Thursday, February 15, 2018

A long, long sigh as the cock-up king reclaims his crown (not that anyone was ever intent on stealing it). As for literary folk - well, let’s see. And a PS on the stats of those viewing this blog (which is rather confusing)

I should like to begin this entry with a long sigh, but I don’t know how it might be spelled and, anyway, it wouldn’t be a happy sigh of relief or anything as comforting as that. It’s just that I am - sigh - responsible (I almost wrote ‘as usual’, but that would not be quite fair) for a slight boo-boo which might or might not have gone into the first edition of this morning’s Daily Mail. The first edition is, of course, the first to be printed because it has the furthest
to travel in a paper’s circulation area, to beyond the extremes of the civilised world (or Rhyl in North Wales, whichever is furthest).

I am told my boo-boo was spotted, though whether in time to be corrected for the first edition or not, I was not informed. So what terrible thing did I do?

Well, to tell you in detail would require a long and boring (for me most certainly and quite possibly also for you) explanation, but it involves a game running in the Daily Mail at present called ‘Lucky Squares’ which allows readers to ‘win a share of £1 million!’ That, to date and in the three or four weeks the game has been running, the vast majority of winners, about 15/20 a day, have almost all won just £25 each, a sum which might buy you and three friends two rounds of cheap drinks in a pub (US bar), is neither here nor there: you are still winning ‘a share of £1 million!’ so stop griping.

The thing about newspapers is that it is the small things - the puzzles, for example, and the competitions - which are in an odd kind of way the most sensitive. So after the wrong something or other went in - or possibly almost went in - the deputy editor has demanded an inquiry. The deputy chief sub emailed me to ask why I had done what I had done so that he could provide the explanation required by higher up and I told him: ‘Felix, I said, I cocked up. Sorry.’

I also outlined just how I cocked up, and it was essentially a very, very simple cock-up, one which could happen to anyone, but which over the 76 years I have served in Her Majesty’s Press all too often seems to happen to me. Hence the
sigh. But there’s more to that sigh: on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, I shall be retiring, calling it a day, ending an era (or in my case ‘an ear’). I could have done so more than three and a half years ago on or soon after November 21, 2014, for several reasons - I wanted to save a little more money into my retirement drinking fund but I also like my work and the people I work with - I carried on.

Believe it or not, I am rather distressed by my boo-boos. I am most certainly not the only one to commit them, but once I am gone from the Mail, I should like to be recalled as something rather more admirable than ‘our most recent cock-up king’. So last night’s hiccup doesn’t help.

. . .

My retirement is also rather opportune in that just over a week later, on April 13, my daughter, the little sweet slip of thing I first held in my arms almost 22 years ago, is due to give birth. It was not planned, and she was hoping to build up a nannying and child-caring business for she had a family, but then these things happen. And I must say that although I think, for her sake, it would have been better had it not happened, I am rather pleased because I had always assumed - I was 46 when she was born - I would never get to see a grandchild. But now, God willing, I shall do.

I must say that I am looking forward to April 5 and beyond, for although I like my work (and have liked sub-editing ever since I began to work shifts on Britain’s national newspapers (once known as Fleet Street) in 1990, I shall not be sorry not to have to schlepp 240 miles up to London every Sunday morning and 24o back again down here to Cornwall every Wednesday night. I once enjoyed it, listening to music or the radio for four hours while seeing how many other motorist I could burn off the road without killing myself. But for these past few years it has become increasingly tiring and I am glad to get it over with.

The return trip home on a Wednesday is almost always broken with a stop at the Brewers Arms in South Petherton, Somerset, for a few glasses of cheap red, several of my La Paz Wilde Cigarros and the second half of a Champion’s League football game, but the downside is that I don’t get in until after 1am, sleep only a few hours (I usually wake at 8am at the latest and can never get off to sleep again) and then feel like shit for the rest of the day (like today, though it is off to bed as soon as I have completed this entry). But it is still something of a schlepp.

Come April 5 that will all be over with, but then so will the reasonably generous sum I am paid for my toils by the Mail. At some point I shall have to sit down and work out my finances and adjust a few standing orders, but we really don’t live a life of luxury, I have noted before that my cigar habit is wholly affordable if, as I do, I buy them from The Netherlands (and I don’t smoke that many a week anyway), so I don’t think we shall be starving at any time soon.

