircut. Gotta look smart, gotta be polite, shake the creases out of your shirt, keep your head down, keep going. Manners are everything in our culture. One must keep up appearances even in the stormiest weather.

The world has spent much of its time mourning the death of manners this year. Gallons of tears were shed in tribute to the former CIA operative whose blooded hands could be excused in exchange for the quiet dignity with which he held his shoulders. So too there was wailing for his moral successor, and for the loss of the days when the Republican Party was rational in its cruelty. It’s alright though, for soon Bush and McCain and their entire generation will be indicted in the singed history books for lighting the planet on fire.


This was the wrong year, a year distracted and ill-afforded. It might feel like a year lost, stuck in the mud of memory. Yet we’d be wise not to brush it under the carpet, whereunder would it lay as the ruins of a chance.

The rain falls, constant and predictable,
until it can no longer hold its form

There was a chance, but the dust upon it grew thicker by the day, disfigured slowly in national distraction until it appeared as little more than a mirage in a creeping desert. How quickly they rushed in to share with Steve Smith his Nile Crocodile tears, how heartily they worried about Edgelord CK’s alleged missing millions but never his victims, and how they trembled at the possibility that their au pair might not be able to come and raise their children for them next year –

Did you hear John Redwood got knighted? (for services to entropy?) –

It’s still better, child, than Chaos with Ed Miliband, as he flashes you a tease of hope behind his Cheshire food bank smile, beaming always toward re-election. This borough will be rotten soon enough, and then and only then will we be free to draw the hunting horn.

Deep within his volcanic lair, Lance Armstrong prepares another comeback…

With a creek and a snap, It collapses

Cut loose, it melts and drifts, roll, roll, bleaching as it goes

This year I’ve been feeling like I’m walking more and more on shaky ground. My plans lie ever closer to the present, or else ever further from reality. I’m nervous in public. I cross the road to avoid another Free Timmy Yaksley-Lemon wildcat demonstration – it’s heading for the Mosque – and I spend the rest of the day angry at being made to feel uncomfortable in my own neighbourhood by these sauced Spode wannabes. Can it ever really be mine again, after that. Those who might be my grandparents are on the next flight out of here, after all, and they’ve press-ganged anti-terror laws for those – far braver than I – who dared stand in the way of a jumbo jet so that my cousins might be spared. The coward Javid has a list, he’s checking it twice. If you wanna stay, you’ve gotta pay.

Our advocates in Parliament would sooner road trip with Timmy than entertain the thought that life has lost another sense of certainty over the past twelve months. They’ll throw us another over-kneaded Brexit metaphor, the galleries will howl and feast upon it for days, and another chance goes begging – Leave and Remain both mired in flag-obsessed vanity.

It gently breaks its gait upon the lagoon wall.
It’s a rippling, calming sound, harks to the artworks of paradise,
and lulls you into thinking that everything is, as ever, fine

How’s life? I’m asked. Exactly the same, and worse off for it. It’s been a fallow year, but the soil is still exhausted. The days they get longer and shorter, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, weakening my resolve every day. I guess they call that aging. I could get my hi-vis on and declare war on the world, but I’d just as soon get tagged and shamed as yet more evidence as to how millennials have ruined the hardworking person. I will live to regret throwing that mouldy avocado at Macron. Where are your manners, Ant?

And I wonder if it’s too late for me to change tack, get a little house on a hillside, and do that which I do best, that which I was trained to do, to stay out of the way.

It was unthinkable that the levees would break,
but the lagoon now begs to be free. Calm no more.

I could spend a bit more time dousing my thoughts with gasoline, and spend my excess wealth on a hardback Crimes of Grindelwald screenplay. I could stan the celebrity who’s out there every day shouting for the end of single-use plastic, live from his tax-haven jet commute that embosses a Godzilla footprint in the Earth’s ragged crust. I could watch Black Mirror every week and talk about it like it’s profound at dinner parties. I could at last get my driving license and spend every moment awake or asleep behind a door, ceding the streets to the vultures and the vulnerable, ever-multiplying both. I could let every year be the wrong year, by doing the right thing.

In any case, it’s just a few silly islands. People should not be living there anyway, on vulnerable volcanic rims jutting ever so delicately above a raging sea. We found the islanders new homes when we nuked their atolls (we did, didn’t we?) we can do it again (DIDN’T WE??)

