Saturday, November 10, 2018

Just a few songs to be getting on with, two of them new to me. Shalom/salaam ‘alaykum

I’m sure the rest of the world realised long ago that you can now post YouTubes videos directly onto a Blogger blog, but I’m rather slow on the uptake. However.

Here are three videos we were playing last night at a now usual weekly piss-up with my guitar teacher and friends of his in Padstow. The first, Stupid Blues, is a favourite of his, and I can see why: Junior Brown is a phenomenal guitarist, ranging seamlessly from blues to jazz to blues to jazz and back. Stick with it, there is a song eventually.

The there’s a now song on me by a new ‘band’ on me, The Correspondents, which stands up very well, whether you know Soho or not. If you don’t know its one-time reputation, it was the sleazy red-light district of central London just a stone’s throw from Piccadilly circus (in past eras known for its Dilly Boys - I’m sure you can guess what services they provided).

Here is Etta James version of James Brown’s It’s A Man’s World, which in my view is as good as the original, though a new take. I have loads of songs by Etta James on my iPhone and can’t get enough of here. Below that is Christina Aguilera’s version of the same song, equally as good and evidence that it is a real shame she is still somehow grouped with ‘pop’ singers such as Tay-Tay Swift, previously Britney Spears and the rest. This gal has more than a voice and a half.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

I call on all philistines to come and join me (it’s getting a little lonely in my neck of the woods). We can discuss ‘meaning’ and ‘creativity’ and even try to establish what exactly is the point of Gilbert & George’s work, shit and all

Heinitzpolder - Dollard, Germany

My sister, who lived in the Philippines for several years, a country which has a large ethnic Chinese community, was remarking about what one of her servants there told her. She said that one of here Filipono maids told her that before applying for a job in my sister’s household, she was due to start work in the household of an ex-pat Englishman but changed her mind when she heard the Englishman was married to a Hong Kong Chinese woman. What difference did that make? my sister asked her.

Well, said her maid, she far preferred working for Europeans - which is why she had applied to work for the businessman in the first place – but all Filipinos hated working for the Chinese. Why? my sister asked her. Well, said her maid, the Europeans treat them well, almost as equals who just happen to be fulfilling a certain role [that of the maid, the driver, the gardener etc]. The Chinese on the other hand generally treated them as though they were sub-human.

That, naturally, is surely something of a generalisation, and there must certainly be some Chinese who behave in a way I we enlightened and oh-so liberal Europeans find more acceptable; and I am certainly not making any grand claims on it, but bear with me because it does lead on to a point.

My sister’s anecdote followed on from something else she told me. Staying with us for a week – I am staying with her for two weeks, one more week to go, here in the far north-west of Germany less than a mile from the Dutch border – is one of her grandchildren and as she was chatting, she was wrapping a couple of small gifts for the las for his first birthday tomorrow. Then she told me of a huge celebration she had witnessed in the Philippines: a local ethnic Chinese family had hired the ballroom of one of Manila’s biggest and grandest hotel and invited several hundred guests to help celebrate their son’s birthday – his first birthday.

I remarked that – which is what I feel – that kind of ostentation has pretty much everything to do with trying to impress one’s friends and neighbours by demonstrating just how rich and wealthy one is, and such boasting and showing off is certainly universal. Nevertheless, many cultural differences are marked, and some cultural traits in an ‘alien’ environment can lead to misunderstanding, but this entry is not intended to be – and I hope it doesn’t become – just another platitudinous commentary on ‘Lord, we are all so different!’, a coment all too often followed among the enlightened and liberal classes in Britain by ‘and isn’t that really, really marvellous?’, a statement with which you disagree in the company of some at great cost.

. . .

I have noted before that as the half-breed child of an English father and a German mother, I have both English and German traits in my personality. And given that I attended German schools from the, possibly from the point of view of development, ages of nine to 13, some German traits are possibly more prominent that English traits. And one German trait I like is that generally if you ask a German for her or his opinion, you will get it, warts and all. You might care to comment that being, by my own admission, in some ways more German than English, I am bound to appreciate that kind of kind of plain-speaking, but it is certainly not a trait which is widely appreciated in Britain – far from it.

In fact, it is generally why the British often describe the Germans as ‘tactless’ and ‘arrogant’, something which naturally bewilders Germans. Their attitude is – and it is one which this semi-German fully understands and agrees with completely - ‘well, you did ask me what I thought, you asked me what my views were, so I told you. Now you are upset by what I said, so what’s going on? If you didn’t want me to answer honestly, why did you ask me in the first place?’ Quite.