That April 5 and the beginning of my retirement and days of apparent leisure also has another significance, and although I shan’t elaborate here, you dear reader who has possibly read past entries might already have an inkling of what I am alluding to. A slight clue: I really do hope I am not a bullshitter.

. . .

One other thing on the horizon is that I have volunteered to help out in some way with the North Cornwall Book Festival. It happened like this: I have attended the St Endellion Music Festival for the past few years and somehow or other ended up on some mailing list, particularly the book festival’s mailing list. A month or so ago, I received an email from the organisers saying they were looking for volunteers and listing in what areas volunteers are
needed. They need ticket sellers, folk to direct cars into fields while the festival is taking place, but also listed ‘publicity’. Well, I thought I might be able to help out there and responded. The upshot is that I am invited to a ‘social’ at the house of one of the organisers in St Endellion where all potential volunteers will meet up.

Now take a look at the festival’s website here, and see whether you spot the phrase which caught my eye almost immediately I first called up the page: ‘The fifth North Cornwall Book Festival was a deep and utter glory . . .’ Did you? I have to say ‘deep and utter glory’ does even less for me than folk who get ‘excited’ by a new policy initiative or who care ‘passionately’ about growing different strains of parsley.

I suspect - well, actually, I am pretty sure - that the festival folk and I shall not really hit it off/I shall go down like a lead balloon. But let’s see. At least I can attend the social on March 8 and get a few glasses of cheap read out of the occasion.

Oh, and whatever they want me to do, I shall not be standing knee-deep in damp grass in a slight drizzle directing cars to vacant parts of a muddy field.

Being ‘prejudiced’ is, I think, derived from ‘pre-judging’ (in this case people). So when I flicked through the photos on the website (and as someone who has also taken a picture or two I have to say they are not in any way outstanding and why have ‘photographers-in-residence’?) I did get a slight sinking feeling. To put it another way, I am not ‘passionate about literature’, I just like ‘reading fiction’.

. . .

LATER: Out of interest, I keep an eye on the statistics of who might be reading this blog and where they come from. I have noticed that there is an extraordinary number of ‘visitors’ from Russia and Turkey, their number being extraordinarily high. Take a look at this screenshot.

Now, I can’t think that my ramblings and pontifications are of particular interest to folk in Russia and Turkey, so I can only assume that for some reason bots sent out from those two countries now also have me on their list. But as gesture of friendship maybe these two piccies will prove to them that their attention is still worth while . . .

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Finally, an entry with teeth, a neglected part of Central Europe gets a look in and one in the eye for those who suspect I am vain. Vain? Moi?

What do ‘getting a little long in the tooth’ and Slovakia have in common? Well, on the face of it nothing, except that juxtaposing a well-known English phrase and a Central European country is just another of the kind of oblique intros I have made my own and which probably don’t do me any favours. But, in fact, they do have a connection, although because it’s a personal one – personal to me, that is – it probably doesn’t count.

About seven or eight years ago, I visited Plymouth for the day with my then young daughter, Elsie (and possibly her younger brother). I had no business in Plymouth and only went along because she wanted to go shopping and I didn’t want a 12/13-year-old wandering around the city on her own. On the way home, sitting in on the train, I took a selfie, and a non-too-flattering selfie at that. In one of the shops we had happened upon what would be called a ‘joke shop’ although it sold more than just jokes.

It stocked any number of cheap and amusing gadgets, toys, books, masks and that kind of thing, items which catch our interest when we spot them in a such a shop, which we then buy, toy with for a day or two, and which are then thrown out ten or 20 years later when we clean out our drawers. They are by then usually covered in dust and fluff.

One of the thing which caught my eye and which I bought was a set of joke false teeth which made the wearer resemble an 70-year-old hideous tramp. They were not pretty, and as a joke I bought them and, later on the train, put them in my mouth and took my selfie. Sadly, I no longer have that selfie but I wish I now did, because the set of horrible teeth were rather too close to the truth for me and posting that picture here to accompany that entry would explain why I am planning a trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, in March rather better and certainly a lot faster than all the preceding long-winded circumlocutious waffle.

