Will children ever learn about the World Wars?

Thinking back, a large part of my history education was self-taught, in particular much of it 20th Century history. When I was in school, and now when I think back to what my history lessons involved, there was a lot to do with Romans, Vikings and Egyptians. To this day, much of what I have learnt about the First and Second World War has been available only through my actions to seek out the information individually.

My parents, particularly my dad, would always question me as to why we were learning about Egyptians (more specifically spending entire terms on ancient civilisations) instead of learning about events that still have resonance today. It seemed that historical priority was skewed in favour of ancient history rather than modern or contemporary history.

The current curriculum in England places great importance on contextual events that shape the current social climate. Whenever I speak to children today, and these include both primary and secondary students, they are quick to tell me how a mummy is embalmed and buried. This is positive, but startlingly, they are largely unable to attach any historical significance to the year 1914. It seems that even today, the World Wars constitute only a small fragment of the wider history curriculum.

It’s ironic that in the year of the centenary, we are likely to have a Prime Minister making speeches on the importance of the First World War, only to then have hoards of children oblivious to the substance of what he is saying. I am not an advocate for impressing all the visceral details on children in an attempt to make them ‘feel’ the importance of war. In the 21st Century, this is almost impossible anyway. I have read and learnt a lot about the World Wars and am still only able to visualise a fraction of the brutality of global conflict.

I believe that we can forgive children if they do not know a great deal about the Egyptians or Vikings. To me, these periods hold no real significance in my life, they are simply interesting periods of history in which people were killed gruesomely and people in horned hats sailed grandiose looking boats.

In the year of the First World War centenary, the notion of educational obligation rears its head. Teachers, as well as children, must recognise the weight of such an event and simply not dismiss the World Wars as just another box to tick within an already convoluted history curriculum.

The Internet: An adult world masquerading as a child’s one

How do you teach somebody about the Internet? It’s a relatively difficult thing to do, especially without using the words ‘open’, ‘worldwide’ or ‘freedom’. The Internet democratises the potential for popularity, and is famed for gifting celebrity status to real-life nobodies like Perez Hilton.

Earlier this week a group of Arsenal fans posted anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter about rival Tottenham Hotspur fans, a football club with a rich heritage of Jewish followers. Mentions of gas chambers and the Holocaust sent Twitter into overdrive, with the profiles of said offenders being shared thousands of times over. Even big names Gary Lineker and Stan Collymore got in on the act of publicly shaming the keyboard warriors. Subsequently, and not even 24 hours after their original posts, were the profiles of all involved either shut down or closed by the site administrators.

There is always a tendency to protect children from aggressive advertising in shops, on food packaging and at the cinema. Despite this, there is very little resistance to the ways in which the Internet manipulates children and teenagers in leading them to believe that they’re playing in a virtual world with no consequence or reaction. For outspoken Twitter users, a foray into the world of social media is usually one that requires a degree of trial and error to establish what is acceptable and what is off limits. The Internet is itself designed for debate, but more often than not when we talk about social media the reason is not to exchange pleasantries with friends but to argue with supposed enemies.

Almost everything in life is learnt. Almost everything we learn as children requires some form of rulebook or teacher to guide us as we work towards becoming competent. There is no rulebook for the Internet, so when kids are penalised for abuse or offence a harsh lesson is learnt about the nature of this supposed playground. Young teenagers and children of today never grew up watching the Internet develop alongside them. The Internet remains the one thing that wasn’t taught to children; to a lot of children the Internet is the one tool that they understand more than their family. This fully formed beast is, whether you like it or not, a staple of their modern lives, and it’s one that because their parents are uninvolved, parental discipline has no authority there.

With the Internet now all grown-up and with all its bright lights and instant gratifications it’s plain to see how children of today view it as a friend with no consequence. For an alarming majority, the Internet is a tool used with no practice or experience. It will be used for evil, and it will be abused. The worldwide freedoms of the Internet mean that the more you use it, the more accountable you inevitably become. This might be common knowledge to you and me, but the worrying thing is that it isn’t, and never has been, for a lot of others.