The trick isn’t working. It cannot fill the spaces in my mind where hope once lay. The fallow year makes my heart tick uncomfortably, as if it’s already too late, as if ghosts of Christmases past are gnawing on my brain, reviewing each and every year one by one and maybe it is too late and the off-ramp is disappearing too fast behind me and my friends and family living and dead who once believed in me whisper
                                                      – you’re a fraud and a failure –
but their voices are fake, just impressions I make, and there is no U-turn for the road is blocked with the detritus of those who wish to delay our lurkinglooming crisis and ineedtocurlupandhidebutalsoletitoutandscream


I juggle my breathing. I’ve got it, I think. One, two, three, four, five – breathe out, tap your shoulder.


I’m ok now. Back to normal. I look around, to check that the coast is clear. I hope nobody saw through that window into how my mind really works. Get your head back down, and carry on, remember to be charming, and remember when people ask how you are to say “good, thanks.”

“And the rain falls on the wrong year, and it won’t leave you alone.”

How the Blazers Got Their Chequers – and other stories

Why do the men’s world cup teams of 2018 look the way they do? Where do their nicknames come from?

I’ll start with England. England wear a red change kit because of a Haitian called Joe Gaetjens.

(Yes I know it’s from the cross of St George, go with me on this).

Until the 1950s England wore blue jerseys when faced with a lilywhite opposition. England traditionally wear white and blue as these were the colours of the FA. Aside from the occasional red sock for a bit of variety, white and blue were the order of the day until one famous afternoon in Belo Horizonte.

The 1950 world cup, England v the USA. The Americans wore white, so the Three Lions put on their familiar blue. The English, in their first world cup and one of the favourites, were widely expected to demolish the team of semi-pros and Sunday leaguers, who drafted in a Scot, a Belgian and the Haitian “Ti-Jo” Gaetjens to strengthen the team.

Gaetjens, from an elite Port-au-Prince family, came to the US in 1947 to study accounting at Columbia, and caught the attention of the US selectors playing for Brookhatten, who took him with them to Brazil. 37 minutes in, and Ti-Jo dived in to deflect a Walter Behr shot into the back of the net. That was enough to defeat England. Oh Spenser St John, Graham Greene, Hesketh-Hesketh Prichard – your boys took a hell of a beating!

After this embarrassment, the accursed blue kit was binned. The next time a change kit was needed, England appeared in their now-fabled lucky red outfit. Of course, England got worse afterwards, and things did not change until The Magical Magyars of Hungary disintegrated England’s defence twice in a row (6-3, 7-1). Fortunately, England were wearing white on those days, so the red shirt was spared the dustbin of history.

Gaetjens returned to Haiti soon afterwards. In 1964, he was arrested on (tenuous) suspicion of anti-Duvalierist activity, and sent to the infamous Fort Dimanche torture camp. It was there he died.

Kazu of Japan, now in blue, 1994

England aren’t the only ones who changed their look for superstitious reasons. Japan used to wear red and white in mimicry of their national flag, like most other countries do. Things went so wrong during the early 90s, that the Japanese went blue. Things got better, and now blue is here to stay, celebrated by their current nickname, the Blue Samurai.

Three Leopards on the Shirt…

England also got their nickname from the FA. The Three Lions adorn the traditional English crest first adopted by the association after its boozy founding in the Freemasons Tavern pub in 1863. The “leopard” as it was known was first used by Henry I, but trebled by Richard the Leopardticker a few decades later, because he had a thing for big cats.

England’s latest nemeses, the Belgians, themselves are the first lot to be known as the Red Devils. Before Salford, and before Man Utd. After a brief dabble with white uniforms, they stuck with red, and after Pierre Walckiers gifted them their luciferian moniker in 1906, the name and the kit were set in stone.

Not to be outdone, the Spanish are known as the “Red Fury” – La furia roja. This is as much a reflection on their traditional style of play as it is their jerseys – a lesson lost on their class of 2018 who suffocated themselves and half of their audience with their centre-passes-to-right-passes-to-centre play. Completing this furious tricolour are yellow and blue. Red and yellow are the Aragonian colours that comprise the flag. I’m not certain where the blue comes from, perhaps from the Castillian shield. But it has to be blue.

Not purple.

Definitely not purple.

Whereas in Britain that colour is associated with royalty, in Spain it has distinct republican connotations, and the Spanish performance was treasonous enough without accusations of wishing to abolish the monarchy.

It’s not purple. Genuinely.

In contrast to Spain’s rigid rules, their conquerers, the Russians, cannot quite decide what suits them best. They are currently on a red, flag-themed number, after dabbling with whites and blues as well as a recent flirtation with the traditional colours of maroon and gold. It’s probably why they keep the nickname simple – “Sbornaya” – or “team”. It’s similar in that way to Die Mannshaft of Germany, or the Melli of Iran. Go team.

