Mixed Messaging

drawing, words

We’re staring at a huge environmental crisis, we are told every day by the media. 

If we don’t reduce carbon emissions drastically, the world is going to be unliveable in a few decades, they tell us. 

Micro plastics are now found in human blood, not just in turtles a long way away, so we must give up plastic, today, they inform us. 

Recycle or you are a bad person, etc., etc., etc., etc. 

Whatever is happening to the world’s climate, it is happening, and whether or not we humans have been the main cause of it or not, well, I don’t really care. It shouldn’t really matter. Things are changing, species are dying, and there are things that we could do to help make it a nicer place to live for everyone. 

Pumping the atmosphere with carbon while cutting down forests is a stupid thing to do. Killing turtles with micro-plastics in their blood and macro-plastic bags wrapped around their guts is cruel and ugly. Flushing your toilet with drinkable water when so many people in the world have no access to any within kilometres is really quite vile. 

So, the media tell us every waking moment that we must do all the things to turn it around, and to be virtuous. 

The corporations are doing that too, telling US to be good humans, just like they are trying to be good humans and saving the planet, but, like with so many other things, what they’re doing is just virtue signalling bullshit. 

They know the power of marketing, and how messaging gets into our stupid people brains, so whatever lip service they pay to helping the environment: 

  • they tell you that you need a car to be groovy. It can be a brand new electric car. It doesn’t matter how much water, electricity, carbon, plastic goes into the MILLIONS of new cars that are being built, it’s electric so it’s all cool. 
  • they tell you that your hair needs to be shiny as all hell, and here’s yet another new invention to make your hair shinier than it was yesterday. Huge plastic bottles of gunk to put on your hair, an excretion of your body. 
  • they tell you that you and your clothes need to smell fresh (a.k.a. smell of perfume) at all hours of the day, and that you must use vast amounts of drinking water every day and more huge plastic bottles to achieve this. If you lived before the 1990s, you should know that it is quite possible to live without being scrubbed clean morning and night. 
  • they tell you that this new range of clothes is made out of recycled plastic water bottles, for clothes you don’t need to buy and water you could have drunk from the tap. And who knows how much more carbon and water went into the recycling. 
  • they tell us to eat ever more takeaway food that needs to packaged in huge quantities of plastic and cardboard, and that it is our god-given right to fly wherever we want to whenever we want to, and to disinfect our house to within an inch of its biosphere life with chemicals and even more drinking water. 

Then they tell US to recycle all the plastic and cardboard and glass that we have bought wrapped around all the products we buy to live a modern life that we believe we have a right to do, to live a life unsullied by dirt and smells (because what would the neighbours think?), while we look pretty. 

No wonder people don’t really believe, deep down, that the climate is changing. 

Every subliminal message out there is telling them that everything’s FINE, because if we were really in a crisis, shiny hair would be the least of our problems. 

Anyone else?

drawing, words

Every time I see people proclaiming that there’s no such thing as cancel culture I feel like losing my shit quite loudly at them. But I don’t. I self-censor, and then I retweet the cartoon below.

I find myself self-censoring quite a lot these days, and end up being so anodyne that I bore even myself and I’m hard to bore, I am extremely easily entertained.

I keep schtum about several topics because, every day, I see what happens to people, especially women, who say… well, it could be anything these days.

The thing about important ideas (such as the concept of freedom of speech itself) is that we can’t take them for granted, and we have to keep discussing them, as society changes, as history changes, as the world staggers from one crisis to another, and we have to keep being ABLE to discuss them.

If we don’t, if people can scare us out of discussing important ideas and facts, then those important ideas and facts can and will be taken from us. Even mentioning that one is fiercely pro freedom of expression these days can lead to finger pointing and shaming.

And, I’m ashamed to admit it, they scare me out of discussing many subjects.

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of imagination to see the policing of speech this decade becoming law in the next, and then it takes just one actually evil, narcissist, sociopathic leader with more than Eton Mess for brains to use that to their advantage.

Stop shutting people down, people.

no frills are the best frills


First meal out in a weekend full of treating ourselves because we are both a year older within a few days of each other.

We were in a proper old school high-ceilinged cervejaria-marisqueira. The decor hasn’t been changed since the 80s. Painted white above shoulder height, below this all high contrast polished granite wall tiles with black edging, nondescript tiled floor, black tubular steel chairs and wooden tables with paper tablecloths. There’s a clock, a few bad paintings of fishing scenes, big windows looking out to the water. There’s nothing to cut the echo in the huge room except the human bodies. The tableware is all stainless steel and thick white crockery, and the cheapest white paper napkins given to us in a pile, because we’re eating crab and we’re going to need many.

The front of house staff are all men, although in this kind of establishment saying “front of house” seems out of place and hipsterish. They range in age from mid twenties to late sixties, all dressed in black trousers and white shirt, with a small apron if they feel like it, except the boss who is dressed in civvies, a checked shirt and jeans. From the staff you never know if you’re going to get old school nonchalance or old school “I hate you from the base of my very soul” with an occasional sly smile, both of which are properly traditional.

