The year began with a night of doubt and sorrow for Heretic TOC, or rather a somewhat more lingering concern, hinted at briefly on New Year’s Eve in a blog called “Truth, reality and baby elephants”, which spoke in riddles suffused with existential angst.
I said I feared for the blog’s mojo, and by implication my own, but remained silent as to the reason. A couple of months later, though, the Daily Mail let the cat was out of the bag in a story that mentioned my conviction last year for “historic” offences in 1978. Now that the case had been propelled into the public domain, and not in a flattering way, obviously, I felt the time had come to give my side of the story. So I wrote about it in “A rare escape, without bribery or bloodshed”, explaining my good fortune in remaining at liberty despite the present trend towards very long prison sentences.
The reason I left the court a free man, I wrote, is that neither the judge, nor the prosecution, nor crucially even the “victims” themselves, appeared to have seen me as callously “predatory”. Also, the judge emphasised that I was entitled to express my views.
Why, then, would the case leave me feeling Heretic TOC might lose its mojo, putting the blog’s future in doubt? Put simply, I worried that I might find it hard to write honestly, confidently and positively on Kind issues in future without addressing why anyone had wanted to bring a case against me in the first place. The “rare escape” blog gave me the opportunity to do that. With the cat freed from the bag, I too felt liberated from my silence and able to put my side of the story.
Since then, I feel, Heretic TOC has been substantially reinvigorated. The spring and summer months following my personal revelations saw several of what I believe to have been my best ever blogs, notably “The law, lore and allure of the jungle”, “Latin lovers versus British bum bandits”, “Acceptable danger: the sky is the limit?” and “Willy power and ‘the will to power’”. There have also been some excellent guest blogs, by David Kennerly, Feinmann (twice), Cyril Galaburda, David, and Peace. Readers’ enthusiasm and engagement seems to have picked up more in the autumn and winter months, with blogs regularly attracting a hundred or more published comments, many of them of a very high standard in terms of richly informative content and cogent argument.
My anxiety at the end of last year that Heretic TOC might not recover its mojo following my narrow escape from prison was of course preceded by a long period in the run-up to the trial when mojo (by which I mean a mix of excitement, interest, energy and enthusiasm) was the least of my problems. The immediate threat was a long stretch behind bars, with a five- or six-year sentence a real possibility. If that had come to pass, Heretic TOC would probably have ceased to exist in terms of fresh contributions by me, although I did have kind offers from guest bloggers and other friends to keep things going if the worst came to the worst.
I had some very generous financial offers, too, at a time when it looked as though I might be faced with heavy legal costs in order to mount a proper defence. In the event, funds were mercifully not needed for this purpose but I was helped with hotel and travel costs for a trial that was held in Wales, hundreds of miles from where I live. Supporters also kindly sponsored my attendance at a classics conference at Edinburgh University in April and the Battle of Ideas debate forum at the Barbican, London, in November, staged by the Institute of Ideas (IOI). The former enabled me to hone up my knowledge of the sexual mores of Ancient Greece, which should come in handy very soon as I hope to be blogging on this theme shortly. The fruits of the IOI event were harvested much more immediately: as regular heretics here will have seen, a good deal of the information and inspiration for my mental health three-parter had its origins in this event.
There was another truly existential threat, too, one that has since receded but not entirely disappeared. In November last year, on the occasion of Heretic TOC’s third anniversary, I blogged under the title “Extremists plot to disrupt ‘distressing’ dissent”, which reported that the UK government was proposing to tackle terrorism by cracking down on the expression of “extremist” views. Depending on how “extremism” was to be defined, this sounded to me like a potentially very serious threat to free speech which could be used to suppress almost any views at odds with mainstream thinking, no matter how non-violent their expression might be. As Simon Calvert, director of Defend Free Speech, said:
Defend Free Speech believes innocent people will fall foul of this unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation. It will criminalise those who hold unpopular, unfashionable or challenging views. This could include pro- and anti-religious groups, trade unionists, environmental and animal rights activists, critics of UK foreign policy and people campaigning for LGBT rights.
And a blog like this.
Well, a lot of water has flowed under the political bridge since then, and with so much happening on the Brexit front, the government has made little visible progress on countering “extremist” views. Theresa May’s new government revived the plan for legislation but an agreed definition of extremism has yet to emerge, and no parliamentary bill has so far been tabled. But in the wake of the Berlin street market attack and a succession, so we are told, of thwarted plots in the UK, May’s government is understandably loath to let go. So, yet again, it all seems to be a matter of wait and see. For recent parliamentary scrutiny see here and here.
The third anniversary blog would have been followed by a fourth last month but I had started my mental health three-parter by then and did not want to interrupt it. So today’s blog has ended up being a sort of late anniversary thing combined with a half-arsed end-of-year 2016 review. Messy, but there we are.
In terms of statistics, the present blog is the 195th in a little over four years since Heretic TOC’s launch. By Christmas Day there had been 8057 published comments, which works out at over 40 comments per blog – a very high figure, especially when taking into account that in the early days I was bringing out a new blog every day. The blogs were typically much shorter then but I nevertheless find myself astonished I could find the time. As for the number of page hits, on Christmas Day they stood at 121, 915 for the year so far, already exceeding the previous highest total for a full year, which was 2015’s figure, 115,904.