Some go even simpler than that – Costa Rica are dubbed Los Ticos, or, “The Costa Ricans,” whereas Iceland go with the loving “our boys,” appropriate for a team that brought 10% of the country with them. Others nickname their teams after their colours. Sweden are known as Blågult or “blue-yellows,” Peru and Poland? They’re both known as the “white and reds.” Argentina? La albiceleste, the blue and whites.

Flag Bearers

Many nicknames and kits reflect or extend the team’s role in nation-building and patriotic excitement. Portugal are the “team of the five” (Seleção das Quinas) reflecting the five shields on the national crest. Serbia’s “White Eagles” follow the lead of the double-headed eagle that came to Serbia from the Byzantine days.

Some teams are less traditional, and are instead monikered as if run by the Tourist Board. Egypt are the Pharaohs – no brains strained on that one. Morocco are the Atlas Lions, adopting that now-regionally extinct creature. Tunisia hark back to Hannibal as the finely-named Eagles of Carthage, and the Koreans represent as the Warriors of Taegeuk, the harmonious symbol that adorns the South Korean flag. Best/Worst in Show would belong to Australia’s Socceroos, were it not for the Canal Men of Panama.

The most obvious way in which football teams are conscripted to fly the flag is by dressing as a flag, further undermining the ridiculous notion that international football has nothing to do with politics. Brazil, The Canaries, they used to wear white too. Once again, their change of outfit was forged in defeat. After the soul withering defeat in the 1950 world cup final to Uruguay at the Maracanã, the plain white-T was deemed insufficiently patriotic, and so a competition was held to design a new kit based on the colours of the flag. The winning entry debuted four years later.

Brazil’s iconic blue change strip came as an accident. In 1958, against Sweden in the final, yellow met yellow, and Brazil had no alternative. The Canaries rushed to the shops and bought a set of blue jerseys, in which they won the cup. In the 1950s, as the world cup and international football rose up within a post-war era of redefining nationalisms, many teams moved towards a more patriotic model. For example, at this time Mexico abandoned their old maroon and blue combo to be dressed as a tricolour.

Brazil 1970
Brazil, at their finest, 1970 – Source: The Guardian

The Green and Gold of the Association Football Kangaroos, to use their full name, was first adopted in 1924 but later ascribed meaning – gold for the beaches, green for the land. In fact, the tradition comes from the decision by Aussie cricketers to wear baggy green caps on tour to England one year.

Some kits are not only an outward expression of nation, but a memory of a moment in time. Uruguay where sky blue in celebration of River Plate FC’s famous victory over the legendary Argentinian side Alumni. In Uruguay, that was a seriously big deal, as the first time a Uruguayan side had conquered the pride of Argentina. In tribute, the national team wore sky blue shirts that mimicked River Plate’s change kit that day.

Colombia, the “coffee growers,” before finally turning patriotic, have often flattered the great teams of their age with mimicry. In 1938 they donned sky blue in honour of Uruguay and Argentina. In the 70s, the went Dutch Orange.


Peru’s adored red sash is a piece of cultural history. It is said to be inspired by Peruvian schoolboy football, where so many teams once wore white that the away team would wear sashes over their kits to identify each other.

Despite the unimaginative nature of a great many team nicknames, some bring joy. Denmark became known as the Danish Dynamite in honour of their spine-tingling ’80s vintage, whilst Switzerland exude cool arrogance with their moniker, the A-Team. Nigeria, once the Green Eagles, renamed themselves the Super Eagles after a painful defeat to Cameroon in the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations Final, to give the team that extra edge.

By far my favourite nickname belongs to Senegal, the Lions of Teranga. It’s a title that stretches beyond simple nationalism into culture and the collective spirit that marks the best of international football. Teranga, a Wolof word, reflects hospitality, giving, caring and looking out for one another. Cisse’s lions accordingly look after one another, and reflect grace in victory and in defeat.

France v Croatia, 1998

I’ll end, then, with the two finalists. France’s blue kit originates from the old days when they were another walking flag, and their name, Les Blues, naturally comes from that. Adorning their crest is the Coq Gallois, that roosting symbol of French sport. It is an ancient French symbol, restored during the revolution, to mark the daily triumph of light over dark. This was, of course, absolutely, 1000% the inspiration behind Griezmann’s celebration as he put France 2-1 up.