The fact was that by the age I had then reached, and one which was not regarded as particularly old, I didn’t really need a set of hideous false teeth. My left front tooth had, inexplicably apparently rather quickly, grown rather longer than its right twin and it was most certainly noticeable. And it did not flatter me.

When I asked my dentist why it had happened, she told me if often did with age because, like horses, our gums recede. But that couldn’t be the explanation, I told her, because it wasn’t that more of the base of the tooth was showing as the gum was receding, but that it had simply grown longer. She shrugged. She was a twentysometing dark-haired and very pretty Spanish woman and shrugging in an attractive way was the least of her charms. Sadly, she has long since returned to Spain. Was there anything I could do, I asked. Yes, she said, you can have it shortened. Is that service available on the NHS, I asked. No, she said, you will have to have it done privately.

But oddly enough, at my next six-monthly check-up and without saying a word she did shorten it, getting to work and simply using a drill to get rid of what was by now an excess on that left front tooth. I didn’t ask why in case I was about to be charged. But I wasn’t.

I can’t exaggerate how much that longer front tooth rather spoiled my ‘looks’ and had made me feel self-conscious. Now the problem was cured. But now I have another problem.

About a year ago, I felt a little pain when I would bit into an apple (milk and an apple or two is my snack of choice), so I pretty much without thinking took to not using my front teeth to eat the apples and used my side teeth instead. A few months later I realised that left front tooth was loose. And it has become even looser still. So loose in fact, that I have decided to have it taken out and replaced with an implant. And that is why I am travelling to Bratislava for two night in March. Finally, got there, eh?

Actually, getting an implant was a subsequent decision. I am not as vain as I have made out here and had simply decided to have the tooth taken out and sport a gap. Why not? Pirates do it, so why shouldn’t I. But there was uproar in our household, with both my wife and daughter both insisting I ‘couldn’t go around with a gap’. Why not? I asked again, but to be honest it is one of those things which you either get, know, understand and accept, or you just don’t. And I just don’t.

The alternatives were a one-tooth denture or an implant. Now implants are notoriously expensive so they both assumed I would settle for a one-tooth denture. No way, I told then, I am not wearing dentures even if, strictly speaking it is only a denture. I’m not. Why not? they asked, but there again that is one of those things you either get, know, understand and accept, or you don’t. The didn’t.

From there on in ‘my journey’ (to use a phrase I am too old to like and don’t, and far too old to get used to but which seems to be rather popular these days in that way that much is now made to sound far more important than it really is. People now talk of ‘their dream’ and ‘their vision’ when what they mean is ‘what they would like to do’ and ‘how they plan to set about doing it’) to getting an implant was clear, and even choosing to go to Bratislava was a straightforward decision.

We Brits are continually warned of the dangers of getting dental work done abroad, and certainly caution is not just advisable but necessary. On the other hand when what British dentists charge – I was quoted from between £2,300 to more than £4,000 for just the one implant when I range around local dentists whereas I shall be paying just over £1,000 in Slovakia – is compared and, of course, all other things being equal, getting the work done in Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany or Slovakia is something of a no-brainer.

I did ring my NHS dentist to ask her advice, and she told me she had seen private work done to one of her patients in Bulgaria and she wasn’t happy with it and work done by Hungarian dentists which didn’t trouble her at all. (She is, by the way, Greek). She told me that I should ensure that whichever dentist I went to adhered to acceptable standards of hygiene. Well, that, too, is something of a no-brainer, and it is an odd kind of British xenophobia which accepts without question that hygiene standards in Europe will necessarily be than ours.

So the die is cast and I am off to Bratislava on March 14 to March 16 for the initial treatment. (This is the clinic.) I shall be flying in via Vienna as direct flights to Bratislava for Heathrow are not plenty. I trust that is no quiet criticism by the airline companies on the standards of hygiene in Slovakian dental clinics. There are several Ryanair flights from ‘London’ Stansted, but they depart for the outbound flight at an unearthly early hour and, anyway, after once driving to and from Stansted and taking several bloody hours to drive through north London to Earls Court (there was a match on at Wembley), never, ever again. OK, I can use the Stansted Express, but even that would mean getting up at just after 4am to get to wherever it leaves London from, and anyway I am now holding a grudge.