This is my idea of heaven. There is no asking if everything is alright every two minutes, there is no explaining the chef’s concept, there is good beer and and good wine, and less good wine if you buy it in a jug. Nobody in there is looking at you to see if you are the right sort of person. Everybody is in there to eat a meal with their family and friends.

The best thing about Portuguese eating out is not the esplanadas, nor the weather, nor the decor, nor any fancypants food that has been reinvented as Portuguese cuisine.

It’s ONLY about eating good simple food with people. A plate of clams with no more than 3 ingredients, a huge crab boiled, cracked open and dressed, paying the bill when you’re good and ready, and praying that it doesn’t get worked over by a new owner any day now.

A note about The English

drawing, words

When you live in forrin, i.e. somewhere that is not the British Isles, and somebody inevitably notices that you are British when you open your mouth (and no, Americans, not because of our teeth, that obnoxious trope was already old in the 1970s… find something less vapid to mock us for, please, thanks), they will have an idea about you instantly. We all do it, about every nationality we have even the vaguest idea about, but the British, like the French, the Americans, the Italians, bring a whole swathe of stereotypes to mind in people all across the globe (for obvious nasty nasty colonialist and then cultural reasons). 

The British on holiday

Here, in Portugal, some will spread their bets and say “oh, you’re British?” but most will go straight for “oh, you’re English!” and if you can’t counter with “no, I’m Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish actually”, you’re done for and tarnished with all the famous traits of the English, good and bad, until you can prove otherwise. It is unlikely you will have time to do this if you’re in the back of an Uber… although I try. 

If you are fortunate enough to be able to say that you are Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish, the foreigner has less information to go on, and may even feel an instantaneous and slight empathy with you for being one of the oppressed (by the English). However, you are still British, so you are still a little bit coloniallistish. There is one thing going for you, though, you are not English. 

What do people think we are? The following is a list of all the things I have been informed of, about us over the years: 

Formal, arrogant, cold, repressed, clever, educated, civilised to a fault, class-obsessed, have no interest in food and certainly can’t cook, drunk all the time, boring, brilliant, colonialist, uncaring, not empathetic, unsexy, sickly, funny, sarcastic. All true, all false. 

 The English ARE awful. We are. No really, we are. Especially when abroad. We behave badly, we look down or askance at everything that we don’t like, but hold onto and obsess about and appropriate the things we like or approve of. 

We are irritating, but it’s not entirely our fault. 

 It took me a year or two of living in forrin, sitting at home, alone with two tiny babies and an awful lot of time free in my head to think about things, and one day, it struck me. 

 We English are awful because we have a feeling. Not a thought, because as soon as you think about it, it is obviously ridiculous, but a feeling. The feeling is that we are THE DEFAULT of everything. 

We are often accused of having a superiority complex, but I don’t think that’s what it is. Obviously, yes, there are some right twonks who go round the world genuinely feeling that their Englishness actually makes them better, but they are twonks, they wear red trousers and panama hats and we must just ignore them… in everything, until they go away. 

It’s not a general superiority complex, because we often feel embarrassed or inferior about ourselves too. 

We are the default of everything, because everything we do and see in forrin is compared to our versions, because we have a feeling that we started everything. 

 Why? Because a few centuries of history, our culture, our education and pretty much everything in our day to day has told us this. 

 I never felt British or English until I left, until I set foot in forrin and stayed for a while. I was being the full English. I looked at everything as if it was weird, silly, sweet, wrong, mad. Not just in Portugal, but everywhere. In every country I’ve ever visited, it was all a bit odd and not quite… English. 

 I realised that, deep down in my idiot brain, I felt, not thought, that the Portuguese are the Portuguese version of us. The Americans are the American version of us (which to a teensy teensy extent, is true, if you go back about 400 years). The French are the French kind, the Greeks are the Greek kind, etc., etc., etc. The Portuguese build houses like they do, because they are doing it our way but for hot weather, the Americans eat so much junk because they added a shit load of sugar and salt and mayonnaise to our bland food, the French do everything to prove that they are better than us, and that if we didn’t exist, the French wouldn’t try so hard. 

 I know, it sounds idiotic. 

 I can’t speak for the last 20 years in Britain, because I wasn’t there, but in the 30 years between being born in England and leaving it, everything pointed towards us being the default, or the origin, of everything human. 

 If you didn’t pay too much attention, we invented everything. We invented science (we didn’t), we invented cars (we didn’t), we invented flying (we didn’t), we invented telephones (we didn’t) we invented electric light (we didn’t), we invented golf (we didn’t), we invented trains (we did that one), and discovered pretty much everything else (we didn’t).

 History in school was almost all about us. We did (and won) the wars, we did the industrial revolution and if it weren’t for us, the world would still be making garments for the mega rich by candle light, and living by our wits and turnips. All the stuff the Americans did that was good, was by extension, done by us, because we caused America, things like getting to the moon. When they did bad things, it was because they had lost their way, like a child, in the 18th century when they left the fold and revolted. The history of monarchies almost always centred on our own, and it is still amazing to people that our royal family is recently descended from the same bunch of aristos all over Europe. 