The Croatian Blazers also come tricoloured, but with a twist. I’ve no idea why they are called the Blazers, but their infamous chequerboard design originates from the crest on the flag. Upon its advent as an independent nation, the new Croatian football team eskewed traditional kit design and brought the šahovnica, the chessboard, to the fore, so they could stand out as different. And although the Croatians fell short in their first world cup final today, they have certainly stood out.

After the Windrush

Let’s start somewhere in the middle.

Why is it the “Windrush scandal?” We’ll get to the scandal part in a bit.

First Windrush.

                        The boat that brought the black people.

They reckon there weren’t any before then. For sure, these boats carried black people in their crowded hundreds, but they were largely deposited at the slave auctions in the New World, if dysentery, mutiny or cruelty did not lead to their weighting and drowning. The boats themselves, they returned to England full of something much more valuable. Cotton, tobacco, indigo, sugar.

That’s where the story ends, the final page in the old school textbook. Back when I was there it was mandatory to turn and study all of those pages, but its only optional now. It’s now only national lore that gives black people their place on this island. And that starts with Windrush.

But there were some black people on those early boats too. They came with the goods, some came as goods, and these people were keystones in the building of Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol – cities constructed with the capital extracted and extorted out of the muscles and bones of their friends, families, enemies and rivals. The differences didn’t matter anymore, they were now just one category, whilst the sugar came in a thousand shades of grey.

We’re still a commodity, something to be weighed, measured, and calculated.

I’m one-quarter sugar,

one-quarter tea.

The rest had its own local hardships, but they can be rubbed out.

The malaise of national erasure does the first part of the job nicely. You weren’t even here, how could you possibly be British? The longer your family has worked, shopped and bred here, the further away you are.

Shhhh! Even if you are one of the good ones.

Know about James Peters? He was the first black England international, in 1906. Rugby union of all sports. Never heard of him? He was better known as “Darkie” Peters. Unfortunately he was forced out (and eventually banned), as England sought to save face against the Springboks. Peters was forgotten everywhere outside of Barrow and Saint Helens. Gone.

Never mind them, they’re now with the ages. Their descendants are now sunk into descended from Windrush, who are descended from slaves, from far away colonies.

It’s these old Caribbeans who are being depatriated now.

And the onlookers shout –

You can’t deport them they are already citizens!

How do you mean, citizens?

What was the Caribbean to the Empire?

It was no extension of British soil. The French claimed their possessions were part of France, they still do, but ils portent des oeillieres. The British rarely held such pretensions. The islands were at best off-shore assets for absentees. For those who went west, they were sandboxes of sadism for sweetness and rum. Thomas Picton could do what he wanted to Louisa Calderon – he was British in a land held to no such standard, she had rights only when it suited the Pictons of the world.

Meanwhile…Enoch Powell needs “rescuing” from the dust of the past, so his Rivers of Blood will flow in full on the radio for the first time since it was spoken. They think it needs resurfacing to understand the present day, to understand Brexit. Such things came as a shock to those who viewed Britain as “past” all of those things – or worse, as a completely different entity nowadays, a different nation entirely.

This is the different Britain that announced itself to the world stage in the 2012 Olympics, a gleeful and moving retelling of Britain from below, a celebration of the unsung heroes in the making of the modern nation, and at the heart of it all, were the Windrush Generation. Boyle’s ceremony told an important story, and stirred the hearts of a nation about to embrace the greatest sporting festival there is, but it was a story told in a sparkling, ridiculously priced stadium, surrounded by luxury flats and mighty shopping centres, amidst a London neighbourhood wrenched by poverty. It is a story that played into the myth of modern liberal Britain, the same place where I would be told, repeatedly, that there’s a sea change in racial attitudes because a British prince has married a mixed-race American woman. AFTER Windrush.

Within the history of this myth there is no space for those with black blood between 1807 and 1948.

There is no room for the fate of Louisa Calderon, she no longer exists. Picton’s abuse subsumed her twice, first in person, and then in the redactions of history. There are no longer black soldiers in the Great War. It is too late, perhaps, to remind everyone of Walter Tull, for his feats in war already seem fantastical in the minds of too many.

Why must black Britain always leap between these historical boundaries? Why do we stop at 1807, when an Act of Parliament stopped the (legal) trafficking? What is the first name that comes into your head when you think of that moment?

Wilberforce perhaps?

We were once taught at school (when it was required learning) that the slave trade was ceased [redacted] after a crescendo of activism in British political circles. And then the lessons stopped.