The Brits, though, at least some Brits and especially those who pride themselves on being ‘middle-class’ (and it is that pride which I find so baffling, though it is undoubtedly there) are apt to be what they regard as ‘polite’ and believe any response which falls even a little short of that kind of ‘politeness’ is nothing but outright rudeness; and, if they responder is German, it is very good evidence – if evidence were even needed for something so self-evidently true – that the Germans are irredeemably ‘tactless’ and ‘arrogant’.

Here is a good example: for over year while I still lived in London 25 years, I shared a flat with three others in Elgin Avenue, Maid Vale. Although I say ‘shared’, the flat was more a collection of bedsits for four folk who shared the same bathroom and kitchen. And although Maida Vale is a in London terms a ‘good address’, the flat itself was nothing special and, being occupied by a succession of renters, rather shabby. (I took it upon myself every so often to clean the kitchen from top to bottom as no one else could be bothered to do their own washing-up and I dislike preparing food in a dirty kitchen. Maybe that’s another of my ‘German’ traits or maybe I am just one of odd bods who doesn’t much enjoy living in squalor.)

If someone left, the protocol was – in theory, but usually not in practice – that all the other ‘flatmates’ would meet and evaluate every whoever applied to take over the free room, and one day, after someone did announce he or she was leaving one flatmate - Kelly – and I met a young German student who wanted to move in. Once he had seen the room and the other facilities, we sat in the kitchen to ‘get to know’ the applicant and what followed was the usual routine of ‘tell us a bit about yourself’.

Eventually Kelly asked the lad what he thought of the room. ‘Well,’ he said in English in his unmistakably German accent, ‘I’ve seen better’, and undoubtedly had – like all the other bedrooms, it too was shabby and had it been a pleasant, airy room, I’m certain he would have said so. But that was his goosed cooked was far as Kelly was concerned.

As soon as he had left she told me: ‘Well, we’re not having him!’ Why not, I asked, he seemed very nice. ‘Did you hear what he said about the room?’ she said. But, I told her, you asked him and he told you. What is wrong with that. But it was no use, he was out: he hadn’t followed standard protocol in such situations by telling us – quite dishonestly, of course, but honesty wasn’t the point – that the room was ‘lovely, really, really lovely’, and just how ‘marvellous’ all the other facilities were and how he would ‘really, really’ love to share the flat with us, and so on.

I told her that I knew Germans quite well and that he was not being rude but simply being honest: she had asked him what he thought of the room and he had told her. What was wrong with that? But she wouldn’t be assuaged and that was that, and the student was not invited to take the room.

. . .

I am reminded of the British obsession with ‘being polite’ and the nation preferring such ‘politeness’ to being honest pretty much every time I switch on BBC Radio 4 (the main talk radio station here in Britain). If, on some discussion programme such as Start The Week, a book one of the contributors has written is mentioned, it is invariably a ‘marvellous’ book, one which the speaker ‘absolutely loved’. If, as happens all too often, the station broadcasts a programme of poetry or short stories or music by either professional writers or artists or amateurs , each poem, story or piece of music is inevitably ‘amazing’, ‘quite amazing’, ‘simply marvellous’ or ‘stupendous’ whether or not it actually is or not. And more often than not it isn’t.

I understand the dilemma faced by presenter: if a poem or a book or a piece of music is mediocre, it can be difficult to say so without sounding overly harsh. But might I suggest that praising it to high heaven as though had been reinvented is not the only alternative. Surely to goodness it is not beyond the wit of most of us to find some way to be polite and acknowledge that at least an effort has been made without resorting to tell outright lies?

A similar and related bafflement for me is much that is said about ‘works of art’ by their creators and commentators, and I was reminded of this yesterday while listening to Afternoon Concert on the BBC’s Radio 3 (one of Radio 4’ sister stations – though I suspect you guessed that – and dedicated to music, mainly ‘classical’ but which has an admirably catholic coverage of pieces). For some reason which eluded me yesterday and still eludes me, yesterday’s concert was given over to piece by Estonian composers and very enjoyable and interesting they were, too.

At this point I have to quote Sir Thomas Beecham who observed (or is said to have observed) that ‘it is quite untrue that British people don't appreciate music. They may not understand it, but they absolutely love the noise it makes’. Well, that sums me up: I don’t just appreciate music, I love it (all kinds of music, I should add, as a rebuff to my stepmother’s aunt who gets very sniffy indeed about jazz and always trots out some dismissive quote by someone or other about jazz), but I can’t even begin to claim I can ‘understand’ it.

