From Uncle Ben to James Bond…

I found myself cursing Uncle Ben’s yesterday. Not because of the news that they’re about to undergo a name change. I’d bought their Spicy Mexican rice not realising that I wanted “Mexican-style” rice. The difference is sweetcorn, a substance that was put on this earth simply to torture me. I’m not sure why it exists and I’m even more confused why anybody would put it in a food. The insides are pure statch but the husk is indigestible. The native Americans used to process the stuff by soaking it in alkaline water. That’s called ‘nixtamalization’ and makes the stuff easier to digest but most of the time it isn’t.

I am, however, happy that the name is changing. It seems long overdue when you consider how front-and-centre this remnant of America’s slave culture has been. There was a time when this would irritate me. Part of my Asperger’s is that I hate change. I love routines – such as writing a blog around 11am every day – but in some ways I’ve learned to adapt. It’s odd but I found myself feeling like this ever since I reconciled myself to the fact that James Bond would never be the same again.

I grew up watching Bond films and, like most kids, was as big Bond fan. I probably remained a fan because after one of my degrees, I was bought a signed photo of Connery as Bond, which now hangs above my desk next to my signed photo of Sparks (another gift). When I got older, my love for Bond split. In one part of my brain, I learned to enjoy the campness of the Moore years; the kinds of films that you could watch on a rainy cold Saturday and simply find yourself cheering along to the bad jokes and his looks to camera. I might be the only person who loves A View To A Kill and For Your Eyes Only. Don’t @ me. I can’t explain why, either.

In other part of my brain, I still love the Fleming novels, as well as the one non-Fleming novel written/finished by Kingsley Amis. Beyond that, however, Bond was becoming something I just didn’t recognise. Much as I liked Daniel Craig’s portrayal as the burnt-out spy, his body battered and bruised just like the Bond of the novels, he simply wasn’t Fleming’s Bond. He felt almost as bad as the terrible Bond of the Jeffrey Deaver novel. When people started to talk about Iris Elba as a replacement, I figured why not. Bond was gone anyway. We’re a postmodern people. Let’s embrace new narratives. Let’s have fun again.

Uncle Bens never meant a fraction of what Bond meant to me growing up. I’m not sure if people are going to protest, stand guard around the rice section in Tesco, but I remember the controversy around Robinson’s jam when they got rid of the ‘golly’. People said life would never be the same and that a “fine tradition” was being lost in the name of political correctness. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever missed it. Didn’t buy Robinson’s jam and more or any less. So long as Uncle Ben’s in its new guise can clearly label which microwavable rices have bloody sweetcorn in them, it really doesn’t matter to me.

In other news: read through my entire book again last night. I don’t know how it happened except I was enjoying it too much. Another read – a few fixes, a few added jokes – and I feel so much better about it. It’s pretty good for what it is.

In the process of uploading it to Amazon, I wondered about creating an ‘Author’s Page’ to bring all my books under one place. In the process, I accidentally looked at the star rating for my first book, which made my stomach lurch. I’ve always been proud of the Stan Madeley letters. People I know loved it. People I didn’t know loved it. I’d had so many 5* reviews that I’d stopped looking so I wouldn’t be disappointed. Last night, I think it was down to a 3 or 4, which is awful. I’d had some 1 star reviews through Amazon’s Vine system, where people get books free in order to review them. It was a dumb stunt played – I assume by my publisher at the time – giving books to people who would never buy comedy.

Still, took a bit of hit in the confidence jubblies with that one.

Today, I’m writing about John Bolton and then I’m going to get the book finished so I can stop boring you all with it. I want to add one drawing to the first story and then I’m done. The book can then re-enter circulation never to be read and ignored forever, which I guess is better than more 1-star reviews.

Mmm… Last word on that. Star systems are crazy. I’ve never liked them. It’s the pure expression of the wisdom of the crowd which, as you might know by now, I doubt is a reasonable system for critiquing anything except perhaps kitchen utensils. A friend I record a podcast with keeps telling me that my work is too clever for most people. I never know how to take that. All I know is that it’s the stuff that entertains me and I hope will entertain people like me. I really don’t care about the rest. Except, of course, when they rate me. Then it just hurts.

12 thoughts on “From Uncle Ben to James Bond…”

  1. I saw A View to a Kill at the cinema, I still like the film. It was what a bond was meant to be, larger than life villain in completely improbable plot stopped by a smart arse after several set piece near death experiences. Who wanted realism or grittiness? I stopped watching the films when Craig came in. The makers missed a huge opportunity when they didn’t take up Idris Elba on the assumption that it would kill the film in far east markets (which was proved to be bollocks by Black Panther) too late now, he’s too old.