Why opinion changed at that moment in time has very much more to with events in the Caribbean than in the corridors of power. Haiti’s triumph over all the armies of Europe had chilled the sugar barons to their very core, and changed the hearts of their metropolitan financiers. The will to persevere with the trade was wounded.

Meanwhile, slavery continued.


The trade continued, just not under the British flag. The USA already had a reproducing population of slaves (the utter misery of those words), and, in any case, British attention now looked to the sunrise, beyond which lay new lands and people to mine and pillage. France largely withdrew from the Americas, flogging the lands west of the Mississippi to Jefferson, whose faith and indulgence in the peculiar institution still flourished. The Spanish rushed in to fill the Haiti-shaped hole in the sugar market, and Cuba boomed as the human cargo clogged the market.

The British finally ended slavery in the colonies in 1837, as the issues and rebels set in motion by Haiti continued to chip away at the shackles. On the islands, as elsewhere, emancipation did not mean freedom. Slavery was ended pre-emptively on the terms of the landowners, piece by piece, grounding many to the lands that had bound them, and ensuring there was little opportunity for the pursuit of a different life.

For more than a century, the black Caribbean, although no longer a slave, could still not call as their own the island they stood on, the island that their ancestors had been removed to, their home. Except in Haiti. There, Dessalines had returned to the island its old name, to claim by right that land as a place of black freedom, earned through their avenging of the Americas (although some things, dare we romanticise too blindly, are easier said that done).

Within this history, with all of its denial, erasure and contradiction, any freedom to reside as anything close to equal has always been conditional – as a gift, or a concession – never a right. The love bestowed to the Windrush Generation by the Danny Boyles of the world was earned by the “contribution” made to post-war British life (as if nothing had been given before). The freedom from shackles was a hollowed hulk of a concession, granted only by the Empire as one half of a deal, wherein the slave-owners were paid handsomely for each slave they “lost” in the mass manumission. Freedom was a commodity, just part of a quid pro quo.

The Hostile Environment recognises this, as it strips our grandparents of their legal identity to reside as British, as it tears Britain away from any complicity or guilt toward its colonial past. The national blank spot as to the existence of black British people before 1948 legitimates the expulsion as “immigration policy”. for enacting this policy.

And it’s boosted more by the policing of cultural identity, for when you are descended from Empire, its very tricky to be accepted as British without variation. Gruesome Tebbit tests ignore how cricket was/is a beautiful vestige of self-discovery for Indians, Windians and Pakistanis, and instead places all the onus on “failure to integrate” on generations and generations of imperial descendants as if, like in the Opening Ceremony, we were always welcomed with open arms. Please, brown kids, support our (significantly South African) national side, or else we send your granddad back to Jamaica.

That’s the crux of it, the message it sends – it’s cultural blackmail. Legal identity now confirms what cultural identity has decreed, as those who know way more about it than us have explained. You’d better be #British as hell, make all your phone calls from red telephone boxes, watch every second of the royal wedding, and slather the union flag all over your Last Night of the Proms party, or we’ll make you feel even less welcome. You were born here, after all, start acting like it. It’s another reminder that citizenship is not consistent, and nor is it permanent. Those who cry “citizenship!” in defence of The Expelled cannot know what’s really going on.

There ain’t no asylum here.

I have on occasion been asked about “blending in” – whether I should use my lighter-skinned privilege to pretend I’m Spanish or a dark Celt who’s just returned from chilling in the desert for a while, or something like that.

Truth is, for the most part, the idea I have a choice in the matter is a fiction. If somebody assumes I am One of the Good Ones for whatever reason (usually my false-posh accent), then challenging that (and I always do) does little to change their feeling toward me. If somebody assumes I am [pick your prejudice] the same pattern plays out. WE fits with me because, as much as my passport, my name, my accent, and my lighter skin make my path through British life easier, I have been made to feel this way – I did not choose it. Conditioned to feel different, uncanny, misshapen, a burr on a smooth. It makes me part of the immigrant struggle even if I cannot relate to it in any way in the present, because it is part of my past.

And this is why I am not in any way surprised that, in spite of all the bluster and outrage, nobody really cares about the Windrush scandal. I am deflated, but unsurprised that it did not even cause a flutter in the government’s approval ratings. The same way that I am deflated, but unsurprised that nobody really cared about Oxfam’s sex extortion in Haiti, in the long run. The same way I am deflated, but unsurprised, that the outrage over Grenfell has petered out. The same way I am deflated, but unsurprised about the outspoken xenophobia of the age. It’s nothing new, but has recently rediscovered its wolf’s clothing.