Yes, I know – as one can know that one doesn’t know something known by others – that for those with an in-depth knowledge of music different keys can relate to each other, that, for example, a symphony or concerto can have an ‘architecture, but sadly I have no such musical knowledge. That certainly doesn’t detract from my enjoyment and appreciation, but where I do markedly depart from others is when talk turns to matters such as ‘what a piece of music means’. I don’t mean to sound completely daft but as far as I am concerned music is just sound and nothing more. And crucially is has no intrinsic meaning.

Naturally, a composer or performer can give a piece meaning: he or she might hope to try to celebrate his nation’s existence by using echoes of his nation’s folk songs in a piece, but I contend that whatever ‘meaning’ a piece of music has has been superimposed on it later (possibly by the composer him or herself). And let me repeat: as far as I am concerned ‘music’ is absolutely nothing more than pure sound. Yes, the sounds made by the various instruments used to produce it might have been planned to be played in a certain sequence or they it might not: I get equal enjoyment from free jazz as from a Haydn piano sonata. But neither piece has intrinsic meaning.

. . .

I am writing this entry (after what became a typically circuitous introduction) because of two things I have heard on the radio in recent days. The first was a claim (claim? It was delivered more as an absolute instruction than a claim and one which will brook no contradiction, which always rubs me up the wrong way) that ‘art’ need no necessarily be beautiful, but that ‘it must carry a message’. To that my response is an unequivocal ‘bollocks!’

Quite apart from my personal conviction that ‘art’ is in itself nothing special or indeed at all rare and that just as much ‘art’ is produced in a council evening class of enthusiastic amateur painters as in the studios of the – largely self-appointed – great and good, I do get very jacked off with the insistence that ‘art’ should have ‘meaning’ or ‘a message’. Says who? As far as I am concerned nothing in this world whatsoever has intrinsic meaning. Whatever ‘meaning’ we, individually or collectively choose to see in anything is wholly arbitrary. For example, the small, by now very grubby, toy bunny I might have bought for my child when she was a toddler and which she took to bed and to sleep with her every night until she reached puberty might certainly have ‘meaning’ to me on the eve of her wedding 25 years later when I come across it by chance; but it most certainly has no ‘meaning’ to you and I wouldn’t expect it do.

Just by sheer chance as I write this in mid-afternoon listening to Radio 3’s Afternoon Concert, an arrangement by some bod called Fritz Kreisler of the second movement of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto is being played. Now that piece most definitely has meaning for me – it is a piece I played a lot as in a great deal at one point in my life, getting drunk on cheap and warm white wine feeling very sorry for myself now that another girl had thrown me over and whenever I hear it or any of its other movements, I am taken straight back to those days. But that ‘meaning’ is personal and subjective – if you know and like the piece, it might well have its own ‘meaning’ to you. Does that make my point?

Something similar happens when the latest novels are discussed on radio: to listen to such discussions, you get the distinct impression that if a new novel doesn’t ‘deal with’ a certain, rather limited range of ‘issues’, it can lay no claim – in Britain at least - to being taken seriously. So a hero or heroine might well be an eco warrior battling to halt global warming, a trans man or woman battling to come to terms with his or her identity, a gay man or woman battling to come to terms with his or her sexuality and so on. If, on the other hand, a new novel does no such thing, it is seemingly ruled offside as a piece which cannot be taken seriously.

Something similar goes on with the notion of ‘creativity’, and it, too, like ‘meaning’ is put on a pedestal to be worshipped. Once again I hold to the, no doubt hugely unfashionable, view that not only is ‘creativity’ very common indeed and thus nothing special at all and that it will be found equally in that council-run evening class as in more hi-falutin salons, but essentially the word is quite meaningless. Listening to the introduction of a piece on yesterday’s concert, Prophecy by the Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tuur, he was quoted as saying that his main aim is to ask ‘existential questions with music’ and one of his goals ‘is to reach the creative energy of the listener’. But what is he talking about? Exactly how do you ask an ‘existential question with music’? And what, exactly is ‘the creative energy of the listener’.

My dilemma is that I might be the patsy, I might be the philistine who is blind to such matters. And being blind I wouldn’t even know I was blind to them. With the best will in the world I cannot even begin to understand what ‘creative energy’ might be. And although I can think of several existential questions which might be asked – such as this one posed by a Palestinian refugee who was born and has lived in a permanently temporary camp for the past 30 years: ‘What the fuck is going on? Am I really going to be living hand to mouth until I die’ – I cannot for the life of me see how such questions can be asked by music.

