Monday, December 31, 2012

Salmond and Farage: unlikely kissing cousins but they have a lot in common

A question, although only those of you in the UK should bother trying to answer. Those of you dipping into this ’ere blog who live abroad are certainly entitled to try, but once you know the question, you might well be baffled as to who I’m talking about. So here’s the question: what do the SNP’s Alex Salmond and UKIP’s Nigel Farage have in common? Well, at first blush not a lot, but in an odd sort of way they do.

Let me start on what I perceive as their plus points. In my view both are capable men, politically astute and, crucially, they stand head and shoulders among their party peers. I might well be wrong, of course, but without Salmond the SNP would – and will be – half the force it is now and, similarly, without Farage, the UKIP would – and will be – the same. A few years ago, Salmond stood down as party president and more or less retired and the SNP ground to a rather embarrassing halt. The SNP might well deny that’s what happened, but that’s what it looked like from where I sat at the time. Whatever the truth of the matter, the call went out to Salmond, and the great man returned to salvage his party and, as we now know, lead it into government for the first time in its history.

Something similar happened to UKIP: Farage stood down, the party began increasingly making a fool of itself, Farage was implored to return and now it is riding high(ish) in the polls. For me that matter is pretty clear: without either man the party each leads would wither and die and become nothing more than a footnote in history.

What they also have in common – and again I’m certain both parties would deny the claim – is that they are essentially one-issue parties. In fact, ‘one-party pressure groups’ might be closer to the mark. For the SNP that issue is independence for Scotland. For UKIP its making sure Britain – or the UK or whatever the technical term is these days – leaves the EU. Both claim to be bona-fide political parties whose policies go far beyond the one which is the raison d’etre, but as the saying goes ‘tell that to the Marines’.

If the SNP achieved its goal and won independence for Scotland, it would be only a matter of time before the Scots Nats splintered into left and right-wing factions, which would largely mirror the current left-right split in Scotland of Labour v Lib Dems. (The Tories don’t have a look in up there, and even though the party has elected an out lesbian as its president, I believe that is mere coincidence and not a cynical ploy to try to persuade the electorate that it is now ‘modern’ and ‘good lord, we don’t even mind having a lesbian as our president’.) Once
that split occurred – in a by then independent Scotland – it would be the same old political game all over again, although I do feel, somehow, that the soul the SNP is rather to the left of centre.

That cannot, of course, be said about UKIP. David Cameron once described the party as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ and although I don’t accept that they are all like that, it must have been for many uncomfortably close to the mark. I’ve often thought that some of them would throw in their lot with the BNP if the BNP did not so obviously consist of – to use a popular phrase – plebs and oiks you wouldn’t ever want to see in your golf club. As it is, UKIP will have to do.

Were UKIP ever to achieve its aim and see Britain (or the UK – see above) leave the EU, it would, I think, be curtains for UKIP. Yes, they claim to have policies on education, health, the economy, the environment, the Teletubbies and fizzy lemonade, but as far as I’m concerned that is just PR bullshit for the masses, or at least for those of the masses who like to imagine UKIP really is a bons-fide political party and not just a one-issue pressure group in clean underwear and cricket club ties.

As it happens I am no great fan of the EU. I think that what started out as admirable idea has become thoroughly corrupt in far too many ways and, if it is not reformed, could well be the cause of a great deal of bloody conflict in Europe. And that would be ironic given the EU’s proud and all too incessant boast that it has ‘brought peace to Europe’. But unlike UKIP I think it would be outright folly to leave the EU. While Britain is in, it has a sporting chance of shaping and institution which has a great influence on its future. Once out, that influence has gone.

But back to Salmond and Farage: perhaps they should get together for a drink and compare notes. Oh, and both have can be rather funny. Not that it really matters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Deadwood stage stops here: why after David’s Milch’s Deadwood we should never put up with anything but the very best. (Oh, and hats off to casting directors the world over)

Let me start on a very obscure note. Some people, surely a small minority, stay behind a little when a film has finished and the credits roll to take a look at the names of some of those who made the film possible. Incredible as it might seem to some, the director and his actors - his ‘cattle’ as Fellini liked to observe - aren’t the only ones part of ‘the creative’ process. There’s the role played by the cinematographer (as important as the director in my opinion) and the director really is nowhere if a film’s various producers aren’t up to scratch. But even they don’t exhaust the list: the soundtrack - note ‘sound’ not just ‘music’ - will often make a film. (And by way of illuminating that, you might care to read this entry made after this was posted.)Take away the soundtrack and your average viewer really doesn’t know what to feel. In too many films a scene is only full of suspense because the soundtrack tells us so. So keeping an eye out for the ‘sound designer’ or whatever he or she is called, then looking out for other films he or she has worked on is a good, although means infallible, way of rooting out other films it might be rewarding to watch.

Somewhere on that list of credits you’ll find out who was responsible for ‘casting’. Now, I’ve never made a film and the chances of me ever doing so are in minus figures. But were I ever be required to do so (and I should prefer to be a producer rather than a director), I would make damn sure that whoever was hired to help with the casting damn well knew his or her job and was damn well the best or close to at casting. Each different film will have its own production dynamic, with the director and the producers having a greater or lesser say in who is hired and who isn’t and whoever is responsible for casting is, I should imagine, only able to suggest for and against and give advice. The final decision will rest with the producers, unless the director is so ‘great’ he or she (invariably still ‘he’, but we all live in hope) as to have the final say.

Why, I hear some of you mumbling, grumbling even, is this chap going on about ‘casting directors’ and ‘casting agents’. Is he really so fed up with watching paint dry? Well, no I’m not. I’ll explain why, unusually, my thoughts recently turned to casting directors and agents. But before that I shall point out an irony: we only become aware of casting (or heating a room or seasoning a dish) when something has gone horribly wrong. If, on the other hand a film is well cast (or a room is heated exactly right and a dish is - OK, you get my drift, no need to labour the point) none of us, I’m sure, reflects: well, isn’t this film well cast!
But that’s what occurred to me recently when I started watching Deadwood online. The casting of that was spot on, impeccable.

. . .

Some might have heard of Deadwood, some might even have seen it on TV (on Sky here in Britain). It was the brainchild of one David Milch (no, I hadn’t heard of him either before I started watching the series and stars, among others our very own Ian McShane). You can find out more about Milch here and here. Some might only know it because of newspaper reports of its shameless use of obscenities and profanities, but to judge it according to what our strait-laced Press choose to believe will upset their strait-laced readers would, at best, be wholly misleading and, at worst, a travesty of judgment. Deadwood is, in my view - there will, of course, be others - one of the very best, if not the very best series to have been screened on TV (and it’s no surprised that it was brought to the small screen by America’s HBO).

It deals with life in the small Dakota settlement of Deadwood in the mid-1870s, when Deadwood was an ‘illegal’ settlement established after gold was found nearby. In fact, the discovery of gold was the sole reason why the ‘camp’ Deadwood was established. Naturally every scurvy version of humanity found his and her way to Deadwood in the wake of that
discovery as well as rather less scurvy individual. Deadwood (above) was illegal because it was an ad hoc settlement established in land the US government had signed over to the native Americans under the Treaty of Laramie. You can find out more here. And because it was ‘illegal’, it did not come under anyone’s jurisdiction and was literally beyond the law. Several people were murdered daily and were murdered with impunity. And it Milch’s TV series portrays life in that settlement in gory, shocking, disgusting detail.

According to my reading, Milch, who had made his name with the series Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blues (neither of which I’ve yet seen, but I shall look most certainly chase up after being so enthused by Deadwood) and then wanted to make a series about the gradual establishment of civilisation and the establishment of the rule of law. He had planned to set it in ancient Rome. HBO were interested in such a series, but as they already had a series about Rome in production, Milch was asked to think again and came up with the idea of charting the slow, painful crawl of a society towards civilisation and the rule of law in Deadwood.

But a bland description of his TV series as ‘a society’s crawl towards civilisation and the rule of law’, although essentially true, does not do Deadwood (the TV series) justice whatsoever. If anything, such a description might well turn a potential viewer off, but that would be a shame. Deadwood, the western, is unlike any western you are ever likely to have seen. It is about people, not stereotypes. The camp is filthy, the people are filthy, their morals are filthy. They don’t dress in the way Hollywood’s costume department for so long tried to persuade us ‘cowboys’ dressed, they wear the same clothes as folk dressed in further east, except that everything was filthy and ragged. Mud is everywhere. Death is everywhere.

Milch admits that the way many people use the foulest language in his TV version is not verbatim in that the obscenities and profanities in use 136 years ago were not those we are accustomed to hear today. But, he argues, using their language would sound so archaic as to detract from the dialogue and all he has tried to do is to update Victorian obscenity and profanity to what we - at least, what some of use (guilty, m’lud) use today. But I shan’t carry on. All I can do is to urge the scrupulous among you to buy yourself a DVD box set of all three series or, as I have done, seek it out online. I hope you will not be disappointed. In my experience it is unique.