Still we believe that ours is THE royal family, that we do monarchy properly (even republicans) and the others are minor cousins who had the misfortune to be married off or born to the wrong branch. 

 This feeling is aided in huge part by the fact that the English language has steadily taken over from all other languages as the world’s lingua franca, especially in the last century. In Portugal, English wasn’t the second language taught in schools, it was French. Now, every toddler has at least some English words in its vocabulary. Most events on an international scale have English as the first language. The fact that William bloomin’ Shakespeare was English hasn’t helped, even though most English people today would struggle to understand what on earth he was on about without having it explained, ad nauseam, in school. Anything in a foreign language was, until very recently, translated or dubbed into English. Only the very highfalutin would be able to read Cervantes in the original 16th C Spanish and Camões, who’s he? The very idea that Hergé, or Goscinny and Uderzo were being exciting or funny in French was hard to believe. What incredible luck that Idéfix happened to be a dog, so we thought the joke was ours. 

 Places in the world that had nothing to do with us got English or anglicised names, because we couldn’t pronounce them. The Magellan Strait, discovered by some fella called Ferdinand Magellan. Who the hell was Magellan? Fernão de Magalhães, you mean. FER-NOWNG de MAGA-LYAINGS… its not that hard. 

I mostly blame the Victorians, because they were hellbent on changing the world and had an extraordinary gift for looking down on pretty much everything. Except fossils. They liked fossils. 

When I explain this theory (for it is only a theory, and unprovable at that) to English people who have never lived in forrin, they think I have lost my mind. When I explain this to English people who have, they also think I have lost my mind, but sometimes I see a tiny spark of recognition. 

This is a poster I made in 2004 for British-spotters, when the football thing was in Portugal, and Portugal received an influx of tourists as a kind of prequel to today. 

All this to say, when someone English is acting like a twat in forrin, try to forgive them just a little bit, they know not exactly what they do. 

At the zoo

drawing, words

This is a note about the whole tourism thing.
I’m in the middle of a (hopefully huge) set of cartoons (see the post before this one) about tourism (and the new wave of wealthy migrants to Portugal, mostly from the US, UK and France) and I talk a bit about in our radio show (Antídoto, Antena 1, with my new pals Catarina Carvalho and Dora Santos Silva, in which we talk about STUFF), and I guess some people think I hate tourism and hate the wealthy western incomers.

Well, that would be some A-grade hypocrisy on my part if that were true, seeing as I am a great big foreigner myself.

I’ve never really been much of a tourist, so I find it hard to understand the desperate need to travel all over the world seeing, eating and photographing everything, but I think I’m the odd one out. Most people with any means, it seems to me, HAVE to get to see everywhere in a mad rush before they die.

Therefore, I see tourism from an outsider’s view, a bit like I see most things.

And what I see are two main things going on in Portugal (and everywhere else that suffers mass tourism, but the only place I live in and know is Portugal).

1. Tourists, while many are lovely, and respectful, and interested people, many are not. Therefore, I take the piss out of them. Wildly. I always have (as I take the piss out of almost everything in the world. It’s my raison d’être), and even the nice tourists will have the piss taken out of them by me, because even though they’re not evil, their behaviour is amusing (see above).

Tourists’ awfulness often relates to their nationality. The British are awful in their own way, the Americans, theirs, the French, theirs, the Spanish, etc., etc., etc. and sometimes it’s just universal awfulness.

I’m not expecting tourists to know anything about Portugal or the Portuguese, but of the people who move definitively to Lisbon I expect more. They move because they think it’s lovely and sunny and cheap and pretty (if you look in the right direction) and that’s… lovely, but are they becoming part of the community? Are they treating the Portuguese with respect? Are they learning the language? Or are they making the city change to suit their idea of what Lisbon is and forgetting that there are people being priced out of the city? My main beef is the language thing.

Please, learn the language beyond “Uma bica, se faz favor”. The rest might follow.

2. The Portuguese refuse to say no to any behaviour, any request, any demand that foreigners, especially from the West, let’s say, put to them.

I never see anyone removing stag or hen parties from their premises, even when they are visibly upsetting other people, or filling up the pavement around a esplanada. When people fill the pavements with wheelie suitcases, four abreast, making it impossible to get past on one’s way to work, nobody says a thing (except me). Being overly drunk, rude, shouting instructions in English (mostly by the English, obvs), being arrogant, blocking the way all over the place, all these things are just let past. Why?

Stand up to them and they’ll respect you more.

I’m not against change… I bloody LOVE change. But I see a lot of people behaving badly on their holidays and I see a lot of Portuguese being pushed around, and maybe the worst thing, I see a city being modified in a way to suit only the foreigners… and the city forgets, THE FOREIGNERS WON’T ALWAYS BE HERE IN THESE NUMBERS (because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world CAN change, on a dime, overnight, and this will end, one day).