It does occur to me that perhaps I should throw in the towel and become like folk in Britain for whom everything is ‘amazing’ perhaps that will save me from my incipient philistinism – become part of the gang while I still can.

. . .

I can’t find anyway to lead into this although the artist ‘entity’ Gilbert & George did come to mind while I was writing the above. Sadly, I found I couldn’t trace the immediate connection. However, I think they are a good example of what we philistines regard as bollocks and that how once you are part of the inner circle in art, pretty much anything you do is ‘art’ and ‘amazing’. Well judge for yourselves.

Below is a reproduction of a piece made by Gilbert & George in 1996 called Spunk Blood Piss Shit Spit. To be frank it as an illustration it is perfectly acceptable, though were it produced by a second year art student at college and entitled something innocuous such as Full English Breakfast, I very much doubt it would get any attention at all.

As it is . . . I did seem to remember that Gilbert & George claimed to have used some of their own faeces (the posh word for shit) as part of the materials for their piece, but I can’t find any reference after an in-depth 30-second search, so just accept that as hearsay.

Beneath the piece (lifted from the Tate Gallery’s website about a ‘Major Gilbert & George Exhibition and you can check it out here) is a piece of puffery, by an art critic and by Gilbert & George themselves. Quite how what they write about the genesis of their piece makes that piece any better – or even any more interesting – I couldn’t tell you, but then I am just a philistine who cannot be expected to understand these things. I am, however, not too philistine to realise that if I could get hold of a good agent and a great marketing department, I could make a mint! Here is an excerpt from the accompanying puffery:

At the same time, the pictures [in the Tate exhibition] explore ideas of mortality in its rawest form. ‘It’s like our pictures of cemeteries, all that dead matter. Shit is also the end of a life, a left over’, they explain. The nakedness of the artists is deliberately exposed, an image of humanity reduced to its essentials, without shelter, status or dignity. As the critic David Sylvester commented, while many twentieth-century artists tried to break out of the prettifying conventions of depicting the body as ‘nude’, only Gilbert & George truly succeeded in portraying it as ‘naked’.

Their investigation into the body led Gilbert & George to look in detail at all of its fluids and excretions. They bought a microscope to study samples of piss, and were astonished to discover complex patterns forming and dispersing on the slide. They found they could even pick out recognisable images. ‘Out of these drops of blood come stained-glass windows from fourteenth-century cathedrals, or Islamic writing’ they explained. ‘To see daggers and medieval swords in sweat: that’s our aim. In piss you find pistols, flowers, crucifixes. Spunk amazes us… it really does look like a crown of thorns.

Here is another piece which gives me at least the impression that if you play your cards right, this art game can well be money for old rope.

On the website it is accompanied by this piece of puffery:

We were trying to do something that was absolutely hopeless, dead, grey, lost’, Gilbert & George have said of the Dead Boards pictures. Like the Dusty Cornwers which preceded them, these interior studies of decaying empty rooms and isolated individuals are marked by melancholia. Even when the figures change positions, the same walls and the same boards are repeated, adding to their claustrophobic intensity.

. . .


Just for the craic (or, as I am now told is correct, despite what I thought crack) a photo I took yesterday, reduced to B&W (as is only proper).

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Just a few pics . . .

Heinitzpolder - Dollard, Germany

I’m in North-West Germany for two weeks, arriving last Tuesday, visiting my sister who lives in the back beyond in Ostfriesland (East Frisia) right on the Dutch frontier. She and my brother-in-law, who retired last year, live in a concerted farmhouse typical of North Germany.

I brought my ‘new camera’ with me, a DSLR (digitial single lens reflex), and have been taking pictures of pretty much everything I want to take pictures of, but mainly stock photographs of the area and towns to submit to Alamy. I am now an accredited contributor (though, to be honest, anyone can become one if your three initial and subsequent submissions pass their quality control.

I call it my ‘new camera’ because although I’ve owned it for more than a year, I still haven’t quite got to grips with the innumerable variation of settings. In the 1980s, in Birmingham and Cardiff, I did a lot of photography, but this was in the pre-digital age of developing film and printing pictures. I had two cameras, but almost always used the simplest of the two, a Pentax K1000. The settings were simple: aperture, shutter speed and ASA (now called ISO, though I understand it is in some way a bit different as in the maths involved are different). That was it, but now . . .?