For the implant to be done, I shall, of course, have to have the loose front tooth pulled out first, and I have resolved to have a photo taken once the pulling has been done. It will, of course, be posted here, to dismiss all further suggestions that I am vain (OK, only a little – see photo below. I always insist it is intended as a parody of vain self-portraits, but let me be honest: no, it isn’t).

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Don’t frighten our young, encourage them, enthuse them, cherish them, love them and stop scaring the bejesus out of them, they are worth more than that and if the truth be told more than us

Just a quick entry to reassure those who might be concerned that I am still alive and well. I have been feeling guilty at not posting here for a minute or two and sharing some of the many pearls of wisdom which have come my way. In fact, I have run out of them, so instead here is a short video which came my way courtesy of my son, who is 19. Where I found it, I don’t know, but that is not important.

What is important – or something along those lines – is what the youngsters being interviewed here have to say, or rather don’t have to say. It is something Britain’s BBC screened in 1966 – more than 51 years ago – and in it a gaggle of young teens, between the ages of 12 and 16 I should think, describe how they think life will be in the year 2000, 18 years ago for us, but 34 years in the future for them and boy are they pessimistic. But I don’t blame them for that, but their elders – grown-ups as we are known – and how they inculcated their young with such a bleak vision of the future.

The point is that what these boys and girls are articulating is not their views as such but the views of the future as passed on to them by older generations who should know better. Forgive me if I am wrong, although I certainly don’t think I am, but we should be encouraging, enthusing and nurturing our young, not impressing upon them how bloody awful their future will be. For some it might be, personally, but who is to know that?

My main point is that something similar is going on now: global warming has the world doomed, we tell our young, economically they are in for a shit time, politically they might has well hide under the covers and not get up, we seem to be insisting.

Well, forgive my French, but that is bollocks on stilts. Certainly, scientists are agreed, for example, that the output of carbon dioxide and other gases is causing global temperatures on average to go up and that will pretty much kill off the world? Will it?

As for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, well, in 1966 there were probably just four nations who had them. Today, there are far more than that: India, Pakistan and Israel have most certainly joined the ‘nuclear club’, and Iran and North Korea might well do so in the coming years. So the dangers of nuclear war are greater than ever. But that is still no reason for deciding the scare the bejesus out of our young and insist that life is not worth living. Wouldn’t it me more worthwhile and most certainly useful if we encouraged them to educate themselves and try to find ways to solve the problems political, environmental and economic that we face? That is a rhetorical question, but if you have taken it as a real question, let me give you the answer: an unequivocal Yes!

Now view the video and reflect on not how silly our young were then, and might still be now, but how utterly stupid we older folk are to make life such a misery for them and convince them the future is blighted. Treasure them far more than that, dear hearts, and if I come across anyone who reads this blog but is not doing so, you will be banned from reading this blog until 100 years after you have exhaled your final breath.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Liberalism: what a great idea it was. Wonder whether it will make a comeback? You can’t really tell, can you

A few days ago, the EU announced it would be instituting disciplinary measures against Poland in view of new measures signed into law by its president Andrzej Duda. These 13 new laws would make it very easy indeed for the government pretty much to take over the country’s judiciary, appoint all the judges and run the courts as it likes. Poland’s government is, at present, formed by the nationalist Law & Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, or PiS) which two and a half years ago won 37pc of the vote against the 24pc won by the Civic Platform, the main opposition party, and has a 4 seat majority in parliament. Civic Platform, which is as pro-European as PiS is anti- might, of course, regain power at the next general election and choose to overturn those new laws.

On the other hand, it might not, though many Poles took to the streets to protest against the new laws. If things get worse and Poland doesn’t do the EU’s bidding, the next step is for the EU to suspend Poland’s voting rights. Ominously, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, another nationalist with an eye on the main chance rather than fair play, has promised to oppose the EU over the matter.