    Uncle Ben, yet again, tokenistic bollocks. We could focus on upping the percentage of black people in the police during this recruitment drive to bring in 20,000 new officers, or could put forward proposals for serious reforms to the IPCC, demand money for a public health approach to gang violence etc etc. Nah, too much like hard work, get Greene King’s CEO to apologise for something that they personally never did and get rid of Uncle Ben’s face or rice packets instead. It’s a bit like the FA, who have done bugger all of any substance to combat racism from the terraces in recent years, or to advance the cause of black managers. Just put black lives matter on the back of the shirts in an utterly meaningless exercise in box ticking and it will go away in a few months time. Rant concluded.

    1. Perfectly reasonable rant. I agree with all of it. I’m just saying that I’m well beyond caring about these trivial issues. Tokenism might be miserly compared with true change but it’s also better than the alternative, which is the only thing that matters to the people who gather around statues to drink their beer and shout about ‘Inglund’. It’s the Elba argument, really. Change can be good. It revitalises us. Plus tokenism can easily slip over into symbolism and that’s where it can become powerful. These little changes show us that it’s okay to move on and embrace bigger changes.

      1. Not wanting to get into some micro debate, but I view these things purely as a rearguard action till the heat dies off. They are designed to do the opposite of heralding change. Has the situation for black people markedly improved since Robinsons got rid of golliwogs which was 19 years ago apparently?. I had in truth forgotten that they used to be on the jam until your post and yeah, not bothered that they’ve gone, but it changed what?.

        To be honest I always thought the guy on the Uncle Ben packets had founded the company, which shows how naive I am. Not that I know why anyone buys it when you can buy a 10kg pack of basmati which costs buttons and will last six months, but each to their own.

        1. LOL. If I a better life and more time/money, I’d buy better food and learn to cook. I just buy it because it’s a cheap quick meal that I can make when I’m doing a dozen other jobs and stops me doing my usual thing which is forgetting to eat anything and then crashing about 4pm. 😉

          I understand your argument. I remember being in London a couple of years ago, at some wine event (I never ever usually go to), which just happened to be after another of the big US school shootings. People around me were saying: this will change things and finally America has been shocked into action. I (stupidly) piped up and said “I think it will change nothing” and people were appalled I could be so cynical. Yet here we are, two years later. Not a thing changed.

          With race, however, I do think things change. They just don’t change rapidly. It’s the old argument about banning words so you can stop people thinking bad thoughts. I don’t generally hold with that logic but I think culturally these things do have meaning. Human brains are pretty crude in the way we hold onto prejudices which we never interrogate. For all the talk of life not changing (and I certainly don’t want to say I understand black culture) I feel that Britain is vastly different to the Britain of my youth.

          1. Yeah, you’re right of course, things have changed a lot since the 70’s, but then in half a century you would expect that. I am reading Dominic Sandbrook’s State of Emergency at the moment, covering Britain 1970-74 and it shows the many ways Britain has changed while in some others not so much. There is a section on racism in the book and what is interesting is most people had no time for the far right even then. At its peak the National Front only managed half a million votes. Yet at the same time Enoch Powell probably won the conservatives the election in 1970 and open racism was widespread.

            I do think that we sometimes overestimate change though, in the book it talks about the white flight from London’s inner city areas in the 70s. White flight has always been portrayed as something from that period, a thing of the past. However between 2001 and 2011 no less than 600,000 white British people left London’s suburbs to move to less diverse pastures. Those figures shocked geographers who had thought it would be 30 years before minorities became a majority in London. Clearly they hadn’t bought into the multicultural dream.

            It would be easy to think that only a small knuckle dragging minority who vocalise their thoughts are racist, but I believe there is a huge number of people who in their thoughts are racist but quite sensibly keep those thoughts to themselves for fear of losing their jobs, being prosecuted or simply feeling stigmatised. I am very good at putting people at their ease when they talk to me and as a consequence they tend to open up. I can tell you that I hear a lot of “I’m not being racist but….”
            I also heard some real anger about the statues and flag last week.
            That is why I am perhaps a bit more concerned about the statue issue than you, I honestly think that when the dust settles it will have done more harm than good, in the medium term at least.

            God I hadn’t meant to start writing a bloody essay, so my apologies.

          2. Damn WordPress. Written a reply and pressed the wrong button. So briefly:

            I like you rants/essays. Just finished mine for the day so I had tome to enjoy that.

            I agree with everything you say. Again, I’d just nuance things a little differently. Racism will never disappear. People will always find differences to argue about. I just hope the unthinking prejudices disappear with time. A teacher was telling recently me how a student was insulting another by calling them “Jew”. When asked what he meant, he couldn’t explain. Didn’t know what “Jew” meant. Just learnt it from his parents. That’s an extreme example. All I can say is that I’m an optimist. I believe that we generally tend towards the sun.