Here are a few I took yesterday in Papenburg, a town about 15 miles away where my grandmother was born and grew up. They are in B&W simply because I prefer B&W. They are not very interesting simply because they are just stock piccies of the town I want to submit to Alamy. The major employer in the town is a large shipyard, Jos. L Meyer, which shifted from town to a huge site on the outskirts. Where the old shipyard was has been covered and landscaped and now houses hotels and stores. The crane is from the old shipyard and, well, has been there to look nice. The others were taken a few days ago, hereabouts and thereabouts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What will be in Santa’s Brexit sack next March? Well, I’m buggered if I know

Remember what it was like looking forward to Christmas when you were young? Remember the excitement, anticipation and wondering what Santa - or later your parents - would bring you? You had no idea, none whatsoever. You might have dropped a great many hints about what you wanted, but you still had no idea as to whether they had been picked up and would be acted upon. The outcome come Christmas would be a complete surprise. OK, that was when you were still a child. Later as an adult - the cynical phrase as a ‘grown-up’ - you would often request something and get it.

Well, switch December 24/25 for March 29 and in one respect Brexit is very much like a child’s Christmas: none of us, not convinced Remainer nor convinced Brexiteer, has the faintest clue what the outcome will be. Certainly the sky won’t fall in overnight from March 29 to 30, and nor will Britain again be in a position to rule the waves. The result of Britain leaving the EU will only become apparent over the coming months and years.

There is, of course, any amount of prognostication from all sides. For example, British biscuit manufacturers who are banking on imported foreign biscuits becoming too expensive for most consumers and a substantial rise in sales of their products have predicted, are rubbing their hands in glee. I understand the Daily Mail has already

composed its front page to reveal - exclusively no doubt - the news to a grateful public, and apparently if you can prove your are middle-class and own your own home, their will be a biscuit premium for six month - buy one packet, get another at half-price!

. . .

I happen to have voted Remain, but with one important reservations (and I’m sure I’ve said this before): the EU is essentially a great idea, but of late has sometimes been trotting up an alley I didn’t always much like and regard as more than a little misguided.

Migration into the UK from EU member states - or immigration as purists choose to call it - doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and this country can thank the Lord for the extra work being done by the many Baltic states citizens and the French, Italians, Poles, Bulgarians and all the rest which our homegrown workforce is often unwilling to do. But I’ve always been wary of (and usually downright disliked) ostentatious zeal, which is simply the more polite word for zealotry, whether it is for the latest diet (don’t eat any carbs at all, just protein/eat nothing but diary products for five days, then drink nothing but tomato soup/always stand up when you are eating, only eat in short five-minute bursts, then take a laxative) or for those bores among us who claim to be ‘convinced Europeans’ and profess that they ‘love the EU’.

Well, I am neither a ‘convinced European nor an ‘unconvinced European’ and I neither ‘love the EU nor do I ‘hate the EU’. What I like and shall always support is co-operation, simplicity and pragmatism, and but for a few glitches - remember all those wine lakes and mountains of butter we were supposed to pretend didn’t exist to the EU could keep French farmers happy? - the EU is, as far as I am concerned, far more often than not a useful and essentially admirable institution. But what does leave me at the door and wringing my hands in despair is this ongoing zeal in Brussels for ‘ever-closer political union’.

On paper it makes perfect sense: were there - eventually - one European state with one European parliament which could bring in Europe-wide laws and, crucially for the long-term health of the Euro, impose a Europe-wide tax system and set a Europe-wide budget, the world - well Europe - would be a simpler place, at least on paper. As it is . . .

Anyone naive enough to believe that in a matter of years the vastly disparate nations in the EU will willingly sign up to resigning their sovereignty in an ‘all-for-one, and one-for-all’ gesture of solidarity is a directive short of a paragraph. That doesn’t mean it will never happen or even that it couldn’t ever happen, but it will not be for several centuries. Yet the notion of ‘ever-closer political union’ leading up to one de fact ‘United States of Europe’ is still one apparently at the top of the wish list for the EU’s top brass. Why? Can’t they see just how unrealistic it all is?