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Floating voters, football fans and everything else we use to make us feel like we belong

Party members are now much like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’ll turn up at your door unannounced and desperately try to force feed you information. They’ll blindly believe anything and happily spread it like wildfire. But there’s one thing they’re also really good at, and that’s presenting a really attractive sense of belonging. When they turn up in their nice, pressed clothes and beautifully soft-spoken tones, you envy them, you want to be part of the club – you want to belong.

The last time I voted (and coincidentally the first time I could legally) was for the 2010 general election. I did not even consider voting Labour, although I was unsure why not. My parents “had always voted Tory” and it was for this reason that I should too. So I did, and it apparently made a difference, as they were eventually elected (partially). We all congratulated each other on the success of our collective efforts.

I remember voting quite clearly. Leading up to the election, I had stuck a poster from the newspaper supporting David Cameron on my window. ‘Cam the Man’ it declared. Another variant saw Cameron dressed in red and gold and being hailed as ‘Iron Man Cam’.

Looking back, I don’t quite know what it was that got me to vote Conservative and even more so why I felt such an allegiance with them. I have nothing in common with the politicians of this country. Yet there I was, faithfully supporting the blues as if I were at a Chelsea game.

There would be occasions when I would get into quite heated debate with Labour supporters. Trivial matters would separate us, and when it came down to it, there really was little difference between what we both thought we stood for.

Now I’m older and, I believe, wiser. I watch Prime Minister’s Questions every week and tune into Question Time every Thursday. Each time, both sets of fans sit on their respective side of the stadium, blindly chanting and eagerly waiting for a chance to point the finger at the other team.

I didn’t want to mention that tired cliche that politicians are “all the same”. After all, I voted for them. But the manner in which I voted for them was stupid and uninformed. I had more of an affinity with blue than I did with red. The lovely tree logo was nicer than the rose one.

Every person who is wise to party politics in this country (or any country for that matter) believes themselves to be a higher being. They’re enlightened. They can see that politicians aren’t in the business of helping the country or its people. They’re the chosen ones – and they’re people like Russell Brand, here to save us all, like a sweaty Jesus on horseback.

My old philosophy teacher didn’t vote for any major political party. Again, that tired cliche of ‘people dying for our right to vote’ is exactly that – tired. People also died so we had the right to choose to vote. Not voting, just as much as voting, is an expression of gratitude and freedom of choice, so long as that decision is not through apathy.

I had an argument with an outspoken feminist the other day. I believe in voting when there is somebody worthwhile ticking the box for. She however, seemed to me a blind advocate of Russell Brand’s own brand of anarchy. After a few exchanges, my mind was fried. I had had enough politics for that day, so I politely declined to reply. She retorted as if she had won.

For all I know, she’s still on Facebook chatting away about the benefits of living in a Russell Brand society. But quite insightfully, she allowed me to see just how enveloped someone can become if they never smell what they’re shovelling. Even those who do not vote have developed a political party of their own – the no-showers. These are the people who are branded as lazy and uninterested in politics because they think it will have no lasting effect on them. If there are enough subversives, they eventually form a majority. So when those lazy blighters realise their people power is much more impactive when put to task, they will be able to affect change in a way they thought impossible.

Image: Graeme Maclean

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Pathetic fathers are using football coaching as a platform for their overdeveloped egos

Recently a football coach in England was fired from his club after sending the parents of the players an email stating that the players should not be playing to have fun, but to win. He said he was only interested in winning and claimed that this attitude was down to the fact that he wanted to get the kids used to the competitive nature of the world through the sport.

I have a real problem with father-coaches. I have a real problem with father-players. Not because they shouldn’t be playing football, I’ve no problem with that. But I’ve played football with fathers, their sons and their son’s friends. When their son gives the ball away, they go ballistic. Most of the time I feel like I should leave temporarily so that they can have a little privacy.

Truth be told, many fathers and father-coaches are failed footballers. What’s more, they’re failed amateur-footballers, which is even more pathetic. So where do they go from there? They go into coaching. We’re reminded now and again that some of the top managers in the Premier League were very average footballers, so there’s hope still for these failed footballers.