A postcript: only three series of Deadwood were made and then, inexplicably, HBO pulled the plug. So far I have not been able to find out why. There was talk of two film-length episodes to ‘wrap up the story’, but negotiations came to nothing and there seems little prospect that they will now ever be made. If anyone knows quite why HBO pulled the plug - as far as I know viewing figures held up well and never flagged - I should be keen to find out, so get in touch.

For me not one single performance hit a wrong note and it would be unfair to single out any actor. But I shall be unfair and state that as the immoral, murderous, cynical, sarcastic saloon and whorehouse proprietor Al Swearengen Britain’s Ian McShane (above) is superb. And casting McShane, who I understand was initially reluctant to take the role and had to be persuaded to do so by his American agent, was casting of genius. That’s how and why I first came to consider the role of the casting agent: I’ll repeat that we never really realise how good these man and women do their job when they get it right. It’s only when an actor is utterly miscast (as, in my view Robert Redford was when he played Gatsby in The Great Gatsby) what they come to our attention. By the way, if you like Deadwood, take a look at Justified. It’s different, but it also stars Timothy Olyphant.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What would Christmas be without a heartfelt plea? So here's mine: think of those who aren't as lucky as yourselves

Let me be frank: I like Christmas, though I must add that without children (which, for me is any young person up to and including the age of 23) Christmas isn't all that important. I was brought up by an English father and a German mother in an observing, though not overly strict, Roman Catholic household, and we always celebrated Christmas as the Germans (and many other northern Europeans do) on Christmas Eve. To this day - Christmas Eve, in fact - I would prefer to celebrate Christmas as we did when I was young, but almost all families take their lead from the female figurehead, and my wife is English (well, actually, Cornish and from Methodist stock to boot).

And although I don't regard myself in the slightest bit Christian, religious or denominational, though I do choose - choose being exactly the right word - to believe in God (but don't even think about trying to tease me out on that one, as such a belief is so intensely personal that it might make no sense whatsoever to anyone else and just lead to a colossal waste of time, much of it, no doubt, taken up with unwelcome proselitysing and none of it on my part) I do abhor how in Britain Christmas is all-too-often reduced to a booze and gift fest of the crassest kind. I know that contemporary wisdom insists that December 25 was chosen as the 'birthdate of the saviour' by the fledgling Christian churches (not 'churches', not church) to soak up the demotic 'pagan' celebration of the winter solstice, but that rather misses the point.
When we in the West celebrate Christmas, we are, whether knowingly or not and willingly or not, following a Christian tradition. So I feel we should, at least, do one of two things: either acknowledge the fact or drop the pretence completely. At the moment most of us do neither. We choose to pronounce 'goodwill to all men' and attend decide, in a cloud of boozy nostalgia, to attend a carol service, and then congratulate ourselves on how sensitive we are to the mood of the occasion. And that is that.

As a young RC lad growing up (and who thought he wanted to become a priest for a short year or two before he sprouted pubic hair and discovered girls) our family Christmas celebration more or less started after lunch on Christmas Eve when my older brother Ian and I were sent off to confession at our parish church, as much to get as out of the house for a few hours for our mother to prepare for the Christmas Eve jollitites as to prepare ourselves for taking communion at midnight mass. (A real catholic - sorry Catholic) would write Midnight Mass. I don't.) We arrived back home as it was growing dark after making our confessions (and in those purer, pre-pubescent days I was not yet obliged to think up a working euphemism for wanking as, dear reader, I did not yet wank - that came later) and were exiled upstairs to change into 'good clothes' until we were finally called downstairs for supper and then die Bescherung, which was heralded by the tinkling of a bell supposedly rung by das Christkind to summon us into the living rooms with its Christmas tree and presents.

A casual reader might assume I am trying to make fun of the whole occasion. Well, the casual reader should realise that he or she is quite, quite wrong. I loved it then, as a child, and I would love it now, as an adult attempting to create the same occasion for my children. At the end of the day, Christ this and Christ that, as far as I am concerned one meaning of Christmas is to try to demonstrate to our children just how much we love them. Yet ironically, because we love them so, so much we always fail to convey just how much - it is, children being children and not yet parents, a quite impossible task.

Writing this, I am fully aware that there are many - far, far too many - children out there who will not, tonight, experience the childish joy of Christmas, children who might, instead, experience an unremitting misery knowing that they are, for whatever reason, excluded from that joy. That they exist should not tempt us to deny the joy to others. But we should remind ourselves that they are out there. So as I publish this entry at almost the stroke of midnight (here in the UK, Greenwich Mean Time and all that, of course) I wish you all a happy Christmas, but also urge you to consider, if only for a moment of two, all those children, from the age of nothing to whatever, who are not able to celebrate a loving, warm and familiar Christmas and not to forget that most of us are a damn sight luckier than others. And to remember them not now, on Christmas Day, but every day for the rest of this year, and every day for the rest of your life.

Apart from that, God bless you all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A gadget queen writes: Not so smart with phones and as a capitalist something of a bloody loser

Not posted here for a week or three, but encouraged by a glass or five of brandy and lovage on ice (my new drink, beats the shit out of scrumpy. And sophisticated? Yes, and then some - I could have sworn Simone de Beauvoir has just walked through the kitchen) I have decided to put digit to keyboard and churn out a few hundred more words while I can still remember my name.

A good joke was made as I was making my farewells from work last Wednesday. As I pulled out the plug of my phone charger from the socket, someone remarked that there would probably now be a power surge as all my gadgets were turned off. An exaggerated claim, of course, but one unfortunately just a little too close to the truth for comfort. I am, I have to admit, something of a gadget queen. Or, to be a little more honest and a little fairer to myself, something of a gadget princess (as in princesses being queens in waiting).

It all started with my penchant for hoovering up cheap mobile phones when and if I ever came across the opportunity to buy one. I like to think, and I often claim, that my collection is not quite as irrational as it sounds, and I can, indeed, recite chapter and verse as to why a particular phone was bought at a particular time. So, for example, a year or two ago, my car broke down in the car park of Asda, Bodmin. And as Sod’s Law always operates on such occasions, I didn’t have my phone with me. So off I went into the store and bought the cheapest pay as you go phone I could find in order to summon the RAC to help me out of the shit.

So far, so rational. But if I count up the number of mobile phones in the house, most of which belong to me, it does sound just a tad wacky. My daughter has a Blackberry, and when I organised it for her - she got a half-price deal on a 12-month contract which was more ‘cost-effective’ than remaining PAYG - she gave her old Blackberry to my son. And because he now has a Blackberry (which he never uses - in fact, I think he has yet to make a mobile phone call in anger as they say), he gave up ‘using’ the Sony Ericsson I had passed on to him. That’s three.

My wife has a Sendo (one of those obscure brands who briefly went into making mobile phones several years ago when the future looked brighter, but quickly lost interest and went back to making wheelbarrows or whatever their particular field of expertise is). I had given it to her for Christmas. That’s four mobile phones accounted for. Now comes the difficult bit.

I own two Huawei G300 Ascends, one Samsung and one Nokia. Then there are knocking about the house somewhere about six other phones, all except one owned by me at some point. The two Ascends are useful (and a damned sight more useful than the Samsung Galaxy Ace one of them replaced) because they are rather fine phones which can hold their own against any smartphone twice their price. I have two because I like to use one hitched to the car radio to listen to Five Live on the net (3G) when I drive home from London to Cornwall on a Wednesday to listen to football. Five Live is still on medium wave and if you don’t live in London reception is bad to atrocious, especially if you are speeding at 70mph on the A303 down to the West Country. On the net it is far better. However, in Britain the Ascend G300 is restricted to Vodafone whose 3G coverage is not as good as 3’s. So I bought another (a snip at £99, honestly), got it unlocked and slipped in a 3 sim card, and now I don’t lose a signal half as quickly.

So you see ‘owning several hundred mobile phones’ isn’t quite as mad as it sounds. But that, dear reader, is not even the half of it. All the above is just a preamble to a confession I am about to make. And I shall be revealing details which do make me feel every so slightly foolish. But get yourselves off and put the kettle on and make a cup of tea before you settle in to Part Two: The Tablets.

. . .

My love affair with tablets has not been going on for long but even in that short time has been decidedly rocky. It’s like falling for a woman who is a bloody good shag, but otherwise a pain in the arse, and you just can’t make up your mind what to do: to ditch or not to ditch, that is the question. That observation, however true, might offend some, so my apologies in advance to all new men and male feminists who feel it is beyond the pale and that I should be ashamed of myself for making it.

Several years ago, I bought an iPad. I rated and still rate them, but I didn’t need it. What could I do on the iPad what I couldn’t do on a laptop and iPod combined? (That is a rhetorical question, so no emails, please.) So I sold it again, and as my timing was, as usual, quite atrocious, I sold it just as the iPad 2 came out and sent prices for second-hand iPads tumbling. But that was it for a while. I managed, quite successfully, to live without a tablet. And even sitting here now, concentrating, I really can’t remember why I bought a 8in Ployer Momo8 IPS.