Often trotted out is the ‘fact’ that ‘the EU has preserved peace in Europe for the past 73 years. Well, put aside for the moment that ‘the EU’ has not existed as such for more than 25 years (the ‘EU’ was established by the Maastricht Treaty but let me be generous and say that the notion of a potential European Union has existed since our very own Winston Churchill called for a ‘United States of Europe’ in 1946 and the idea was started to be given tangible form with the formation with the Treaty of Paris in 1951), it is a bit of a stretch to claim that the absence of war in Europe since the end of World War II is down to the fledgling EEC/EC/EU. I think it is more down to the fact that after the horrors of World War II - horrors experienced not just by those who fought in that war but by every European born before 1939 who in some way or other was affected by it and its aftermath, no one had much stomach for any form of warmongering. The undoubted prosperity ushered in by increasingly tariff-free trade in Europe also helped, but it is not in the slightest churlish to add, for example, that the UK’s membership of the then EEC crippled the economy of New Zealand (whose trade links with Britain were more or less cut overnight). Once again the truism was demonstrated that for every winner, there’s a loser.

(Incidentally, if you’re the kind of idealistic lad or lass who likes world peace with your cornflakes, bring it on, though whenever I hear the phrase ‘world peace’, I am reminded of the toe-curling anecdote trotted out by President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. What do you want for Christmas? he informed the world he had asked his then eight-year-old daughter Amy. No doubt through teeth braces and a winsome smile the little Carter replied: ‘World peace, daddy.’ Me, I’m very much looking forward to the day when rain is far less wet.)

It is the unflinching zeal for pushing through notion of ever-closer political union’ in the EU which in part helped persuade a majority - actually a small majority at that majority, so it wasn’t as though Britain is wholeheartedly behind it - to vote for Brexit, although I suspect only a small minority of the Leave voters did so for that reason. The rest - well, the rest voted Brexit for any number of reasons, some quite rational, others batshit crazy. Many of them are on record for voting Leave ‘because there are to many foreigners in Britain’. That, as I pointed out above, most of those foreigners do sterling service for their adopted country - i.e. Britain - seems to have passed them by.

Having said that, when I listen to why many chose to vote Remain, I’m equally unimpressed with their thinking and dislike equally in too many of them a supercilious ‘we, the intelligent ones, voted to Remain’ tone.

. . .

This has all been a bit of a ramble, so let me rein myself in and try to get to what brought me to write this entry in the first place: no one, but no one, not Remainer nor Leaver, has the faintest clue what the state of Britain will be come March 2020, March 2022 and March 2025. I’m not sanguine, but . . .

More to the point I don’t think anyone bar a few pointy-headed civil servants in Whitehall and Brussels has the fainted understanding of ‘the options on offer’. None. ‘Canada-plus, Chequers, backstop, the Norway solution, the Swiss relationship - they could all be arcane sexual practices for all we understand about what they mean and what they entail. Every news bulletin brings ‘the latest develpments’ but I doubt I am the only one who can make neither head or tail about their significance.

But there is one detail we are all aware of and which I think we here in Britain all understand, one debate which pretty much symbolises just how dangerous this whole exercise is (apart from the fact that if Britain is a loser through Brexit, so is the rest of the EU, which is why they, too, want a reasonable deal). And this one detail is the nub of it all: will there, can there, should there be a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is the nut no one has so far been able to crack.

After 30 years of murder and misery, jointly caused by the Irish Republican Army and the various Loyalist paramilitaries, the island of Ireland has enjoyed a well-deserved few decades of peace. All that could - and might - well be lost if the EU and Britain don’t get it right.

I have sympathy with both sides: the EU is completely right that once the UK is out of the EU, its ‘customs union’ must be properly defined and that can only be with some kind of ‘hard border’. Its compromise more or less amounts to Northern Ireland still being in the ‘customs union’ while the rest of Britain is not, and customs checks being made on goods travelling between the mainland and Northern Ireland.

On the other hand Britain says simply ‘that’s not on, because it can’t be on’: Northern Ireland is a part of Britain and cannot be separated. And it, too, for very practical reasons - that it doesn’t want to see a resurgence of fighting in Northern Ireland - knows that the current arrangement of a ‘soft border’ between the two parts of Ireland is essential. But do the Remainers and the Brexiteers give a shit about that (and the majority in Northern Ireland voted for Brexit, without thinking through the consequences. In fact, when it came to the Brexit referendum, I don’t think anyone thought through the consequences - not David Cameron who called hoping it would calm matters in the Conservative Party, and not the voters with all their ‘fuck foreigners/I love the EU’ posturing.

So: Happy Christmas (if you know what I mean).

As for the EU ‘having ensured peace in Europe for the past 70 years, if - if - they have ensured nations won’t go to war in Europa, ‘ever-closer union’ will simply - in my cynical view - merely ensure that there will sooner or later by rather more civil wars than we have experienced in the past 70 years.