Elsewhere in the EU, a member state has, for only the second time in the EU’s existence, a far-right party in government. In Austria, the far-right Freedom party is in a ruling coalition with the centre-right People’s party and was given the defence, foreign affairs and internal affairs portfolios, arguably three of the four most important portfolios in any government, and althought the Freedom party governed in coalition between 2000 and 2005, that was crucially before the financial shenanigans of 2008 and subsequent — one might even suggest consequent — increase in support for nationalist parties throughout Europe.

An article in the New Statesman last March highlighted the rise of the nationalist far-right in Europe and charts to progress of parties such as Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, Jobbik in Hungary (further to the right than Orban’s Fidesz, which is already rather further right and ‘centre-right’ might imply), Golden Dawn in Greece, the Front National in France, The Finns in Finland, the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party and the Swiss People’s Party. This graphic from a BBC report on the rise of nationalism in Europe is illuminating.

This is now, as 2017 turns into 2018. So cast your minds back 20 years to October 1997 when the EU’s Treaty of Amsterdam was signed and to pretty much all observers the EU was sailing in supreme triumph into an eternally golden future. The liberal values at the core of the idea of a European Union had finally triumphed, it was felt by many, although certainly not by all.

Yet those few sceptics were regarded almost universally as reactionaries, oddball naysayers, cranks, malcontents who might very likely be expected to object even to the Second Coming of Christ, men and women who just ‘did not get it’. Arguably, the — pretentious word alert! — Zeitgeist in the late-Nineties was that liberalism had finally been consolidated in Europe. This was it: on all fronts — economically, culturally, socially, morally — progress and the liberal values of progressives were triumphing and the rise of the EU — the institution, the more starry-eyed euro-zealots declaimed, which had ensured peace in Europe for the past 40 has played and was playing no small part in that triumph. But as I say, that was then, this is now. And I wonder what the British historian Herbert Butterfield would have made of the then apparent to all triumph of liberalism.

NB Later - 27/12/2017: This might illuminate matters a little. From the UK’s Guardian.
. . .

A few years ago, I came across, or rather heard about, The Whig Interpretation Of History by Butterfield (pictured). The link was a 30-minute talk by a well-known political journalist called Simon Heffer, a Conservative
and, I don’t doubt, a man who would not in the slightest be upset to be described as reactionary, though it would be unfair to call him a ‘right-winger’ as some do and thereby already rather muddy the waters. In my view the terms ‘right-wing’ and ‘right-winger’ are rather uselessƒ in the context of British politics (rather, that is, than in European politics) in that there is any number of different – I won’t say definitions – but notions on what constitutes ‘the right-wing’. For example, the main body of the Tory party might by some be described as ‘right-wing’ if Labour, the usual opposition, is described as ‘left-wing’.

On the other hand all too often here Britain when many hear the description of ‘right-wing’,  their thoughts pretty much immediately turn to believing that it is just code for ‘fascism’ and they suspect that those described as ‘right-wingers’ are to all intents and purposes ‘fascists’. Those ‘fascists’, though, the explanation goes, are disinclined to show their true colours because ‘fascism’ isn’t ever popular in Britain, except with those who shave their heads (and, oddly, are often ostensibly and ostentatiously homophobic but in fact closet gays. But I don’t want to side-track myself). I most certainly doubt that even though the most reactionary Tory would have much truck with out-and-out fascism. So in that sense describing someone as ‘right-wing’ could well be very misleading.

I once recorded in this blog that my father, possibly a life-long member of Britain’s secret services rather than a life-long BBC journalist or equally possibly not at all and merely someone who, by his own admission a few short years before his death in 1991, ‘helped out’ the secret services on occasion, described me as ‘dangerously liberal.’ I was about 30 at the time, and a young, rather immature 30 at that, and was very amused to be thought such. I imagined there could be nothing at all wrong with ‘being liberal’ (and I mean it with a small ‘l’) in that ‘being liberal’ was synonymous with being tolerant, being open to new ideas, not slavishly holding on to the past, being aware of other cultural norms, accepting that even if the views of others contradicted ones own, they were (unless wholly outlandish) worthy of being taken seriously. I still think those values hold true, but I don’t think they are necessarily ‘liberal’.