BBC Radio had a phone-in regarding the email that the father-coach had sent out to parents. Quite a few dads called in, current coaches did too. They all spoke about how the children felt about coaches and how harsh they can be on the players. Other callers said that children liked the idea of an over-eager manager, claiming that it allowed them to develop life skills such as confidence and taking responsibility for their mistakes. Not once did the programme speak to a child, or a teenager, about how they actually felt. Somehow, fathers were simply given the phone-in opportunity as a platform for their dictatorial views on how children felt about their managerial style.

The experiences of winning and losing are common in life. So why are parents pushing for children to ‘learn’ about losing gracefully or winning extravagantly. I never played in a football team and never had an egotistic manager, and yet I have had my fair share of wins and losses in life. I am acquainted with the feeling of both. I have developed into a proper human being despite not learning through the medium of Under-7 football. Parents need to stop forcing children to quickly pick up these life skills that are only ever harnessed throughout life, not during the first ten years of it, no matter how hard you try and force it upon them.

If you constantly tell children how terrible losing is, they will go to great lengths to attempt not to, when in actual fact they should happen upon losing naturally. It should sometimes be a surprise, and this isn’t a bad thing. You won’t be able to prepare a child for the death of a family dog or a beloved grandparent. Trying to failsafe every prospective aspect of a child’s life is counter-productive.

Ultimately, fathers with sons want to realise the dream of playing professional football. Admittedly, I want a son. But not so I can shout at him wildly whilst wearing ridiculously short shorts and swinging a whistle. Rather, I want a son because I want to share with him the experiences of winning and losing in sport. My dad has spent much time – and money – taking me to watch Leeds United during my life so far, and I have learnt almost too much about the beauty of losing in sport. But you learn from it, and never take winning for granted afterward.

Ultimately, we’ve all seen father-coaches going mental on the football pitch. Because they couldn’t become George Best in their younger years, they now opt for becoming Alex Ferguson instead. And because being a football manager is subjective, anyone can do it. We all agree what a good footballer looks like, but we can only speculate as to what a decent coach looks like. That’s the father’s get out of jail free card. Football coaching, especially young boys coaching, allows for these failed footballers to take centre stage and act out their most lauded over fantasy. It’s pathetic and, funnily, quite juvenile. A kicking and screaming coach is the mentor for children learning about the complexities of life – go figure.

Credit John Hemming

Boris reminds us all that the harsh reality of life is just that

Boris Johnson has sent shockwaves this week with his ode to Thatcher speech. In it, he admitted that most people are stupid, that greed is a necessity in the working world and that the rich do in fact contribute a hell of a lot of tax money. These are not headliners, but facts. Many of us forgot that Boris Johnson was a Conservative, so he decided to remind us all with this speech.

Boris has always been Conservative light. He’s been gifted with the freedom to act as a caricature of himself whilst still retaining a firm grip on the direction of the Tory party. With his recent speech, the London mayor has set out to form his own brand of Conservatism, and define himself as a standalone candidate for major political office.

In his speech, Boris praised Margaret Thatcher and declared inequality and elitism essential for economic fortune. Boris is no fool. His carefully constructed public image has led to this speech. When the London major says something, or anything, the people listen. Despite a loyalty to the Tory right, Boris is paraded as a spokesman of the masses. Whilst mocking the 16% of people with an IQ lower than 85, the man can happily show us all just how much better his life is than ours. What is the overwhelming response? We smile and for once, gladly accept what we’re told with a slight dash of salt. What else? It’s Boris’ unique selling point.

In reality, this speech is a performance. It’s also an incredible show of political proficiency. Before now, Boris has always lured us right into his three-bedroom middle class home before shafting us with his 5-star penthouse overlooking the Thames. But he will forever be forgiven, if for nothing else than for securely thrusting his flag into the political compass and reminding us all that with just over a year to go until the next general election, he isn’t going to sit back and watch it pass by. For once, we may well have a politician who admits the stupidity of the masses – and then has the courtesy to tell them just how awfully terrible their lives are.

What this speech has told us is that Boris is a rare and agile political freak of nature. Incredibly, he remains the only politician that can tell people how unequal they are and walk out of that same burning building unscathed. When candidates are put forward to challenge David Cameron for the Tory leadership, you better believe Boris will be there, waving the inequality flag and shrugging his shoulders in that indomitable manner we find so loveable.