Somehow, of course, the seed had germinated. I know that because I spent some time ‘researching’ Android tablets (Android being more or less the only viable alternative to Apple.) I settled on the Momo8 because - well, I can’t really tell you why. It is one of what seems to be several thousands Chinese iPad clones, none of which is as good as the iPad, but some of which, on paper at least, are better than others and all share the virtue of being a damn sight cheaper than an iPad (and then some). So I ordered one and a leather case to stick it in from a site called Ebellking and waited for it to arrive. And waited and waited.

Finally, after a week or two, I emailed the company asking whether or not it had been sent off. They said, no it hadn’t, because they were having trouble getting hold of a case to send me. That struck me as odd, but I gave them the benefit of doubt and emailed back saying to send the tablet anyway and either to send the case when they found one or two forget about it completely and refund the money for it. Then I came across a website ‘reviewing’ Ebelking, and it didnt’ make happy reading. So I decided to play it safe and as I had paid for the tablet and case through PayPal, I asked for a refund, pointing out reasonably enough that as nothing had yet been sent, the matter should be simple: just refund my money. And they did.

By now, of course, the bug was well and truly in my blood and I ordered the Ployer Momo8 from another site, iPadalternative. It, too, was based in China. Within days I received a cheery email informing me that my tablet had been dispatched. A day or two after that I decided I wanted to track the progress of the tablet from East to West and asked iPadalternative to give me a tracking number. Ah, they said, we can’t do that because we haven’t actually sent it yet. So I said they had 12 hours to dispatch the bloody thing and send me a tracking number or I would ask PayPal to refund my money. Twelve hourse wasn’t long enough, they said (although they didn’t explain why) so they would simply refund my money. And they did. So I wasn’t actually out-of-pocket, but I didn’t have a bloody tablet either.

To make matters worse, my brother had bought himself a Google Nexus 7 and just couldn’t stop himself from showing it to me and demonstrating just what a fabulous gadget it was.
The third Chinese website I used to get my Momo8 was Chinistore. And to be fair, they were as good as gold. I bought one online on Nov 26 and it arrived in London a week later. And it was not a bad little tablet. The build quality wasn’t up to Apple standards (or for that matter Samsung standards) but it was nippy and did the biz.

Or rather it did half the biz: it came with (this might get a bit technical for the girls, so why don’t you take five and do your nails or something?) Jellybean aka Android 4.1. It is a great operating system, but not all the apps I wanted to use on it - especially BBC iPlayer - yet work on it. What was worse, though, was that the micro USB port (not yet, girls, I’ll give you a shout) packed up rather suddenly. It worked a treat and then it didn’t. I suspect that I had somehow - somehow - damaged it by putting in the USB cable the wrong way around before realising my mistake, but to be honest I was not aware ever of using force, and I rather think the port was just a tad too flimsy. I took a look at it and it seem to have been pushed back a bit. Confirmation, if confirmation were ever needed, of the wisdom passed down from parent to child through the ages then promptly ignored that ‘cheap means cheap means cheap’.

I could, of course, have lived with it, but I didn’t want to live with it. And as I decided the 8in was just a little too small, I sold it again on eBay (and didn’t take too much of a hit as it happens.) So then the hunt was on to replace it and scrutinising Chinistore’s site, eliminating this and that tablet - and believe me there are almost 100 different brands - I hit upon the 9.7in ‘Cube 19UT’, not least because it still uses Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich). I use the same OS on both my Ascends and know that it will work the BBC’s iPlayer. I paid up, received my tracking number, and it arrived last Monday afternoon.

It looked OK coming out of its box, if again the workmanship was not quite up to pristine Apple and Samsung standards. But, dear reader, it was fucking hopeless. The wifi was quite simply bloody awful. If I was able to connect to the router - if! - and if I was able to keep the connection for more than two minutes - if! - the speed of transmission was slower than the worst bloody dial-up connection you have ever had the misfortune to use.

I googled the problem and found an American site which pointed me to a ‘firmware update’ (almost there, girls, promise) on the Cube website. I followed it but found the site was all in Chinese. Needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway as does everyone else who uses that utterly pointless phrase) I didn’t have a fucking clue as to what was what. I mean, you can’t even guess. I like to think that had the site been in French or Italian or, at a pinch Spanish, I might have had a sporting chance of sussing out what was what and downloading the ‘firmware upgrade’. But it was in Chinese. I clicked this and I clicked that, but all I could do was open new windows taking me to either sites selling online games or sites selling online soft porn.

Enough was enough. First, I emailed Chinistore and told them about the problem. They were very understanding - why wouldn’t they be as they now had £150 of my money - and emailed back a link to the same Cube website were I should be able to download the firmware upgrade to make the bloody thing work. But not an hour later I had had enough. I asked myself why, after paying 150 good, honest British pounds, I was doing all the pfaffing about trying to get a tablet to work as it should when it should have worked as it should straight out of the bloody box. And I decided I shouldn’t be doing the pfaffing around. So I applied to PayPal for yet another refund (they must surely by now have filed me under ‘fucking loser, why doesn’t he give up?’).

Chinistore were offended by this (though I understand it ain’t that difficult to offend and East Asian) and said I should have given them more time to sort out the problem. To which I replied they weren’t doing anything to sort out the problem I was. The one slight irritation is that I shall have to fork out between £30 and £55 to ship the bloody thing back to Shenzen before I get my refund, and I also run the risk that some bloody-minded herbert in Chinistore will decide the tablet didnt’ come out in the condition in which it was sent and try to refund less. But what the hell.

There is, however, dear reader, even more to this saga of ‘tablet or no tablet, does the guy have no shame?’
. . .

You see, in the meantime I got my regular emailed newsletter from Lidl (the German chain like Aldi which sells German food and other goods in Britain and elsewhere) that one of its ‘specials’ last week would be a 7in Versus Touchpad for just £79.99. Ooh, I thought, ooh, and bought one. Examining it, I realised that an iPad it wasn’t and would have a long way to go before even using the same toilet as an iPad, but notwithstanding several - OK, many - drawbacks, it was at least useful.

But then came my downfall. I had googled the tablet for further info and come across several sites selling it for between £109 and £129. Why, I asked myself, the stout  little capitalist which slumbers in every man’s heart coming alive, why didn’t I buy up another three and sell them on eBay? If I charged £10 for ‘p&p’ and £99 for the tablet I could make a tidy profit of more than £60.

I hoovered up the three last Versus Touchpads for sale in North Cornwall - literally - I was in Launceston and wanted three, but the only had one, which I bought and they phoned through to Bodmin where they still had another two, so I drove down Bodmin and bought those. I then listed them on a three-day auction eBay. And had no takers at all. Finally, I panicked at reduced the price to £79 and sold two. I relisted the last and that auction is due to end at just after 5pm tomorrow. The way it looks, I shall not make £79. Moral: Don’t Get Clever. And if the stout little capitalist slumbering in your heart does wake up, slip him a Mickey Finn.

. . .

Now the postscript: I have been using the first Versus I bought and, after a fashion, it works. To say euphemistically that ‘it’s not the best’ is an insult to euphemisms. It works OK if you make sure that only one app is running at any given time. But it has a tendency to  go off at a tangent and ignore you, the user, completely. If it were a person, one could even describe it as ‘other worldly’. It somehow drifts off, does its own thing - and you have no idea what it is doing - before it rejoins your company and then carries on as though nothing had happened. It is, in short, a deeply bloody irritating tablet. And that is why, dear reader, I have bought yet another, a brand-new Samsung Tab with wifi and 3G.

The price is quite low and even though the listing claims it is new in a sealed box, I don’t know. At the price I bought it? Once I have it - and have survived the inevitable spat with my wife about why I I keep buying such electrical trinkets when we need the money to feed and clothe the children who are runnng around in rags and are starving (women do go on so, I keep telling her to look at the bigger picture) - I shall kiss the Versus goodbye and sell it, and I don’t care for how little.

 There is just one last lingering concern: once I had bought the Samsung - brand-new in sealed box - and paid through PayPal, I checked my PayPal account. And I found that payment had been made to a ‘Ricky Ching’. Hmmm.

One final point: between us in our household we have (I won’t say ‘own’ as one is from work) six laptops, four of which are ‘official’, that is my wife knows about them. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But look at it this way: we are living in the 21st century and if it were not for spendthrift fuckwits like me, the electronics industry would be on its knees, thousands would be out of work and, no doubt, the country would grind to a halt. It’s always useful to put things in perspective.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A father writes (though not this one), and parents the world over might understand

It is by no means the world-stopping story of the month and most certainly few people living outside Britain will have heard about it and even fewer living outside Britain, but it is worth mentioning here, not least because it might ring a chord with parents throughout the world.

It concerns a retired Royal Navy submarine commander, Nick Crews, who lost patience with his three children and told them a few home truths. And having written that, I can already sense that some readers might already be jumping to conclusions: reactionary old buffer goes ballistic because he is out of touch with modern life. But it was nothing of the kind. Crews has three children, two daughters and a son, and feels all that, given the start they had in life, all three failed to make anything of themselves. But again what I have just written might well give the wrong impression.