I think I now understand what my father meant: that a certain thoughtless laissez faire liberalism can lead to gullibility if one is not careful; that a generalised and non-critical acceptance of much can, if you are not careful, make you wide open to political exploitation and to becoming what Vladimir ‘Vlad the Lad’ Lenin (who was no political slouch whatever you think of his politics) described as ‘useful idiots’. For the record I don’t think I have moved a jot from the position I then held as, in my father’s view, ‘dangerously liberal’, but I do like to think – or at the very least hope – I am not, or better no longer, too gullible and can spot a political wrong ‘un as best as the next man.

I once asked my father what he was politically, and he told me he was a ‘right-wing radical’. I didn’t know what he meant than and almost 30 years down the line I still don’t. What, I asked myself then and still ask myself can a man who was most certainly not in the slightest bit ‘fascist’ mean by that description. And that is partly because the term ‘right-wing’ is distressingly vague.

As I say, my father was most certainly no fascist, but despite an essential kindness in his nature, he wasn’t the most tolerant chap, either, especially when it came to the political views of others if they were contrary to his. But as he died in 1991, and as I was still then rather less intellectually assured and confident than I am now, I didn’t seek out any political discussions with him. They would most certainly have ended in rows, not least because my father would have picked me up on some grammatical solecism of which I was then and probably still am guilty or making.

. . .

Broadly, and such dichotomies in general discussion are most certainly broad, there would seem to be a distinction between ‘progressives’ and ‘reactionaries’ in politics as in many other spheres. And broadly viewing the world in such a way is simplistic verging on nonsensical. Many who regard themselves as ‘progressive’ are often anything but. And often those regarded as ‘reactionary’, who perhaps see themselves protecting their country, their society and their against thoughtless change for the sake of change are often on individual issues rather progressive.

An example here in Britain might be that it was ironically a Tory government which first introduced civil partnerships and then marriage between those of the same sex – ‘gay marriage’ – where incidents of homophobia have occurred among those ‘on the left' (as well as, allegedly, anti-Semitism). But undeniably there are many ‘reactionaries’ who are intent on conserving the status quo solely because that is in their best interests and everyone else can go hang. Similarly many ‘progressives’ really do want to change society in ways to end discrimination against those who hitherto have had a pretty raw deal. But I must repeat, a broadbrush distinction between ‘progressives’ and ‘reactionaries’ is at best useless and at worst dangerous.

As I understand him (and that is a necessary caveat) Butterfield objected to the view among many of his fellow historians that history was simply an unstoppable and necessary progression towards a brighter, better world (and I suspect it would be hard to deny that was exactly what ‘progressive liberals’ felt in the heady days in October 1997 when the EU Amsterdam Treaty was signed). Specifically Butterfield objected that many of his fellow historians judging the incidents and occurrences in history by their contemporary standards. No, he said (I think), we must see history in context and in the context of then contemporary morals, values and standards. A short book I read recently while on holiday last week in Morocco called A Very Short Introduction To The First World War might well be a case in point.

These series of Very Short Introductions are useful and very worthwhile in that they can give you an overview of a topic, and the so far 140-strong series covers many disparate subjects. And once you have an overview, a practical context, you can go on into greater detail. In the case of the First World War a broad and common view is that it was pretty much a case of a militaristic Germany with a view to far greater dominance starting the war and well-meaning Britain, France and eventually the United States putting paid to its ambitions. Well, as the man said, up to a point, Lord Copper

 It was, instead, the result of many factors, not least European countries fulfilling what they regarded as their obligations under already formed alliances, but also all participants, not least Britain, primarily protecting their international interests. And, as far as I am concerned, dishonesty ruled all round. Pretty much everyone, from the Brits to the Krauts to the Imperial Russians to the, by then disintegrating, Austro-Hungarian empire, thought they were in the right and would win and that they were following their ‘national destiny’. Shame that it cost the lives of several million ordinary saps to prove them wrong. But were you to ask anyone today what lead to that conflict and they are bound to revert to the ‘Brits, French and Yanks standing up to Germany’. But that is to view that conflict in hindsight using contemporary standards (though I must concede the the Germans did behave appallingly when they went for France by invading neutral Belgium).