Friday, September 21, 2018

In which I learn that blog entries like lemonade can also go flat. Still. . .

Three Queens Hotel, Burton-on-Trent – Sunday, September 16.

NB This post was begun five days ago, an irony given what I write. Oh, well, you can’t win them all (and even winning some would be a bonus).

The saintly Guardian, always in the vanguard of modern journalism (motto ‘No trend too obscure’, although I would prefer it if they were more honest and adoped the motto ‘We’ll be in Heaven before you, don’t kid yourself’), has in recent years taken to, and made a great deal of, a new ‘style of reporting. I don’t think it has a name, but it might be named ‘Live’ after the prominent word at the top of each such report. And it is exactly that, ‘live’ reporting, though whether you take the view that this is yet another step in the progress of mankind or, like me, that it’s a spurious excuse to make reporting more ‘relevant and authentic’, is up to you. But if you do side with the Grauniad (and thus disagree with me) be warned: not only are you henceforth banned from reading this blog and be forced to forgo keeping up to date with my increasinlgy dyspeptic ramblings, but crucially I know (where you live). Funny old world, eh?

I was about to write that I suspect recent modern technology has made the Guardian’s proud ‘live’ reporting possible, but on reflection that can’t be true because reporters have been able to use, and have used, telephones for decades. What is perhaps new is the internet and the various devices and gadgets and practices it has enabled. So, for example, as soon as Pope Francis (to use just one example) reaches for the butter at breakfast of a day – and assuming he is not eating alone – the world can know about it almost immediately: someone or other sitting nearby can tweet or post on Facebook ‘Pope Francis has just reached for the butter on his breakfast table after pouring himself another cup of coffee’.

Just how significant it is that the Pope – and I know of no cholesterol concerns his doctors might have, or at least none which have been made public – should reach for the butter at breakfast or, more pertinently, just how vital it is that the rest of the world should know, I can’t say, though I imagine you can guess my thoughts on the matter. But however silly my example is, and it is a silly example, it is not so outrageous an example when I come to mention the Guardian’s new ‘live’ reporting practice.

. . .

When there is an important development in the news – or even when a new trivial item of gossip becomes known – I far prefer to wait for a full account once the dust has settled, the facts are in place and an informed analysis of those facts can give us a better understanding of what has happened and its possible significance. As for many folk claiming that as functioning, responsible and self-aware democrats in a functioning, responsible and self-aware democracy proud of fits free, functioning, responsible and self-aware press and the functioning, responsible and self-aware role it plays in supporting the rule of law, ‘having to know what has happened as soon as it has happened’ is essential.

I, on the other hand, regard it largely as a form of neurosis – one related to fashion as it happens – and one possible reason why I was not cut out to be a reporter. Despite not being a bad reporter and technically better than some, the rush and nonsense of having to get ‘the latest development’ struck me as ineffably silly, and even I am must admit that that is something of a fatal flaw in my profession. So the Guardian-style ‘live’ reporting does nothing for me.

There are, of course, some news stories where the practice – at a pinch – might make sense. The attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11 (11/9 for British readers) was such a huge story that . . . (well, fill in the rest yourself, because although I happened to see it live on TV, by chance, and was as aghast by it all as the next I can’t still can’t claim it was crucial that I should know everything about the incident just as soon as possible.).

Knowing what we know now about the attack (apparently it was masterminded by a gang of disaffected cleaning ladies in the Pentagon, although others rubbish the idea and point out that when you see the size of the hole in the Pentagon wall that just has to be nonsense) and knowing what subsequently happened – the invasion by The Forces Of Good if Iraq and subsequent (and I would add consequent) developments in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Turkey you might agree that a comprehensive view of the tragedy gradually formed over the following months and years is more useful than a blow by blow up-to-the-second account.

Quite possibly some wiseacre, in the hours after the Twin Towers attack, confided in his mates down the pub (US bar) ‘this isn’t looking good for the Middle East, I fear the worst’ but I somehow doubt it. At a pinch, I concede Guardian style ‘live’ reporting might be worthwhile - look, I’m trying! - but many other news ‘stories’, I suggest, don’t benefit one iota.

A regular outing of the Guardian’s ‘live’ reporting over these past two years has been ‘live’ reporting of the latest round of negotiations in Brussels between the EU’s Michel Barnier and whichever British politico ego has got the job this week of talking nonsense on our behalf. And when I say ‘live’ it will most certainly be a minute-by-minute blow of what is going on, or rather what is not going on. Given the delicate nature of these negotiations both sides like to play it close their chest, so of real substance we get nothing, but we will and do get breathless accounts of ‘Jeremy Somebody, the Brexit secretary’s junior deputy bag carrier, has just come out of the meeting and has headed off to the gents (US restroom). No one knows why he is doing this and EU officials are staying tight-lipped’.