Most visitors to the site in 2016 came from UK and US (fairly equally), followed by (in order) Russia, France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands; then the next Anglophone country, Australia; then Hungary, Denmark, Canada and Belgium. However, I am told that these particular stats are not very meaningful because some readers will be mailing through proxy servers that bear no relation to where the reader is based. That’s a great shame. Until I heard this, I had been delighted to see that Heretic TOC apparently has readers in such exotic places as Mongolia, Greenland, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and many others! Oh, well, one can dream!
Looking forward, what can heretics expect from this site in 2017? As already indicated, I expect to be blogging on Ancient Greece quite soon, and I said a few weeks ago that the transgender theme is high on my list. Beyond that, I have a whole heap of topics lined up, and so do several guest bloggers. Don’t be deterred, though, if you haven’t tried guest blogging before and are wondering whether you should have a go: I am always interested in fresh thoughts from new people.
The only limitations on Heretic TOC’s activities, apart from the still distant threat of curbs on free speech, are a shortage of time and money. As I have mentioned on other occasions, I would love to be spending time on writing books, and articles for academic publications, in addition to time spent on the blog. Right now, though, it just ain’t happening. Probably that is because I am not getting any younger. I still have immense enthusiasm for writing and research, but not the energy to produce at speed. Even just keeping up with an ever rising torrent of relevant new books, research papers, articles, TV documentaries and video presentations has become a full-time job in itself.
The demands made by the core task have become such that even simple maintenance issues can seem tough. For instance, with substantial help from reader “Ronnie”, I was able to make great strides in summarising previous Heretic TOC blogs with a view to more effective searching of the whole corpus of work and to select particular pieces (plus a limited selection of the best reader comments) for inclusion in a Best of Heretic TOC book, with an e-book edition. Yet I was unable, in the whole of 2016, to complete the summaries or make the selection. Never mind, I hope to get there in the coming year.
Another neglected task is the Blogroll, where there are dead links, and live links to dead sites. If anyone knows of lively, relevant sites that really should be included, please let me know. Meanwhile, I hope I can find time in the next few days, before year’s end, to do a bit of weeding in this little digital flowerbed.
As for money, I don’t have much but you will probably be relieved to hear that Heretic TOC is able to soldier on without appealing for funds at the present time.
I’ll just give a moment for that to sink in. OK, so….
Must be half a mo by now.
Right, time up! Now that you’ve had time to enjoy a moment of relief in peace I will add that the coming year may see an appeal for funds, depending on how much progress is made towards certain tasks, and clarity over any financial commitments they might entail. We’ll see.
Now, in winding up, just a few words reviewing the wider year, beyond this blog. I’m not going to bang on about the horrors of Brexit and Trump, or Syria and the tragedy of the Middle East in general, or the looming perils of climate change, or the seemingly freakish number of celebrity deaths. I’m not even going to mention the appalling 13-year prison sentence imposed on a 101-year-old man in the UK, nor dwell upon how the hitherto strongly-held value of humane treatment of the elderly could be so deliberately and abruptly consigned to the trash can in this case with barely a whisper of protest.
No, I will remain silent on all of that but will just note, briefly, that this was a year in which, like the trashed old geezer in jail, I have arguably been demoted to a lower status. Nothing so obvious or terrible as imprisonment, mercifully. More a sort of gentle passing on downwards towards Boring Old Fart rather than (as I would prefer, obviously!) elevation to Elder Statesman of Kind advocacy.
Why do I say so? I guess it’s the Brexit and Trump thing, mainly. My horrified reaction to these phenomena seems not to be shared by some here, perhaps those of a younger generation. So maybe from now on my opinions will come to seem more and more embarrassingly out of touch as time goes by. I suppose my views might change. I might catch up. Or I might not. Either way, younger heretics will have to decide for themselves whether Heretic TOC continues to be worth reading. I hope so, of course. Again, we’ll see!
Happy New Year!
Bruce Muirhead, or “B.J. Muirhead” as he publicly presents his name, is a writer and photographer whose thoughtful comments have graced Heretic TOC this year. See for instance what he says here about the ideas of biochemist and controversial parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake. In another comment accessible from the same link he had occasion to mention Unsent Letters, his own novel.
Among other things, he said the book “is based on many stories told to me, although I did, of course, also draw on my experiences with my first wife – and on my knowledge of girls around 13, resulting from talking to my children’s friends when they were visiting. Interestingly, my second wife attempted to use the first draft to prove that I am a ‘paedophile’ and therefore an unsafe parent for my children.”
Intrigued, I bought a copy of the paperback, although it was the best part of three months later before I got around it reading it, by which time, I confess, I had quite forgotten Bruce’s introductory words, so came to the book with no conscious preconceptions. I was impressed, and decided to review it. A short version of the review appears at the publisher’s website, both for the paperback and the e-book. I gave Unsent Letters a maximum five-star rating on quality grounds but, as I said in the review, that does not mean it is something everyone will want to read, or even every heretic.
By reading my concise review, though, you should be able to get a good idea as to whether this is going to be your cup of tea or not. A fuller version of the review has been posted on a website called In A Foreign Town, which features Bruce’s poetry and fiction. He also has another website for his photography.
I might just mention a few more biographical details taken from the “About” notes Bruce has posted online:
Earlier in my life I studied philosophy and creative writing at various universities, published a very small amount of poetry, an awful lot of photography criticism in the Courier-Mail newspaper and a few other places, and held a few exhibitions of drawings and paintings, before turning into a full time parent and hiding away for about 12 years.
My aim here, just so you know, is to publish random thoughts, ideas and images and perhaps get some feedback …