. . .

Butterfield was only 14 when the First World War broke out and wrote his pamphlet, which is pretty much all it was, The Whig Interpretation Of History in 1931 when he was still relatively young.  He has his critics, and here is one, though notably two cheers is better than one or even none at all.

I should confess immediately that although after I heard Heffer’s talk on Radio 4, I ordered the book, but apart from starting it I didn’t get very far. It is very densely argued. But I do believe I get his drift and must admit that instinctively rather than intellectually – I am most certainly not intellectual – I am rather drawn to what I believe he wanted to say. It seems to me that for every new ‘good’ achieved, a new ‘bad’ is likely to be introduced. It’s as though for every step forward we take, we also tend to take a step back.

From our vantage point of affluence and privilege we like to think we are creating a ‘better’ world. Well, ask the families of those who have been killed in South America and Mexico as victims of the various drug cartels providing the affluent West with cocaine – the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands over the years – whether life is getting better. It would be interesting, although admittedly impossible, to know how many lives were lost for each toot of coke sniffed by our Western yuppies.

I suspect that Mr Butterfield made a good point. And I suspect he would have felt that his views were not only vindicated by the unexpected, by many, reversal in the fortunes of European liberalism, but it might even rather have amused him after all that triumphalist huffing and puffing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Final day and I read up on Scott of the Antarctic as I prepare myself for flight cancellations, icy roads and war stories. At least we didn’t get those here in Morocco, though it did rain all afternoon. Now it’s off to the loo. If you want to know why (though I’m sure you’ve guessed – that’s right ice in a drink) read on

Morocco – Day Five (or Six, I’ve lost count): Marrakesh

You might have heard, and perhaps you are interested, but I suspect you have neither heard and nor are you particularly interested. But Manchester United – my team – lost 1-2 to Manchester City this afternoon. OK, I’m supposed to say City beat United, but given the state of the Premier League table, United have blown a very good chance to be realistic challengers to City for the title.

They began the day just eight points behind and a win would have cut the lead to five. Now they are 11 points behind and catching up doesn’t just mean they must carry on playing well, but, crucially, City must lose at least four games (or draw even more) and that, dear friends is as unlikely as me being named in the starting line-up for United.

One consolation is that Chelsea who are breathing down United’s neck for the challengers spot only drew today and are still three points behind United, they could well have done with three points rather than one. But if United lose one and Chelsea play well, that lead can be cut in 90 minutes. Liverpool in fourth place and five points behind United also drew their match against city rivals Everton, and they, too, will be kicking themselves that the dropped two potential points. But enough about football.

. . .

Back in Marrakesh and at the same hotel (so that means more football tomorrow, but nuff about that as I promised). The trip from Casablanca was painless really and driving out it struck me what a rather scruffy city Casablanca is where much of Marrakesh is smarter. But as my brother-in-law’s sister (which makes her my Schwippschwägerin – the Germans really do have a word for everything) pointed out pretty much every port city is scruffy, even Hamburg, in the north of a country which is largely not scruffy.

We are promised that night of ‘folklore’ tonight and as the occasion doubles up as supper, I think I shall have to go along. Our first stop once we had reached Marrakesh was a trip to the Kasbah to an authentic (well, I suppose it is, and I have no way of knowing) Morrocan chemist. The emphasis is on herbs and after a long rundown on what different mixtures of herbs do, medically, cosmetically and in the kitchen, the hard sell began. And I rather suspect that that was the point of it all.

Then it was inspected the nearby ‘Saadian Tombs’ (the inverted commas are intended to convey that I had never before heard of them and wish to avoid any suggestion that I am showing off). After lunch (a beer in my case, alcohols being available but certainly not readily, mainly in hotels and some restaurants and many cafes don’t sell it at all) it was off to view the Bahia Palace which we were told was intended to be the greatest palace of all time. Then it was back to the hotel and the, er, football. I rather miscalculated and only saw the end of the first half and the second half as I thought the game was staring at five. It wasn’t it was four.
. . .
We have a very good Moroccan tour guide who speaks excellent German, though he says he learnt his German in Morocco and has never even been to Germany, and I – we, I suppose – picked up one or two obscure facts. For example, although it is a quite conservative country and most Moroccans are practising Muslims, it isn’t half as hardline as other Islamic countries. So, for example, many Moroccans tend to get rat-arsed on homemade fig liquor and will climb into their cars pissed out of their heads and drive home (or even drive their lorries while pissed).