            Regarding statues: that descended into politics so quickly, it’s too big to unpick. Stupid (but perhaps understandable) action in Bristol became something else in London. Churchill was just a way to reduce the argument to ridiculousness. Big conversation to be had about the role of the media in that. Perhaps their power is sometimes overstated but I suspect not. I read an excellent piece by Peter Oborne recently about Corbyn’s treatment by the media. Never a JC fan but it’s a fair argument, rarely heard by conservative pundits with Oborne’s credentials. Sure you’ve read it but here’s the link:

  2. No, I hadn’t read it, thanks. I think it was always pretty clear that the stops were being pulled out to prevent Corbyn from obtaining power, not that he helped himself (as it says). Ironically along with Scottish Independence it was one of the few clear cases of demonstrable BBC bias from what is undoubtedly a left leaning organisation in terms of its personnel.

    I’d better leave off talking about our current crop of journalists too much or I’ll melt the keys on the computer. Self serving and irresponsible are words that spring to mind. My dad, who I didn’t always see eye to eye with used to describe them as “shitehawks” in the 80’s, dread to think what he would have called them now. I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone say anything nice about the media.

    The Dominic Cummings saga showed what they are really about for me. At some point post lockdown that story should have been broken and Cummings should have been sacked or resigned. His story was frankly risible, though I think he would have been hammered whatever he did.

    The timing though was appalling and irresponsible. Firstly, there was no way that Johnson, frail and only four weeks out of hospital after a near brush with death was going to sack an advisor who he trusted and who acted as his enforcer. Secondly, we were still in lockdown and needed people to observe it. Any reasonable person could deduce that whether Johnson sacked Cummings or not, the news that he had done as he pleased would induce a small percentage of idiots to say “sod it I’ll do what I want”.

    Breaking that story at that time directly risked public health, but hey, they had finally got Cummings after trying for six months, so fuck it!, it was also a great scoop into the bargain. You can tell Johnson is no Churchill or it would have been D notices all round.

    1. I went through all kinds on anguish on the Cummings story so I’m not revisiting it. It had occurred to me, more than once, that there might be D notices out there. No proof but occasionally I have thought: hmm… why aren’t they covering that with the proper depth.

      I’m far less disgusted but, then, perhaps I don’t take enough notice. I really prefer American news because I find their politics so much more interesting. What I would say, however, is that we’re in the middle of a bitter culture war and I think that most big news organisations have lost their way. It’s like the language surrounding protestors/rioters/looters/vandals etc. The BBC especially tries not to get dragged into it but that only makes it appear like they’re swinging to the extremes. On top of that, we have the post-blogging world of “news” outlets which aren’t news outlets, shoving their people into studios to claim to be journalists when they’re activists by another name.

  3. I agree with most of the article and the comments (apart from I can’t be bothered with James Bond, whoever’s playing him) but just to add my two-pennyworth…….I don’t think changing the name of Uncle Ben’s will make a huge difference but for the amount of effort it takes, they might as well do it – if people have to wait until what they’re doing is world-changing before they do it, then not much would get done. For me, it’s simply a small step in the right direction so why not?

    Re language, I do think that is important – BBC World Service has a good programme, the Why Factor – there’s an episode on victim-blaming looking at how changing from active to passive voice, for example, alters our perception of things. So “A hit B” has a clear perpetrator whereas “B was hit” changes the focus completely. And to say someone “accused” someone else of something reverses things completely so that the alleged perpetrator becomes the victim of an accusation. And I think all of these things feed into our view of events and, by extension, how we react to them.

    Anyway, going for a cuppa now. Cheers.

    1. Thanks Tracey. Those are such good points. I think that bit about small amount of effort is important. These are things we can do that don’t harm us and show a willingness to accommodate people. It seems eminently reasonable. Sometimes the only reason not to do these things is if a person genuinely believed in the opposite argument, which for me is unconscionable.

      I agree about words. It’s something I keep coming back to. Words really do matter, as was shown around the different ways that “protestor” and “rioter” were used. I’ll have to listen to that show. Not heard of it before.

      One other point I was thinking about and it touches on your “small step in the right direction”. We tend to get hung up on history viewed at the scale of years and decades. We are limited by lives but history changes over broader spans of time. You only need look at the Confederate flag in the USA; a fight that’s still being fought 160 years after the last battle. Things to get better but we probably can’t see it became we can’t step out of time in order to view it in the much bigger sweep of history.

      1. Interesting and valid point you make about history. In the same vein, I always thought that the bits we’re living through would warrant a couple of lines at most in the history books of the future although the last two or three years makes me think we’ll get at least a couple of paragraphs. It feels like the “may you live in interesting times” curse definitely applies at the moment.

        1. I think you’re right. Maybe Brexit and COVID-19 will get quite a bit but when you think about it, most of what Trump has achieved isn’t actually that meaningful in the long term. He’s a bit like sand in your shoes. Annoying but hardly memorable. 😉

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?


Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.