Our next Prime Minister may well be this very man. But instead of offering to pave the streets with gold and sort all our problems out, he’ll do nothing, admit we live in a dog-eat-dog world and that our welfare is our own responsibility. In all honesty, people can live with having to cut back, but at least with this man at the helm, while we’re eating cold beans from a can, we won’t be taunted with promises of pastures new. In a self-help culture, where every aspect of happiness can easily be ours, Boris reminds us that this isn’t the case, and that the harsh reality of life is just that.

Image: John Hemming

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Why ‘troubled families’ are destined to remain that way

The government have just released a load of information regarding how well they’re doing in helping troubled families turn their lives around. Just like any other set of government statistics, the numbers are incredibly vague. They’re also incredibly symmetrical. Eric Pickles has said that of the 120,000 families the government want to help, 62,000 of them already have been ‘turned around’. After two years and with another two to go, that’s an incredible show of efficiency.

The government’s ‘troubled families’ programme was set up in 2011 in an attempt to turn around the lives of those either missing school, out of work or on benefits. They’re more familiarly known as enemies of the state.

The government does a darn good job of defining what ‘troubled’ means in the context of the programme. Anybody who might be out of work, missing school, claiming benefits or suffering from mental health problems is now considered ‘troubled’. The figures suggest that Eric Pickles has worked wonders for all these kinds of people. But he hasn’t. The programme uses blame to great effect, so much so the government felt it necessary to tell us all that these ‘troubled families’ are costing the taxpayer almost £9billion. The government are yet to decide how they want the yarn to spin on this issue, whether they want to be seen as a belt-tightening saviour or a care-giving Samaritan. I’m still unsure whether this programme is designed to save money, appear to save money or scapegoat the poor. Oh, or even help those in need, as wild a notion as it may be.

This programme is a misdirected and morally ambiguous attempt at decent social policy. The government are yet to define the term ‘turned around’, a phrase used when a family is struck off the blame list. The only positive effect this programme has had is the attention brought to the plight of the poor.

When a government commit only £400million to tackling the most basic of social problems, that horrible word priority rears its head again. Whether they would admit it or not, the problem here is an economic one. The poor are costing the government far too much and they’re not giving anything back. What does yield returns though is the ability to get from Manchester to London in just over an hour. That is most definitely a banker. A £42billion investment in transport infrastructure is a sound decision, given that at 200mph, Cameron and company won’t have to witness the victims of his half-baked attempt at social policy as they fly by the window.

Ultimately, the programme is designed to tackle the root problems of people’s troubles. Only when they are ‘cured’ of these afflictions are they then faced with the shoddy infrastructure decimated by the very same government claiming to promise them a better life. Cuts to schools, healthcare and the decimation of thousands of jobs means that all these ‘turned around’ families are almost certain to make another turn – back to where they started.

‘Troubled families’ are almost certainly destined to remain that way. When a child is ushered to school, despite a history of truancy, he is unequivocally met with a weakened team of staff too busy worrying about performance pay than with how many students have turned up to learn.

Similarly, the case remains for all those ‘troubled’ unemployed people. Of the 62,000 that have been turned around, many now have some form of continuous employment. The government fail to specify whether or not this ‘continuous employment’ means full-time work or the now all too familiar ‘zero hours’ kind of work. When these newfound workers realise that crime actually does pay, at least more than zero hours work, they will find themselves frequenting the list of ‘troubled’ individuals again in no time.

Social policy is in itself a misnomer. There are certain aspects of society that can be managed according to statistics and number crunching, but social welfare is not one of them. If the government insist on lessening the powers of social workers and continue to systematically strip away any sense of genuine care in favour of balancing the books, then those families blighted by misfortune are destined to remain that way.

Image: UK Department for International Development

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Think Gmail have got dirt on you? For the past decade I’ve been sharing a bed with Microsoft

Microsoft have started to play dirty. They’ve started telling us that Google are tracking down our online dealings and using the information to show us shiny products that they know we salivate over.