It’s that which makes me feel trapped between those that believe in a Britain that never was, and those that believe in a Britain that will never come to pass.

Fire on Ice (30th Anniversary Edition)

Let’s start with Clive Lloyd.

Big C, The Guyanan leader, who in 1976 took his team of Caribbean cricketers to a scorching England. Tony Greig wanted to “make them grovel,” put them in their place, expecting to be met with the flamboyant, futile “Calypso cricket” caricature of the Windies team. Instead came Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Gordon Greenidge, a drilled athleticism and an anti-colonial fire. They dominated the world.

Let’s now talk about Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. The reggae stars who strummed and wailed the soundtrack of ’76. Marley and Richards ran into each other in London that year, and were in awe of one another, united by their mission to show the planet the fire and the passion and the brilliance of the Caribbean.

There are countless others, in music, sport and elsewhere, who have taken Caribbean culture across the globe and forced people to stop, take note – take it seriously – and be moved. Grace Jones, Arthur Lewis, Usain Bolt, Merlene Ottey, Brian Lara, Stafanie Taylor.

Let’s now talk about the Jamaican Bobsled team. Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris, Chris Stokes, Michael White. They are part of this. This is their story. It is not “the real Cool Runnings,” because the story is so much bigger than that, and because the film itself plays a big role in this tale.

This is Fire on Ice.

The Stakes

We all know this story. At least we think we do – of the Winter Olympians who’d never even been on ice before. The bobsled team had more to avoid the embarrassment and subsequent misery risked by the Olympic underdog – the fate suffered by that other Calgary hero, Eddie the Eagle, who was banned from competing again after the Games. The Jamaicans, however, had also to fight the aged, libellous “Calypso” portrayal of Caribbean people as fun-loving and casual, incapable of brilliance and with a culture borrowed from elsewhere.

This attitude was centuries old. It was rooted in the white masters who saw their slaves as docile, in the blackfaced Uncle Toms of the American theatres past, in Songs of the South, and in the academic dismissal of Caribbean culture as inauthentic, impure. Marley and Lloyd fought constantly against the tame (unthreatening) Caribbean marketed to white tourists and consumers, reminding the world that the islands were full of rebels, innovators and freedom fighters – no sideshow. So too did this task fall to the bobsledders, vulnerable to ridicule just for daring to slide.

The stakes were high. It was not the taking part that mattered, it was the competing.


The Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation was founded by two US businessmen in Jamaica, George Fitch and William Maloney. They saw the talent of the Jamaican sprinters and the skill of the drivers in the pushcart derby, and envisaged the whole thing on ice. They got a team together. Helicopter pilot Dudley Stokes was to drive the sled, with Michael White as brakeman. Devon Harris and Chris Stokes made up the four-man, with electrician Frederick Powell in reserve.


Unlike in Cool Runnings, the team were able to practice on ice before the Games, training at Lake Placid. However, they arrived in Canada with dreadful equipment, no money, and no confidence – three very important things in bobsleigh.

The team got fundraising quickly, selling t-shirts, merch, and even an official song. Hobbin’ and a Bobbin’, sung by Powell, and hit Canada hard. The track skidded hard into the herby stereotypes of Jamaica, subversive as hell, selling the lie to fund the fire. But it was a risky ploy, as it gave their onlookers too much credit.

The team started in the two-man, with Stokes and White taking to the track under the strict gaze of media mockery. The (more-sympathetic) LA Times aptly summed up the attitude.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Jamaicans do not belong on bobsleds, they belong on the beach. At least that’s the common perception.”

The attention, the reggae and the flamboyant PR overlooked the achievements of reaching Calgary and competing. Fastforward to day 1 of the four-man, 27th February 1988, and Stokes, White, Harris and Chris Stokes slid down the track without a hitch, remaining focused amidst the media storm.

Cool Runnings gave the team a nemesis – the nasty East Germans (communist, formerly-Nazi and no longer existing – the perfect Hollywood bad guys). However, the other athletes supported the team, knowing as they did the difficulties and dangers of bobsleigh. Jamaica’s biggest threat came from the Fédération International de Bobsleigh et de Tabogganing (FITB), who feared the team would embarrass the sport.

And it seemed that the FITB would get their wish, after Dudley Stokes lost control and crashed the sled on day 2. Forget the Hollywood finale for a second – the applause was sporadic, the sled was carried off by some anonymous maintenance staff, and the media consumed their perfect Calypso Conclusion to their side show.