Crews didn’t rant and rave at them, but, by his own admission, bit his lip and told himself that it was not for him to interfere. He says his own father had been rather remote and that from the start he had decided to - in his own words - be a friend to his children and not be as remote. Each went to boarding school - not necessarily the advantage it is made out to be by many here in Britain but it cannot be denied that it does give many an additional step up in life - and given his career in the Navy, it is reasonable to assume the they didn’t want for anything while growing up. What did for Crews was the misery he saw his children put there mother through: they would ring her up and moan, moan, moan about their lives and their lot in life. One day he snapped and sent all three an email in which he finally spoke his mind (you can read it below). It didn’t go down well.

All three had been married and divorced, one daughter had remarried and the son was about to marry again. All three had been to university, but professionally had not achieved much. But Crews stresses that it was not their lack of success in life which got to him, but how - as he points out in his email - they would dump all their woes on their mother, who was getting more and more unhappy. All three were upset to get the email, but then home truths do usually upset us, and so far Crews is only reconciled with one, his eldest daughter, who now admits she feels he has a point.

In follow-up pieces in the media, I came across this by Crews which I feel resonates far beyond the matter in hand and sums up rather neatly - at least for me - much of the ethos of the western world. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph columnist Christine Odone (which you can find here) Crews describes ‘contemporary society’ as offering ‘a cancerous cocktail where on the one hand everyone is supposed to be free to do whatever they wish, but on the other we all expect protection from the consequences of our actions’. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will not be surprised that I agree completely with that description.

OK, so Nick Crews is a Brit, a reasonably prosperous middle-class chap from a certain background - he went to Sherbourne - but I am sure parents, from whatever ‘class’ and from other backgrounds, throughout the world might understand his frustration and disappointment.
The text of his email:

Dear All Three

With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.
It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us. We don’t ask for your sympathy or understanding — Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children.
Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age? Each of you is well able to earn a comfortable living and provide for your children, yet each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they are faced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents.
So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children — soon to be seven — none of whose parents have had the maturity and sound judgment to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions. None of these decisions were made with any pretence to ask for our advice.

In each case we have been expected to acquiesce with mostly hasty, but always in our view, badly judged decisions. None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it’s not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing and saying you don’t like it. You’ll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn’t possible, or you simply can’t be bothered, then I rest my case.
I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.


I have no idea about any of those, around 30 a day these days, who read this blog (except three). I don’t know whether you are a man or a woman, young, middle-aged or old, what your ‘background’ is and whether or not you have children. But I’m pretty certain that those of you who do have children will feel for Crews. Of course it would be easy to make him out to be some kind of snob who feels his children are letting him down in the eyes of his friends - his son works for a taxi service and one daughter works in a ship chandler’s.

But, rightly or wrongly, that’s not the impression I get. One thing almost all of those who, like Crews, have gone to sea, is a lack of airs and graces. The sea is a great leveller. Crews is not being snobbish, he is speaking from the heart.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Let’s hear it for the Fourth Estate or why Kim, Kourtney, Jen, Em and Jess are keeping democracy alive. Then there’s the rekindling of a love affair: me and Don

Here are some spiffing items of news you might well have missed over these past few days. But be reassured that throughout the Western world dedicated man and women are beavering away around-the-clock as I write to make sure you are always up-to-date. So did you know that Jennifer Garner has a bit of trouble carrying her child and a rather heavy handbag? Bet you didn’t. Well, there’s another reason to read this ’ere blog.

Here are some further items which it is essential you should know if you are planning on meeting a friend for coffee or considering having your hair done: Kourtney Kardashian takes her son shopping to Hamleys in London; her sister Kim - remember her? - wears a jumpsuit in rather chilly weather; Pippa Middleton - remember her? - has the same hat and dimple as Cheryl Cole and a rather similar dress; Helen Flanagan - no, I don’t have a clue who she is, either - vows to eat anything during he stint in an Australian ‘jungle’ for a TV show; Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez might have split up! Lordy, can it really be so? Rihanna wears a flame-coloured jacket on a night out; Van Diesel takes his daughter to the beach; Rose McGowan - no, I don’t have a clue who she is, either - decides to wear rather warmer clothes as the weather in Los Angeles gets a tad nippy; Jessica Alba goes shopping in patterned trousers; Miranda Kerr and Alessandra Ambrosio relax (separately, apparently); Emma Roberts - no, I don’t have a clue who she is, either - buys three iced coffees; Ashton Kutcher holds open a door for Mila Junis.

To put all that vital stuff into some kind of perspective, since the beginning of the year 21 journos have been killed in Syria, 12 in Somalia, five in Pakistan, three in Brazil, and one each in Thailand, India, Nigeria, Lebanon, Ecuador, Phillipines,  Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Cambodia and Indonesia. That’s 52 altogether, all of them, one hears, rushing around getting the latest lowdown on the Kardishian sisters, Ms Garner, Ms Kerr, Ms Ambrosio and the rest of them.

You thought only fuckwits in the West can’t breathe without knowing how many iced coffees Ms Roberts likes buying. Well, think again: in 2012, 52 hacks and hackettes gave their lives trying to find out and bring you the latest ASAP. Or not, as the case may be.

LATER UPDATE: Anyone really anxious to hear the latest about the Kardashians, you can find out what happened when Kim and Kourteney went shopping in London.

. . .

I was planning to write a piece on how we, almost inevitably, fall out of love, whether it’s girlfriends, boyfriends, gobstoppers, sherbet lemons or, in this case, our former music heroes. The hero in question was to be Donald Fagen, who has just released his fourth solo album, Sunken Condos. He might be better known to many as the other part of Steely Dan, and they were - are I suppose - one of my fave bands. The trouble was that after his first solo album, The Nightfly, which he released in 1910, his next two didn’t really set my loins alight. Each - Kamakariad and Morph The Cat - had one or two good tracks, but the rest . . .

Then, a few weeks ago, I was in touch with a friend who asked whether I had heard Fagen’s most recent solo album. Well, dear reader, I didn’t even know he had realeased on. So I bought it and had Amazon deliver it and listened to it. And I was exceptionally underwhelmed. Many pieces of music take a while to grow on you, but I didn’t even think that was going to be the case. It seemed to me that Fagen was almost parodying himself, what with those ‘sophisticated’ (I think that’s the word they use) chord changes and cynical lyrics. In fact, I happened to go for a drink with the friend who mentioned the new release and I said as much.

Well, last night, for some reason, I decided to listen again. And I am glad to report that this particular story has a happy ending. I now think it’s rather good, better, in fact, than solo albums two and three.
On the lines of falling out of love, though, I must admit that where Prince was also once a big favourite of mine, he does, of late, seem to have lost the plot. Once he was original and interesting. Now he just seems to settle for interminable funk workouts. Now, I happen to like those, but if it’s funk workouts you want, it has to be said you are spoiled for choice.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Four pieces of music you might enjoy (and absolutey nothing about the bloody euro, the EU or anything of that ilk)

It’s odd when you hear a piece of music and, although you have never heard it before, you seem to know it, it seems to be far more familiar than is at all possible. To put it another way, if you were able to compose and perform music in the the same idiom, this would be it. If I can go out on a limb and risk some of the more cynical among you who might happen to be reading this thinking me as the pretentious pillock you always suspected I was, I would say that the music ‘speaks to me’. It’s uncannily as though it were my music.

I have had that sensation several times over the past years, and it happened again a while ago with a piano sonata by Scarlatti (Domenico - there seems to be a whole tribe of them, his dad, his granddad, his brother, two uncles, a chap down the road, old Guiseppe who used to run the bar and compose in his spare time, loads of them, but the one I am referring to his Domenico). The piece is K466 in F minor. I was idly listening to Radio 3 one Saturday morning (and having just written that, I’m beginning to wonder whether one really can ‘idly’ listen to the radio, but there you go) and it was played by some Japanese pianist or other. And it was as though I had known the piece all my life. I ‘understood’ it immediately. It was as though I had composed it. It seemed to describe me and what I felt.

Then there is the music of David Fuiczynski. Same story. I first heard his playing when I bought my first (or second, I can’t remember) MP3 player and with it came a voucher for 20 free downloads. I opted for some jazz guitar and Mr Fiuczynski was one of those playing. And it has to be said that the piece he played was utterly atypical of the the work I later came to know. But on the strength of that one track, I looked him up and, on spec, bought an album called Amandala and exactly the same thing happened: if I were a good guitarists that was exactly the kind of music I would like to create. (As far as I am concerned, Fiuczynski’s music is indefinable - not jazz, not rock, simply itself.)

Most recently it has happened with a composer called Kenneth Leighton. I really can’t remember where I was or how I came to hear it, but I heard a piece by him on Radio 3 and I was hooked. So far I have bought his second and third symphonies.