The other night I saw the Outlook ad where two guys are speaking in Pig Latin so as not to be heard by a third man standing at the bar. They’re talking about one of them dating the third guy’s sister, but wanting to keep their conversation private, they opt to use code. Now this is where the ad sort of loses its focus. If I was admitting to dating my friend’s sister, I for one wouldn’t make the announcement in the privacy of my local boozer. I’d punt for a more secretive location. Perhaps a football stadium or a cinema – somewhere where crowds of people aren’t found.

And that’s where they drop this bombshell on us all. Gmail apparently track what we send in order to tailor adverts to our preferences. For years now I have logged onto my email account only to be greeted by a small strap line telling me that Anchorman is priced cheapest on Amazon. How could they know I like Anchorman? I’ve always thought.

Actually, no. I’ve never thought that. What I have thought though is what a bloody bargain I could grab on Amazon.

But we tow the line, and with Outlook even starting a petition relying on people power sticking it to Google, we all have to pretend we have never put two and two together and realised how much of an open global network the Internet has turned out to be. Who could have predicted that one?

I’ve used Outlook for almost a decade now. Only back then it was called the ironically uncool ‘Hotmail’. Despite Google only filing away information from the past four or five years of my life, Microsoft have a decades worth of dirt on me and my juicy online dealings (we’ve all used Bing at some point or another). My Xbox account has my bank details attached – and we all remember the great Playstation debacle not so long ago where hundreds of payment figures slipped out of somebody’s briefcase on the train from Manchester to London.

Truth be told, Microsoft hold more sordid details about my life than Google could only dream of having. Another truth be told, I’d much rather have tailored ads that are trying to sell me stuff from this decade rather than the last. In reality, Microsoft are hugely pissed off, because where Google have made another fantastic business move, they’re left with impotent adverts for Tamagotchis and Pokemon cards. Perhaps Microsoft should take a leaf and start spying on us a bit more. Lord knows thats where the money is.

Oh, and if you want to sign the petition to stop Google, you can find it here: http://goo.gl/KxKyA – All you need to do is give Microsoft your name, email, address, fingerprint image, favourite department store and preferred sexual position.

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JFK’s death gave birth to the modern notion of conspiracy

Being 22 and of British heritage, I shouldn’t be interested in John F. Kennedy. I have no real knowledge of his political life or his personal background. I’m aware of that candid photograph of him sitting in the Oval Office with his son playing underneath the desk, but that’s about it. Any other information I know of JFK are a few of his speeches and his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I mainly learnt these bits through the last X-Men film and, as ever, Family Guy.

But of course, I know the one thing about JFK that is seemingly the only thing worth knowing anymore – the way he died. So much of JFK’s death has entered into folklore that the life he lived before has become but a footnote – a foreword to the main event. For people of my age, JFK was never a political powerhouse. He was never the charismatic figurehead so synonymous with Cold War defiance. JFK has become a fiction of modern times. Every Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day in the US) we all vow never to forget the very real and visceral act of dying for others. Yet, JFK is never thought of in this way, at least not anymore. JFK was instead the man who gave birth to the modern notion of conspiracy – his death signalled the beginning of an age where questioning is commonplace and cold, hard fact is damn near impossible to attain. 

Any YouTube video of the JFK assassination proves this, with each commenter disagreeing with the one above them. Each has their own theory of how it went down and why it was covered up. You’re fairly hard-pressed to find a person who believes that his death was open and shut. But generally, when you find yourself scouring the internet for that coveted ‘slow-motion’ video of JFK, you already know you’re looking for more than one man shooting another. You’re hoping you’ll come across a theory that resonates with that little part of your brain that wants this soap-opera to continue. It’s exciting, and you love to weave that fabric.

It is believed that the death of JFK triggered a culture of conspiracy and that his death marked the point at which ordinary citizens could publicly denounce any event in regard to its authenticity. This culture of conspiracy has evolved into the modern surveillance state we see today. Angela Merkel will testify to that, I’m sure. In terms of the amount of differing accusations, public outcry following JFK’s death was the first of its kind in modern history. But why did the JFK assassination cause cause such a culture to emerge, and why has the event now become a staple of conspiracy fiction rather than political legend?