The police, though, turn something of a blind eye and only intervene if a drunk driver is involved in a crash. They drink by sitting in cafes apparently enjoying litre of two of lemonade. It is, however, laced with the homemade hooch and everyone – I’m told, I am only repeating what the guide told us – knows. The point about seeming to drink lemonade is not just once of discretion, but so that children don’t know what they are up to and are set a good example. At closing time, they roll off home and are left undisturbed by the police unless they make trouble and the police are called.

Day Seven: Marrakesh

I’ve rather lost count of what day it is but does it matter? Does it fuck. The evening of folklore was as authentic as I suspected, although the musicians were good. The food was, more or less for the first time in a week of euro-tourist cuisine Moroccan and very tasty too. Our two waitresses were not at all to pleased to see us, scowling doesn’t begin to describe it and at one point one literally threw a fork on the table. But I really can’t blame her: one of the guys sitting at our table made a hell of a fuss when he was brought the wrong wine and insisted on returning it for the one he ordered.

OK, you might say, but I don’t. We are guests in their country and guests have just as many obligations as hosts if not one or two more. I have already described the troops of German, French, Spanish and South Korean tourists trailing around getting in everyone’s way, pointing their cameras and clicking off at pretty much everyone and everything with any regard for the nicety we were all told about that Moroccans, and Muslims as well, especially the womenfolk just don’t like having their picture taken. I felt embarrassed to be part of such a troop, but then I’ve been banging that drum for the past few entries already so maybe I should just shut up.

We might sometimes have been a tad chilly here, it is December after all, and it might have pissed with rain all afternoon, but things are worse in Old Blighty and although I have checked into my BA flight from Düsseldorf to Heathrow tomorrow, I might find it will be cancelled. But what the hell, I’m not due back at work until next
Sunday. My brother and I did bow out of this morning’s jollities. I had a great lie-in and then did fuck-all else for the rest of the day and feel all the better for it. My sister and I have latterly suffered a little from a gyppy tummy, and I think I caught a bug because I forgot to order a whisky without ice. And ice is, of course, not made from bottled water. Who would do such a thing?

. . .

I have been asking myself just why I am so antipathetic to gangs of Germans as opposed to the many excellent and very pleasant individuals I know and cherish. I think it has something to do with their insistence that everything must be schőn and the continuous welter of platitudes they are apt to spout. I smile and say nothing, but it does get very wearing. I know the Brits have similar irritating traits, though I shan’t list them here and spoil my evening.

So there you have it. As I say there is still excitement on the horizon in that I really don’t know whether I shall make North Cornwall and home as planned by lunchtime on Wednesday or not. And even if I am not obliged through a cancellation or extreme delay to suffer a night at Düsseldorf airport, I shall still be obliged to negotiate four hours of icy roads and motorways. And there, my stomach has rumbled again, signalling that things are still not all over in the tummy department. But thankfully I am just minutes from a gents, so I think it’s time for another whisky, only 50 dirham (£4), good value in that the measures here, as pretty much everywhere else in the world don’t consists as in Britain of enough spirits barely to wet the bottom of your glass.

I was going to indulge in a little gentle character assassination of my dear younger brother, but as he isn’t here to defend himself, I shall only note that in his old age (60 next June 10) he is becoming a tad eccentric. You wouldn’t notice anything if you met him, but I have known him for almost 60 years so, well, I do. Pip, pip.

PS Just read this in the Guardian:

Astronomers are to use one of the world’s largest telescopes to check a mysterious object that is speeding through the solar system for signs of alien technology. The Green Bank telescope in West Virginia will listen for radio signals being broadcast from a cigar-shaped body which was first spotted in the solar system in October. The body arrived from interstellar space and reached a peak speed of 196,000 mph as it swept past the sun.

Less of it in my next entry, I promise.