Similarly, but not quite, is a piece by jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans called Young And Foolish. There is something about it which goes right deep inside me and then towards the end seems to touch a part of me which I feel no one had ever seen for the simple reason that I have tried not to let anyone see it. Sounds like a load of wank, I know, but what the hell.

Here are four pieces, one by each of the above. First up is the piano sonata K466 in F minor by Scarlatti. If it doesn’t sound too daft, I should like this piece played at my funeral.

Then there is a piece by David Fiuczynski. Given his varied output, all I can do is simply choose one of the many pieces by him I have on iTunes, and one of the main reasons I choose this is rather banal: it’s not too long and a good-quality Quick Time movie of it would not be too big to upload.

Here is the fifth movement of the Symphony No 2 by Kenneth Leighton. There is just something about this music I - ahem - adore. Sorry, for that, but that’s how I feel. And it shouldn’t be Sarah Cox, but Sarah Fox. I didn’t realise until a few seconds ago while listening to the piece once it was here on the blog and it’s too bloody late to do anything about it. Well, actually, it’s not too late - I could go back to the original iMovie movie, correct it, re-save the Quick Time movie, upload it again and get it all square but, dear reader, I at this point I really can’t be fucking arsed (and if there are any virgins reading this, make that bloody arsed. Can’t upset people, can I?) So an apology to Sarah Fox will have to do, though I doubt she will ever find her way here. But if you do, Sarah, sorry.

Finally, here is the piece by jazz pianist Bill Evans called Young And Foolish. UPDATE - Feb17, 2013: No it’s not, it’s called Peace Piece. Sorry about that. My mistake. It is also posted on You Tube and some punter called Geoff Rowe put me right. Oh well, lose some, lose some. It is quite simply beautiful, though not exactly in the way you might originally think. I would also like this piece played at my funeral. When I hear it, I feel someone is looking into my soul, especially the discordant bits towards the end. Thing is, that’s me and everyone else who was once young and foolish. More wank, I’m afraid, but there you go.

I trust you like some, perhaps even all of them. If you are interested in other videos, you can find them here.Oh, and as I have gone out on a limb in this entry and laid myself wide open to ridicule in some of my descriptions, I might as well add that apart from the Scarlatti sonata and the Bill Evans track a third piece I should like played at my funeral is Mozart’s Symphony no 41, and if time is a little short and the undertakers are getting restless to get me down under sooner rather than later so they can bugger off and get home before dark, I should at least like that symphony’s last movement played.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In which, for no very good reason I can make out, I go to bed without supper...

Well, an interesting 24 hours which at the point of writing - 8.45pm - is soon to culminate with me going to bed with no supper. Not that I have done anything wrong, it’s just that I am married to a rather odd woman who insists on doing things her way however daft, not to say utterly and bafflingly incomprehensible, her way might be.

Finished my Wednesday shift at 6pm as usual last night, but instead of taking myself off down the M3, then the A303 as usual, with my usual stop-off in South Petherton in Somerset or Sticklepath on the edge of Darmoor for a pint or two of cider and a cigar, I headed out to a little village a few miles north of High Wycombe to visit the widow of an old friend of my father’s.

When my stepmother had her stroke five-and-a-half years ago, Susan, by then already widowed for a few years, took on my stepmther’s two dogs, two springer spaniels called Daisy and Puffin. Daisy was already a grande dame and died not long afterwards, but Puffin was in her prime and proved to be excellent company for Susan. Sadly, Puffin had to be put down a month or two ago because of bad health (I think it was cancer) and when I heard, I rang Susan and gathered (although she never said a word) that she was feeling very bereft and lonely.

So I decided to visit her and take her out for a meal, a deed made far, far easier and extremely pleasant to boot in that Susan is very good company and, although by now over 80, still very girlish and young in the way that some folk miraculously remain young in spirit and thus give the impression of being far younger than they really are. Susan lives in a cottage which was once two semi-detached cottages, and walking into the house is like stepping back into the Fifties, with books and papers and a variety of pictures and paintings everywhere. Before she retired she taught art and is still active.

Rather than drive home after supper, I slept at Susan’s and took off down here to Cornwall in the morning, dropping in on my mother’s grave at the cemetery at Lower Assendon near where we once lived on the way home. At the end of last week, I took a picture of my two children, then printed it out at work and got Ron (at work about whom I could write several thousand words) to laminate it. I left this with a pot plant at my mother’s grave. I have not been there for several years, but I think I am the only one of my family to visit it. Perhaps my sister does when she is here in Britain, but I know neither of my two brothers do. In fact, I would be surprised if they knew where it is. I left the picture of my two children because between us all, my mother, were she still alive would have six grandchildren but died before any of them was born. And she was the kind of woman who would just loved to have been a grandmother and spoilt her grandchildren rotten (as is, of course, exactly as it should be).

After that I headed off west through Reading, but taking the A34 south to Newbury to join the A303 (such details making essential reading for all the nerds who do me the honour of reading the crap I write), took a wrong turning and found myself heading south for Southampton, although far. This is where I made a mistake: rather than retrace my tracks and rejoin the A303 I ‘got clever’ (a perpetual flaw of mine, and despite long ago realising the certain dangers of ‘getting clever’, I still fall for it.)

In this case I decided that, courtesy of my satnav, I would just keep ‘heading west’ and ignore its instructions. The upshot was that I criss-crossed most of west Hampshire and east wiltshire, getting nowhere closer to Cornwall than had I been exploring the Gobi desert. That
meant that a journey which should have taken me just over four hours took seven, although one of those hours was taken up with stopping off at the Taw River Inn in Sticklepath for a pint of cider (at just £1.90 - fuckwits in London and especially the Scarsdale Tavern take note) and a couple of bags of cheese and onion crisps. Oh, and to oogle Shona, who is not in the slightest bit pretty and a tad dumpy to boot, but who I could give one just like that. Furthermore, I get a slight impression she wouldn’t mind being given one). Then it was on homewards.

Here my daughter has buggered off to some school function, my son went off to football and my wife announced she ‘wasn’t hungry’. And nothing had been prepared. But I am hungry. I drove off up to The Old Inn, but that has been taken over from the two woofters who used to run it (and used to have a reasonably decent pub food restaurant) by someone who likes to attract the punter with ‘all you can eat and then some’ offers, which is not really my kind of thing (although he gains a brownie point or two for having reinstated the pool table which the woofters had got rid of to make way for more restaurant tables). I came back home and toyed with the idea of an Indian in Wadebridge, then a visit to the Blisland Inn (in Blisland - now there’s a surprise), but finally can’t get enthused about much. I finally decided to settle in, finish off the bag of Kettles salt ’n cracked pepper crisps (how is ‘cracked pepper’ different to ‘pepper’ I wonder?) feel sorry for myself that I shall be going to bed hungry. But don’t worry, we Scorpios have long memories and my wife really hasn’t heard the last of this.

Enjoy your supper.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A great day for fascists: the golden dawn has arrived. It’s not such a great day for the rest of us. Nobel Peace Prize anyone?

Most of my knowledge is of the scavenged variety. It consists of tidbits and scraps gathered here and there which can then be stitched together into an apparently coherent whole. Carefully trotted out and dipped into conversation as almost an aside, this knowledge can then give the impression of being but the tip of an iceberg, that had I but world enough and time others might well be treated to a marvellous exposition of some more arcane aspect of what is being discussed, but that I am far too well-mannered to ‘show off’ and quite possibly risk showing up some in the company who might not be as well-read, well-informed and as wise as I apparently seem to be. It takes a little, though not a great deal of, skill to achieve the effect and, as always, the admirable principle is ‘less is more’.

In the 140-odd words I have written so far, I have already attempted (and, I bloody well hope, achieved) persuading some of you - though most certainly not all - that I am rather well-read and you might well have marvelled at my skill in weaving into the fabric of this piece, a paraphrase of a well-known poem. It is, of course, all complete bullshit. Despite having taken an English literature course at Dundee University, I was comprehensively failed by the English department for hardly turning in any work and what I did turn in being immature cack. Oh, and I read very, very few of the set texts.

Incidentally, you might be familiar with another ploy used by some to intimidate others. It consists of some twat or other declaring something along the lines of: ‘As Mallarmé put it so well ...’ followed by a minute or two of something in French, delivered in the sure knowledge that you don’t ‘have’ any French of any kind and that even if you did, you would not be familiar with the piece quoted. The intention is the not-so-subtle ‘you’re an ill-educated oik, whereas I’m not, and I think it is best to make sure we both know it sooner rather than later in a relationship which, believe me, will be as brief as it is unimportant’. A related ploy is to
announce something like ‘you’ll be familiar, of course, with Weaver’s delightful demolition of the Nicene creed as being complete epistemological nonsense’, knowing full well that you are not familiar with anything of the kind and that the only ‘Weaver’ you have heard of was the sidekick in Gunsmoke and the main man in McCloud. Or how about ‘don’t you think when it comes to Japanese hikrati tokumoru, Bullock gets it just right?’ Bollocks gets it just right would be more to the point.