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America loves celebrity. So much so that the American Dream is almost synonymous with it. Before Reagan took the idea of celebrity status a little too literally, JFK acted like a man of the people, allowing himself to the masses while keeping a healthy, elitist distance. JFK permeated a sense of connectivity with the people. A connectivity never really before seen from a president. We can talk of the movie stars of the 30’s and 40’s, but these people were the elite, they glanced across the vast gaping hole that divided the rich from the poor and they laughed. The 1950’s, with it’s consumerist progression and the emergence of a new ‘middle class’, meant that the lovers of celebrity were not so far removed as they once were from their idols. For once in their lives, they were within touching distance of the elite. JFK was the bridge and the middle man. For the first time, he made presidency and celebrity work in tandem, all the while retaining that one characteristic that made him America’s most popular commander in chief – his accessibility.

People still approach JFK with this oversubscribed sense of celebrity. Even his death had about it a distinct air of celebrity. The greatest celebrities died very much the way they lived their lives – extravagantly. JFK’s death gave birth to the modern notion of conspiracy, surveillance and celebrity as we know it today. It did so because we have always wanted to probe it, to question it. The Zapruder film is the only real footage we have of JFK’s death. The rest of the evidence is based around hearsay and rumour. It is on these rumours and fabrications that conspiracies have been borne. And so, celebrity evolves into conspiracy. Curiosity turns into obsession. Fact turns into fiction.

What’s more, we’re allowed to question JFK’s death. We poke fun at it. We laugh at it. We take it in our hands and play with it. For the first time, people were allowed to publicly denounce such a delicate act of aggression. In questioning the JFK assassination, one is almost demonstrating the ultimate expression of free speech. In conspiring against it, one is actively questioning whether red is red, or black is black. The day JFK was assassinated remains the day public curiosity skyrocketed and the days of accepting events at face value were gone.

JFK’s death is so perfectly positioned in the chronology of conspiracy that it is difficult to disagree that it played a pivotal role in the development of mass questioning. Even this post keeps the liberalist dream of free speech and curiosity very much alive.

Disclaimer: With the recent developments over phone hacking and internet surveillance, I am slightly concerned that the tags attributed to this post include both ‘president’ and ‘assassination’. For the record, I have no intention of assassinating anybody, but if I do receive any correspondence from government officials, I will conclude that the conspiracy era that began with JFK’s death is still very much in its prime.

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Now the Royals are pushing their own brand of press regulation

Whilst not on ‘official duties’, the Royal Family have asked UK newspaper editors not to publish photographs of the monarchy. After Prince Harry was snapped during a recent visit to Nando’s, both the Mirror and Daily Mail published the images online, only to have Clarence House request they be taken down, to which the newspapers obliged.

The email went on to say that members of the Royal Family have an expectation of privacy in a public place and that editors should re-familiarise themselves with the Editor’s Code of Practice. Once I’d actually found the Editor’s Code of Practice, it said this: “It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

I’m not sure what that means either. The deliberate skewing of ‘private’ and ‘public’ places means that not even the Royals can be sure where they are entitled to an ‘expectation of privacy’.

Newspapers have chosen to use this event to flag up such good work they did in outing Prince Harry as a Nazi during a party or a swinger during a Las Vegas stay. Without such intrusion, we wouldn’t have anything to have a go at Prince Harry about. Similarly, Kate was pictured topless on holiday in France – surprisingly by a French photographer. I wonder whether this particular form of press regulation holds water overseas.

Somehow, if the government attempt press regulation then it is an attack on the freedom of the press. If the Royals say something, those in the industry must then speak in hush tones, so as not to upset the hierarchy (or tradition for that matter). One can only assume the Daily Mail will suffer a catastrophic internal battle with itself on which way to go with this one. I can already see tomorrow’s headline: KING GEORGE VI – THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN.

Seeing as the government’s attempt at press regulation fell flat on its face, the Royals are having a go. But rather than setting up enquiries or conducting investigations, they have gone down the rather British route and sent a polite memo. Don’t expect to see pages and pages on press regulation in tomorrow’s papers, after all there isn’t a gorgeous red-headed scapegoat to which the Royal’s can pin all their troubles. After all, we’re not allowed to photograph Harry anymore anyway.