. . .

Travelodge, Newmarket Road, Cambridge – Monday, September 17 (but not by much).

The reason for that rather longwinded intro about the Guardian’s ‘live’ reporting is that if it’s OK for the bloody Guardian, surely to goodness it is OK for yours truly, so a ‘live’ blog entry was on the cards. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out that way in that although the above was written in the breakfast room of the Three Queens Hotel, Bridge St., Burton-on-Trent, it is being continued here, in the breakfast room cum bar of Cambridge’s Travelodge at just after 1am after boozy night at The Pickerel Inn, Magdalene St., Cambridge).

I arrived here after a leisurely drive from Burton-on-Trent to Cambridge through, as far as I can tell, five counties – Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, something which might make our American friends a tad jealous given that it was a trip of only 105 miles which would probably not even take them to the nearest petrol station in some parts of the Midwest – at about 2pm and immediately took off to mosey around downtown, as in ‘central’ Cambridge which is made up almost exclusively of its university colleges.

I got in touch with one Paul S., a school friend of my niece Hannah, who is here doing a Phd in Engineering, but who, more to the point, knows a lot more about Cambridge University and who took me on a tour of the various colleges. Being a registered student meant he was able to take me into various chapels and colleges for free, saving me, I calculate at least £40 in entry charges. But that was not the reason I met up with him.

Our tour, which included Kings College Chapel, Trinity College, St John’s College and I don’t know where else, concluded with a long five-hour examination of just how much cheap pub red wine we could drink and still stay lucid.

Starbucks, High Street Kensington, London – Monday, September 17, a little later (just after 2pm in fact)..

Conversation was, as is often the case on such occasions very broad indeed. I have to say that as a conversation partner I find Paul very congenial in as far as he takes a broad interest in all kinds of topics. The conversation itself, by no means deep, included such sure-fire hits as ‘the point of philosophy’, ‘how language might well covertly define (and thus even perhaps) limit thought’, ‘how satire can be and should be very dangerous’ (and I made my standard point that given that in Turkey, Russia, China and Iran you can find yourself banged up for many years or even risk death if you dare satirise those in power, what is called and regarded as ‘satire’ in Britain is anything but. Poking fun and make jokes about our politicos, however funny the jokes, is not ‘satire’ and the worst that can happen to you is that you are snubbed in The Groucho or wherever (I wouldn’t know). And there’s also the point that satire doesn’t even have to be funny.

Our conversation was conducted in both English and German, both of us resorting to one or other of the languages when using that language made it easier to make a point using a certain word. And words which might seem to mean the same thing often to not quite: ‘ironisch’ in German is not the same as ‘ironic’ in English, and nor is ‘Zynismus’ quite the same as cynical. The German word carries more than just a hint of bitterness among other things.

I was staying in a Travelodge in the Newmarker Road and my walk hope lasted 30 minutes, useful if you are not quite sober. On the way I came across two Russians, the man, as I was, carrying a digital SLR, but unlike me he also had a tripod. He spoke some English but his femals companion spoke a little more. They had been to the wedding of a friend, also Russian, who had married – I presume – and Englishman living in Cambridge. Oh, and we joked about Salisbury. He even showed me a spoof short video he had made of a couple skulking around a house, then smearing something on the door handle.

. . .

The fun has slightly gone out of sending up the Gurdian’s ‘live’ reporting style in as far as I feel it has fallen a little flat, but what the hell. In a minute I shall set off for my brother Mark’s flat in Earls Court and take him out to lunch, but I wanted to finish this entry first.

St Breward, Friday, September 21.

I should have told you a lot earlier that the reason I was driving around the country and had washed up in Burton on September 15, was that I had taken my son to Liverpool where he is beginning a university course. We drove up last Saturday, unpacked, went for a coffee then I said goodbye and took off for Burton. Why Burton? Well, I was heading for Cambridge, but I didn’t know what time I would be leaving Liverpool and decided Burton was a convenient halfway spot. Makes sense, really, if you think about it. as for my son starting college and more or less leaving home, that, I think is worth and entry in its own right, so I shan’t say more here. Right, it’s now finished. Bit longwinded, eh, but what the hell, I’ve got to do something until it’s time to suck my next Werther’s Original (pictured).