The above should set the scene nicely for what comes next: I came across it a few days ago, and it seems rather apt for our times. I shall now look it up on the net to make sure that my belief that it is indeed by Mark Twain (that’s what the chap said who used it in the piece I read). A minute later: Yes it was. He is said to have remarked: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

I have recently done many things, but two of them are to watch every episode so far of Boardwalk Empire, and to dig out reports of the rise of (Χρυσή Αυγή or, for those who don’t ‘have’ Greek, Chrysi Avgi). (‘Mum, he’s doing it again!’ ‘Just ignore him, dear, he only wants attention, and if you ignore him he’ll go away. Just ignore him.’)

Boardwalk Empire is relevant because it portrays the lives of a list of Prohibition Era gangsters in Atlantic City, New York, Chicago and Philidelphia and the speakeasy culture which evolved because of prohibition. The Twenties were also known as the Jazz Age and were a time of expansion, growing credit and exuberant business of all kinds and which ended rather suddenly with the Wall St. crash in October 1929. The Depression followed the crash and the misery it caused help the fascists in Germany and Spain (and far earlier in Italy) gain popular support.

I am not, of course - I’m not daft - declaring that the Noughties (as the first decade of the 21st century is known to some) is a repeat of the Twenties, but they do seem to rhyme and I would be on firmer ground to claim that there are a great deal of similarities: the wilful business exuberance, the delusion that the stock bull market was here to stay (one of the bigger idiots produced by ‘New’ Labour promised there would be ‘no return to boom and bust’. Yeah, right), everyone living the life of Riley (mainly because the Chinese were selling the goods they produced at or even below cost in order to ‘grow’ their economy) and generally the conviction that the good times were here to stay. They weren’t, of course, as many said and we all - in our heart of hearts - knew. We are now paying the price.

I have been banging on about what a dog’s dinner the whole euro project is and always has been and, to be honest, it would bore me too much yet again to bang on some more. Like many others I follow the news and the ‘latest developments’, and in if one takes those developments individually, they can seem to make sense. But if, metaphorically, you go up the hill and survey the European economic landscape from a better perspective, it would be hard to argue that it is all complete madness. In both Greece and Spain, one in four people of working age is out of a job. In Spain the Spanish Red Cross has appealed to ‘the better off’ to donate food to ‘those who aren’t so well off’. In Greece, hospitals are opening only two or three days a week and many pharmacies have run out of drugs. There are daily demonstrations outside the Spanish parliament. In several weeks, Catalonia will hold a referendum on whether to declare independence. And in Greece, Golden Dawn, a gang - it would simply be dishonest to describe them as a ‘political party’ - is gaining ever more support. Several years ago, they were regarded by the Greeks as the nutters they are and
could only manage to win 0.4pc of the vote. At the most recent general election they gained 12pc. And estimated 60pc of the police in Greece are members of Golden Dawn. They have started a public campaign of ridding Greece of immigrants - they declare they want to ‘get the stench out of Greece’. By ‘stench’ they mean the immigrants. They are well organised. They have a network of ‘help bureaux’ where people can get food and other assistance. They are getting their support where all fascists parties get their support: among the dispossessed and those who have lost hope among the poor and lower middle classes.

The point must be made again that none of this would be possible without the misery the euro crisis has created in Greece. Certainly, what Angela Merkel insists upon as part of her  plans to ‘save the euro’ makes a certain sense in context: why should a country like Greece which lived beyond its means for so many years be bailed out without itself helping to sort out the problem by cutting back on public spending? But that misses the point entirely: and
the point is that we should be here in the first place. And worst of all is that there is no longer an equitable solution. None whatsoever. We are too far down the road for that. Golden Dawn is up and running, and the fascist genie is out of the lamp.

We all - all of us ‘baby boomers’ who have lived through the 67 years of peace which - oh, the irony! - have earned the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize - imagine that it will all ‘come right in the end’, that now is not the time to become a Cassandra, ‘they’ will sort it out. Oh really? Yes, it will ‘all come right in the end’ rather as the fuckup that was Nazi Germany ‘all came right in the end’ 23 years later by the mid-1950s. Me, I’m 63 next birthday and won’t see the worst of it. It is my 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son whose lives and well-being I fear for.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Worst news of the week: the Stones aren’t just not yet dead, they are going to play some more gigs. Can it get worse? No, not really – I’m not a fan of twats like Jagger

Quite possibly the worst news of the day is that The Rolling Stones are due to play a series of gigs in London and the U.S. The usual crap PR spiel tactics were used to make the news ‘exciting’: I was in the gym which was tuned to London’s XFM station when the presenter told us that he had some news to tell us about the Stones, but couldn’t do so yet – just stay tuned and he would reveal all by noon. The purpose of his schtick is, of course, to keep the listener tuned into XFM rather than any of the other London stations, but this ‘we’ve got some fabulous news to tell you about the Stones’ is so old hat, you can even get arrested for using it in some of the trendier parts of London.

The only fabulous news I want to hear is that Jagger – especially bloody Jagger, that multi-millionaire man-of-the-people pseudo Cockney art collecting twat whose one ambition for these past 20 years was to ‘get a knighthood’ - Richard and Wood have were all burnt alive in a car crash. Not Charlie Watts though, because he is rather more down-to-earth. Actually, Richards isn’t too bad, either, except that I have yet to see him interviewed where he makes even a modicum of sense. The guy seems so drug-addled that that when he is asked a question, he goes off-topic within about five seconds, starts some telling some incoherent, rambling anecdote but never finishes it because he ends up cackling like some village idiot when he recalls what made him laugh in the first place. And keep Ronnie Wood out of the car crash, too. He was in a band called Truth with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart which produced a cracking album. So, let’s recap: the only one of the Stones I should like burnt to cinders in the most brutal way is that arch-twat ‘Sir’ Mick Jagger.

When I was a kid, about 134 years ago, the usual pop marketing was to set up bands against each other: you liked one and not the other. Then it was The Beatles v The Stones. More recently is was Oasis v Blur. It’s all horribly phoney, I know, but kids always fall for it, and I fell for it. I was in The Beatles camp, although I also liked the Stones music. The Stones were also marketed as ‘bad boys’, another schtick which also goes down well. The equivalent for females is marketing someone as a ‘slut’, someone some girls can identify themselves with. The ‘bad boys’ image was, we now know, wholly bogus, but that wasn’t the point. The tabloids played along, of course, because that’s the name of the game. As for the music, The Stones weren’t half bad in the early days, but as far as I am concerned their last decent record was several centuries ago – Exile On Main Street. After that there were a couple of singles but like all bands – or rather like almost all bands – they went off the ball in a big, big way.

While writing the above, I have been asking myself why I am so obviously so, so pissed off with them and the ‘exciting’ news of new gigs. I think I know: they are a tragic embarrassment. The truth is that whitey rock and pop stars age very badly – bloody ‘Sir’ Paul McCartney dyes his sodding hair, for God’s sake – but they still soldier on in the delusion that they can still cut it with the young ones. The point is they can’t. Rock, pop, call it what you will was dealt a death blow when it began to be regarded as ‘art’. But it’s not fucking ‘art’: it’s fucking rock, funk, soul, R&B, pop, lover’s rock, grunge. What it isn’t is ‘art’.

The other night I was listening to Radio 4’s poncey 7.15pm arts show Front Row and they had bloody Muse on, waffling on about themselves and their new album and their ‘inspiration’ and the relevance of lyrics. Muse: three delightfully nice middle-class chaps from Teignmouth in Devon you wouldn’t at all be upset to see your daughter marrying. Along those lines one of the
guys in Blur is developed into a cheesemaker. For fuck’s sake, a bloody cheesemaker. I have also been a slow developer and didn’t mature properly until I was well into my 80s, and I do remember being horribly disappointed to hear that one Vince Furnier - the really, really evil one in Alice Cooper - was a highly regarded golfer. Oh, Lord, I cried for days and I hadn’t even heard their music, just one or two singles.

Don’t get me wrong: rock stars, pop stars, call them what you will, can do what they bloody hell they like – but don’t tell us about it. Collect Meissen porcelain, set up a string of garden centres (Jethro Tull’s mainman Ian Anderson has a string of fish farms), join the bloody Women’s Institute, do what the fuck you like – but DON’T let us know. We DON’T want to know. Even at 86 I don’t want to know.

As for the Stones, every pic of the band taken I the past 30 years embarrasses me; these guys are pushing 70 for God’s sake and look it. With the possible exception of Charlie Watts I can honestly say I’ve seen healthier corpses. (For the record I’ve only seen on corpse, but let’s not allow a detail like that to spoil a tirade.) Look at the pic I’ve dug out: can you really take that gang of pensioners seriously as ‘the best rock n’ roll band in the world’. If the answer’s yes, you are officially banned from reading this blog.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In which I introduce a grateful world to my two new enthusiasms: Pink and Boardwalk Empire

Well, it’s all happening: Syria is shooting at Turkey, Turkey is shooting back at Syria, Angela Merkel is in Athens, apparently expressing her solidarity with all those she is reducing to pauperism but actually merely showing that when it comes to tact, the Germans aren’t always on the button, one in four Spaniards who want to work can’t, just months after being elected King of France (although the French don’t actually call it King), Francois Hollande is now less popular than a turd on a living room carpet, and surveys in America report that the voters don’t like Obama or Romney. Yes, it’s all happening, but I have something far more important to report: I have two new enthusiasms.