That was that, then, it seemed. The team, broke, were not done yet. Nor was Fitch, who continued working with them for four more years.

“The team members saw themselves as athletes; not as showmen”

They continued to work hard, and proved to fundraisers and the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation that they were worth supporting to Albertville 1992 and beyond. As Lillehammer 1994 approached, they were a force to be reckoned with.

The year before, Cool Runnings came out – the film that shaped how most of us remember Calgary. Sure, it’s full of Calypso imagery – sprinters running on a dirt track in the National Championships (remember this is Jamaica, world leaders in track and field), and all the fish-out-of-water antics.

That, however, is not the point of the film, and nor is it why it is significant. Cool Runnings is a story of four highly-trained sprinters who learn how to slide the bobsleigh, and slide it well, by “feelin’ the rhythm” of Jamaica, by being true to themselves. And they proved everybody wrong.

Nor does it matter that the four-man crashed due to pilot error (and not mechanical failure as in the film), and it doesn’t matter that they were not on world record pace when it happened. What mattered is that it changed completely how Calgary was remembered – the team was no longer seen as a freak show, an anomaly, like Eddie the Eagle (who had to wait another 20 years for his film), but they were that team from the tropics that could conquer the ice with the fire in their bellies and the skill in their bones.


Oh, and in Lillehammer they were the equal of anyone. As Bob Marley sits on nearly every playlist in the West, and as modern cricket mourns the loss of the uncompromising brilliance of Lloyd and Richards’ dominators, so too is Jamaican bobsleigh known for pioneering, and overachievement.

In Lillehammer they came 14th – the 14th best sled in the world, and they beat the USA.

“If we were the jokers, and we had beaten America, what was America?”

21st Century Pioneers

The Jamaican bobsleigh team, had persevered, survived, and flourished. In Salt Lake City, 2002, Winston Watt and Lascelles Brown broke the start record for the two-man bob.

Sadly, it took twelve years for the Jamaican team to return to the ice – now crowdfunded by everybody who feels the Winter Games needs the Jamaican bobsleigh team. Yes, the media once again went wild with Calypso imagery, and were not without disparaging voices. A BBC commentator at Sochi spectacularly missed the point, moodily noting that “they weren’t even the highest placed Caribbean team in Calgary” (that was in the two man, beaten by the Netherlands Antilles. In the four they crashed).

Who cares, they qualified by right to Sochi, slid, and competed in the two man, piloted once more by Winston Watt. His old partner in crime, Lascelles Brown, is now a two-time medallist, having taken Canadian citizenship in 2005.

Antonette Gorman and Captain Judith Blackwood then took the baton and started a women’s team. Portia Morgan and Jennifer Cole went further and took a sled to the World Cup Series, and in 2018, Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian arrived to Pyeongchang to drive the sled in the two-woman bob, backed by brakewoman Carrie Russell.

The first Jamaican women’s sled at the Games was dogged by familiar problems of funding and equipment. Their coach, Sandra Kiriasis, quit a week before the competition started, and took her sled with her! The women were now in Korea without equipment, before beer company Red Stipe stepped in and bought it off Kiriasis for the team to use. “Cool Runnings II” everybody shouted. But Red Stripe know something (and aim to profit heavily off it) – the world needs the Jamaican bobsleigh team.


It’s about representation. The Jamaican bobsleigh team is about, in the words of Fenlator-Victorian, “breaking barriers.”

“It’s important to me that little girls and boys see someone that looks like them – talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, has brown skin – included in different things in this world.”

They finished 19th. Sliding alongside them were the Nigerian team – the first African bobsled team. On the top of the roster stood American Vonetta Flowers, the first black gold medallist at the Winter Olympics, sliding down the hill with Jill Bakken.

This is the legacy of the Calgary sliders, and all those who have followed them over the last thirty years. The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team are audacious representatives of black ability in unfamiliar territory, and undoubtedly part of the lineage of Marley and Lloyd, and beyond to Toussaint and Dessalines. People who get the world to stop, look up, and take the Caribbean very seriously. They are trailblazers – they are fire on ice – and in 2018, that fire is spreading.

This is an updated post of my 2014 post Fire on Ice: The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team and the Art of Being Taken Seriously

“My Homer is not a Communist”


A fine Mahoke to you all.

Yesterday, Ted Cruz decided to join in with a game many Simpsons nerds have played the years, and assign political affiliation to America’s favourite family. But I think he’s been watching it wrong.

With the exception of Lisa, he reckons the Simpsons are all Republicans. Even Maggie, who has yet to speak.