. . .

The first is the music and songs of a lady called Pink, who might be known to some of you, but perhaps not to all of you. When I mentioned it the other day, I colleague said he was astounded, quite possibly because I am 63 next birthday, or quite possibly there is some other reason. I don’t know. What I do know is that among her peers (although I should add the I haven’t actually heard very much by her peers) I think she stands out rather well.

Discovering her and her music was purely by chance and if it hadn’t been that I heard a particular song, liked it and then heard it was by some singer called Pink, I doubt very much I would have followed it up. But the song, Family Portrait, rather touched me. These days, the only time I hear new music, rather new pop music, is when I am in the gym at work. I

was familiar with her hit Get This Party Started which, although a great pop song, is not, at the end of the day anything more than just a great pop song. And Family Portrait, too, could be seen as just another pop song. But what struck me when I heard it for the first time and what strikes me every time I hear it again, is that Pink sings it from the heart. In it’s way it is as far removed from all the crappy Britney Spears pop mush as a Bach cantata (although superficially it has more in common the Britney Spears than a Bach cantata. That much I’ll admit).

It is a sad song in which Pink simply pleads with her parents not to split up and can’t the family try to get back to what they once were. And that is it. But not much upsets me more than unhappy children, and even though Pink was an adult by the time she recorded that song, part of her still hurts and it comes across in the song. After that I bought one album, then another, then another, and I like her music. For one thing she has a great pop sensibility, but more than that she has a strong voice and can sing. Finally, she has a sense of humour. All in all, 63 next birthday or not, Pink’s my gal.

I might add here that I have also recently bought Dylan’s latest album Tempest. That is great, too. I don’t know how he does it - and the chances are that he doesn’t either - but Dylan does it more or less every time. To this day that opening chord of Like A Rolling Stone sends a shiver down my spine. (And if, by the way, you like it as much as I do, check out Johnny Winter’s version. He makes it a different song, but in its way it is just as good.)

 . . .

 My second enthusiasm is Boardwalk Empire, the story of Nucky Thompson who I read somewhere is described as a gangster and a politician who can’t decide whether he is more the gangster or the politician. The series is made by HBO and many, many, many of the great

talents who produced The Sopranos are involved in making it. Quite a few film makers have said that the bless the day when television started to allow them to make such series and allowed them to take their time telling a story, letting characters develop. They say that isn’t really possible in the conventional film of between 90 and 120 minutes. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. Some people say it is ‘boring’ because it is ‘too slow’ and that ‘nothing happens’. Well, if that’s the case they should stick to their Britney Spears collection of albums and leave more room for the rest of us to enjoy it.

. . .

I am always take a look at the stats for this blog every day. It’s a form of vanity, I know, but it is also an interesting insight into what people like to read and what they are interested in. And bugger me if this particular entry doesn’t regularly beat all other entries into a cocked hat. The odd thing is I really don’t know why. Someone care to tell me?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Oh, the fun to be had in wallowing in filth and vomit. Or why the West is disappearing up its own arse, perhaps mainly because we have had it so good for rather too long

Many Muslims often make the point that, with its emphasis on ‘rights’, its insistence that we should be ‘non-judgmental’, its almost slavish acceptance of our right – often apparently seen as our duty – to express our ‘individuality’ and the encouragement to push all boundaries, the Western world is disappearing up its own arse and not at all that slowly. They might well have a point, though in honesty I must add that social attitudes in some Muslim countries are, to put it mildly, nothing to write home about. Who would be gay in Iraq or a woman in Saudi Arabia and the more benighted parts of Afghanistan?

Having said that, what too many of us here in the West see as ‘Muslim’ is often nothing of the kind: we would be wrong to regard the fundamentalist and intolerant Wahabi Islam as more or less what all of Islam stands for, rather as it would be exceptionally silly to think of the far-out whacky elements of fundamentalist ‘Christians’ as representative of all Christians. But I
personally think there is a great deal of substance in the suspicion that the ethos of the Western world is becoming increasingly more self-centred. The irony is, of course, that over these past 45 years, the West has convinced itself that it has become far more caring. From where I stand nothing could be further from the truth.

So I offer you these images, although they are not, in fact, the subject of this entry. What I should like to highlight is how increasingly many in the West, mainly those who regard themselves as being ‘progressive’ and ‘forward-thinking’ are apt to tie themselves into knots trying to excuse the inexcusable. These images are not new and have been knocking around for several years (and are all, incidentally the copyright of the photographer who took them, Maciej Dakowicz). Many were published in 2011 by the Daily Mail (which has its own axes to grind) and, I think, were previously published by the Mail a year or two earlier. But that isn’t the point, either.

I believe these photographs are being exhibited in Cardiff, and a review of that exhibition was published in The Observer this morning. And it is the frighteningly woolly think betrayed by that review (by a chap called Sean O’Hagan) to which I should like to draw attention. You can read his review here, but just one excerpt might serve as an indication that the way the ‘progressive’ left is disappearing up its own arse could well be, in microcosm, how the West is slowly, but surely, losing the plot. O’Hagan writes:

Because of the subject matter of these photographs – the ways in which young people choose to enjoy themselves to excess on a Saturday night – you could say that Cardiff After Dark [the exhibition being reviewed] is a visual essay about Britain's binge-drinking culture. If you were you so inclined, you could even view it as a snapshot of what has gone wrong with Britain since deference and good manners gave way to lack of respect and vulgarity . . . On closer observation, though, Dakowicz's work evades this kind of reductive appraisal. The photographs in this book are loud, the behaviour they show often vulgar. The more you look, though, the more you glimpse a certain collective doggedness in this wild pursuit of pleasure and abandonment, a doggedness that suggests much deeper discontent.

So there you have it: black becomes white, wrong becomes right. The young folk, all the worse for wear, are not, as they might at first seem to be, merely total chavs who think that getting rat-arsed all night, then spewing up, not giving a flying fuck for anyone else and wallowing in the filth of a late-night cityscape are unacceptable, but – according to O’Hagan – something far more noble: they are demonstrating a certain collective doggedness in this wild pursuit of pleasure and abandonment. Not only that but in the same sentence the blame for any bad behaviour is shifted to everyone else in that their doggedness suggests much deeper discontent.

The implication is plain: they are not to blame for behaving like pigs, we – society – is. Certainly, many of them might find themselves in boring jobs and certainly many of them would like to be paid far more, though it has to be said that a great many other folk the world
over, not least 25pc of all young people in Spain, would give their eyes’ teeth for one of those boring jobs. But what else do they have to be ‘discontented’ with? Is it that they don’t have clean water to drink and wash themselves in as do several hundreds of millions around the world. No, it can’t be that, because whatever else its failings, Britain ensures that 99pc of its households, unlike tens of millions of non-British households, have more than adequate sanitary arrangements.

Is it that they are being denied an education and being made to work very long hours for a pittance from a very early age? No, it’s not that either. Britain has very strict laws on child employment and a free education is available to every British child until the age of 16 at the
very least. Perhaps they are forced to live in slums and insanitary shanty towns as do hundreds of millions of folk elsewhere in the world. Are they ‘discontented’ with their healthcare and the benefits they get if they become unemployed? Well, I can’t think that that is the cause of their discontent, either, although hundreds of millions around the world might be astounded to learn that the healthcare of every British citizen – and even those who visit Britain – is absolutely free. And if they do find themselves unemployed or homeless, the state arranges that they will, at least, not starve. Those arrangements are most certainly not perfect, but at least they exist. Hundreds of millions around the world have no such arrangements, not even imperfect ones.

So just take a look at the pictures of these ‘discontented’ chavs and ask yourself who, exactly, is to blame for the way they chose to wallow in their own vomit, detritus and filth: them or us? And then ask yourself whether those who would prefer to argue that black is white and that
wrong is right really should be taken as seriously as they would expect us to. Or perhaps you might agree with me that their woolly – and, it could be argued dangerous – thinking demonstrates rather neatly why as far as I am concerned the West is disappearing up its own arse.

. . .

It is not the sign of a great mind to quote a line from a soap opera by way of passing on a wisdom. We might all be agreed on that even if the soap opera in question, The Sopranos is not usually regarded as a soap but as something more upmarket, the rule of thumb is soap scripts tend to deal in clichés and seemingly try to avoid any originality as much and as often as possible. (A case in point might be one of my favourite bêtes noir, The Archers, of which, as chance has it, I usually hear a few minutes on a Wednesday night as I drive home from London to Cornwall and a Sunday morning as I drive to work in London: the script is at best abysmal and so choc-a-bloc with clichés – ‘well, as they say, time will tell’ – that it surely deserves some kind of award.)