(Looks like those clowns in Congress have done it again. What a bunch of clowns)

Yes, a family that infamously met the ire of Bush Senior, who implored the moral majority to be “More like the Waltons, and less like the Simpsons.”

As The Simpsons, still running, is now widely considered “zombified,” perhaps it is another case where the dead have risen and are voting Republican.

The Republicans are no strangers to fiction, but Cruz’s claim has been met with ire by many Simpsons celebrities, from Yeardley Smith (Lisa), to Bill Oakley (co-showrunner during its greatest era). I think it would be worthwhile, and quite fun, to delve into the classic era to test this claim.

Let’s start with the one he got right,


Yeah, she’d be a Democrat. Aside from her brief flirtation with religious zeal when opposing Homer’s free cable, Lisa has championed progressive causes, from the environment to women’s rights. And, unlike Cruz’s mates, when Lisa goes to Washington and sees corruption rampant, she is serious about taking it down. If you’re in any doubt, revisit her joy at finding a copy of Al Gore’s magnum opus, Sane Planning, Sensible Tomorrow.


Yeah, on the surface Homer might seem like he leans Republican. I’m pretty sure he would approve wholeheartedly of Cruz’s cooking-bacon-with-a-firearm technique. He also shows himself suspicious of homosexuality and susceptible to the rantings of Limbaugh-clone Birch Barlow. Yet, when the Republican Sideshow Bob runs for mayor, Homer finds himself a swing voter, torn between his Bart killing policy and his Selma killing policy.

Homer, an uninhibited consumer, is bought over by retail politics more often than not – when Burns is running for Governor, Homer backs him more for personal gain from his boss’s success over anything else.

Much of Springfield is the same. In Bob’s run for office, he wins over the old with the Matlock Expressway (MAAAAAAATLOOOOOCCK), and the young with his clowning. The rest was advertising power, and Springfield were swayed – only Bart and Lisa remain sceptical, based on their previous dealings with Bob. Consequently, they endorsed disgraced Democrat Diamond Joe Quimby, with all the gusto of a Bernie bro at a Clinton rally.

Homer is a reactive soul – he’s quite happy with his hi-fi, his boob tube, and his pizza pie. He’s no activist, and he’s usually roped in to causes. But in the Classic Era at least, he’s got a good heart, and is often won over by friends and family (especially Lisa), fighting to expose the crimes of founding father Jebediah Springfield (the Dastard!), leading successful strike action to keep the plant worker’s dental plan, and taking down Springfield’s No. 1 Cat Burglar among others.

Remember how Homer became Safety Inspector at the plant? He led a Health and Safety crusade and campaigned to regulate the nuculer industry.

Besides, Homer is a communist sympathiser.



Poor Bart, his hero and his arch-nemesis are both Republicans. Must be confusing – no wonder he’s an anarchist.



Marge is conservative with a very small c. Yes, she is Springfield’s vox pop for the Moral Majority, and has been outspoken against cartoon violence, burlesque, and the decline of faith in the community. However, she is as much interested in civic issues as she is fighting the culture war. When Main Street was all cracked and broken, there was Marge. When Moe had lost the will to live, there was Marge.

Marge is a community champion, and when she is locked up for a month, Springfield descends into malaise.

Marge likes a pragmatic, no frills politician, like Governor Mary Bailey. She certainly would not be won over by the brash and bluster of an overblown businessman running for office for personal gain. She does not buy snake oil.



When Mr Burns is maintaining his monopoly, blocking out the sun, and stealing candy from babies, Maggie stops him with lethal force. Some might say she is exercising her second amendment rights, but others might argue that she engaged in armed resistance to protect the people of Springfield against the excesses of late capitalism.

Or, she’s a baby with a gun. What did you think would happen?



Look Ted, Springfield is an American symbol. It stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, encompassing rugged mountains and great rivers, deserts and prairies. It holds everything America has to offer. The classic Simpsons do not represent parties, they hold up the mirror.

Sadly the Republican Party goes beyond a joke these days. Bob’s “no children have ever meddled with the Republican Party…” threat is now chilling when paired with recent reactions to the defiant yoiung survivors of the latest American mass murder. The next time somebody promises to lower taxes, brutalise criminals, and rule you like a king, heed the warnings of Les Wynen. Maybe then we can recommence our twirl toward freedom. And if Trump and Cruz go again in 2020, for Springfield’s sake, back this more impressive Republican for a primary challenge.

A huge thank you to Frinkiac