But great minds or not (and I’m slowly and sadly realising as I approach my dotage that my mind was, is and never will be great), I shall pass on the observation of one character who featured in The Sopranos. She was Svetlana, a one-legged Russian woman who was a friend and confidante of one of Tony Soprano’s former bit on the side and is later hired to keep house and look after Uncle Junior Soprano when he is under house arrest and starts showing signs of dementia.

One day while at Uncle Junior’s house, Tony has sex with Svetlana (or possibly Svetlana has sex with Tony – she is very much her own woman) and afterwards when Tony starts bemoaning his life, she tells him (and here I must paraphrase) that the trouble with Americans is that the are always seeking perfection in everything and are thus necessarily disappointed and unhappy. Russians, she tells him, on the other hand always expect things to be pretty shitty and are quite often pleasantly surprised and as a rule thus a lot happier.

This rather relates to the pictures in the entry above and by contention that we are in the West are now in our declining years. Our problem, to put it bluntly, is that life is generally far too easy for us. Few of us are in want. On the contrary, if we want something, from a two-week holiday abroad twice a year to a new car, a widescreen TV set or any other number of luxury goods, we can – make that could – get them immediately. What with insurance, social and unemployment benefits, state pensions (fabulously good for some in Europe) and infrastructure which makes life very easy indeed, we should have little to grumble about (and let me concede here and now that there are many, though a minority, who don’t share in the good life, but I am talking about the majority of us). But are we grateful? Do we value and cherish our advantages? I would suggest increasingly not: the general rule is that the more we have the less we value it. And the less we have the more we value it. It is a curious fact of life that the poor who have little for themselves are apt to be more charitable and fellow-minded than their more prosperous cousins. It gets worse: the more we have, the more we expect and the more unpleasant we get when we don’t get it.

I have no idea whether you reading this agree with these observations, but I might, in this instance, be forgiven for passing on a piece of wisdom from a soap opera. Pip, pip!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another civil war in Spain? Too much Spanish Burgundy or has he finally lost his marbles? It could never happen! No, of course, not, and nor could the massacre at Srebrenica

The obvious question is just how long can it all go one, and by ‘it’ I mean, of course, what might well now be regarded as the ‘phoney war’ in the euro crisis. Superficially, it might all seem to have gone quite, with good ole’ Mario Draghi trying desperately to calm nerves by insisting he and his train set will do everything to make sure the good folk of the island of Sodor will continue to get a rail service second to none - no, look, I’m getting confused: Draghi runs the European Central Bank, not Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

It’s all so confusing what with everyone being so brave and insisting the euro is here to stay, you mark their words, and this is all just a glitch, a rite of passage through which the currency will pass from adolescence to adulthood. In years to come they, the bankers and politicians and commentators, will crack open a find bottle of brandy and swap anecdotes and memories, and reflect on the high drama when - well, if the truth be told it did, at times, seem touch and go for the dear little euro (such a sweet little currency, who’d have thought it was capable of potentially bringing such grief when all it was intended to do was to be the cement the great European Union and bring peace and goodwill to all good men and true).

But, of course, I’m rambling (as I am apt to do), a mood brought on by some troubling news. There was a demonstration in Madrid today outside Spain’s parliament by the Occupy Congress movement who feel that the government returned by a large majority at the end of last year hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of solving this crisis or any future crisis. But it wasn’t the demo which rather alarmed me - demos come and go and are largely forgotten within days. What I thought more notable was that the Spanish province of Calalonia (do they call the provinces?) is getting mightily fed up and its government has called a snap election with a view to gaining more independence, both political and financial from Madrid. This is not very good news. You can read about the latest developments here and here.

Ordinarily, such a move could well be pooh-poohed as just so much sabre-rattling, signifying nothing, but these are surely not ordinary times. Is it really conceivable that a part of Spain could declare independence? Isn’t that the kind of thing which happens only in history books and which we debate many years after the event?

More than 20 years ago, the American historian Francis Fukuyama published an essay called The End Of History (and later developed his thesis in a similarly entitled book) in which he argued - if I have got it right - that the world had more or less evolved politically as far as it would ever evolve and the our liberal democratic form of government (in the West, at least) was more or less the end stage of that development. What he had so say was a little more subtle, but the general idea was that ‘lads, this is it’. I remember at the time thinking what a crock of shit the idea was, but at the time I didn’t really know what he was suggesting.

Now I know a little more, I can see the point he is making, and although I no longer think it is total bollocks, I do feel he is being a tad optimistic. My point is, though, that the West generally, which has, despite one or two local wars, most notably in the Balkans in the Nineties, enjoyed a sustained period of peace and prosperity, is finding it increasingly difficult to imagine (and accept) that things will not always be like that. Were I here and now to suggest that, for example, there is a distinct possibility of another civil war in Spain, the consensus would be ‘the chap’s off his head/doesn’t know what he’s talking about/has he been drinking?

Truthfully, I know very little about domestic Spanish politics and affairs, but merely suggest the possibility of a second civil war in Spain as the kind of utterly unexpected development we find it almost impossible to get our heads around. And because we find such things impossible to grasp and thus give credence to, they are deemed to be utterly implausible. Brussels and the rest of the EU wouldn’t allow it, you could say. Or you could argue that Western Europe has become far too civilised to countenance any such action on its soil. All I will say to that is: never count your chickens.

The total disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc was, for almost all of us, a pretty unexpected development, but it happened and it happened pretty damn quickly. We are accustomed to hear of massacres and wholesale slaughter in, say, the Congo or Uganda, or Afghanistan and other points east, but we never expected any such wholesale massacre in Europe. Then several thousands Bosnians were massacred in Srebenica. And, most tellingly, they were massacred while Dutch ‘peacekeepers’ more or less looked on and did nothing because any prevention of that massacre ‘wasn’t in its remit’. That would have seemed impossible just days before it happened. And the total inaction of the Dutch to do anything to stop it would have seemed even more unbelievable.

So when this loudmouth points out that things aren’t looking too healthy in Spain and could even perhaps lead to the kind of violence we haven’t seen in Western Europe for 70 years, jeer at me by all means. But at least be a little more prepared to expect the utterly unexpected.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hypocrisy comes in many forms - try the variety favoured by (some) Muslims

Forget, if you can, that Peaches Geldoff has recently taken her son Astala and dog Parpy for a stroll and that Kourteny Kardashian has already managed to get back to a ‘fighting fit’ slim figure just ten weeks after giving birth to baby Penelope. Forget even - yes, I know it’s difficult, but, please, just try, even if for just a few minutes - that Kelly Osbourne thinks that Lady Gaga is pregnant, not just getting fat on too many pizzas and that Kim Kardashian has charmed her way into the hearts of police on promotional tour in Australia. (What is she promoting? Kim Karadashian, of course. Silly me). Today, in its customary lighthearted mood, this blog intends to turn its attention to a rather more mundane mattter, that is the Muslim ‘outrage’ the world over.

And what has upset them? Why an extremely badly made film in California which was subsequently overdubbed to insult the prophet Mohammed. In fact, so outraged were Muslims in Libya that they felt it necessary to murder the U.S. ambassador to express their outrage, and since then outraged Muslims have been demonstrating, sometimes violently in other predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon and Malayasia. Talk about a sense of proportion - it seems these lads don’t give a fig for the latest Lady Gaga, Peaches Geldoff and Kardashian family gossip.

A mob is a mob is a mob anywhere in the world, whether in Cairo, Benghazi, Woking, Galashiels, Peoria or Buenos Aires, and in an odd kind of way a mob seems to become more than just the sum of its parts. So when ‘a mob’ is responsible for the death of one or more people as it expresses its outrage, no one in that mob feels him or herself (though it has to be said it is invariably himself) specifi - ‘the mob’ is to be blamed for the death, not individuals.

Furthermore, mobs can easily be manipulated, a fact which no end of unscrupulous men and women have known for centuries and successfully made use of. We know that once whatever idiot it was who made the film which insulted the Prophet Mohammed had - very badly - overdubbed it to include the insults (apparently the film started life as some kind of D movie about the desert), the film was channelled into Muslim countries - one report I heard was that a fundamentalist Christian group was involved which enlisted the help of Egyptian Coptic Christian. Whoever did that knew exactly what the consequences would be and knew also that unscrupulous Muslim rabble-rousers would gleefully seize upon the film to futher their own agend.

It has been recorded that the outrage of many Muslims was based on the ‘fact’ that apparently ‘U.S. state television’ had broadcast the film. That the U.S. doesn’t have, and has never had, a ‘state television’ is quite irrelevant: the mob believed it to be true, and so it became ’a truth’ and so the mob went on its self-righteous rampage. Yet ironically, however stupid ‘the mob’ is, in a sense it is blameless: it has no mind and its violence is literally mindless. But far, far more disturbing is the attitude of Muslims who should and quite possibly do know better.

Last Monday, four of them were interviewed on Radio 4’s The World Tonight. They were all, three men and a woman, British Asian professionals - they insisted that the programme should highlight that they were professionals: one was an engineer, one a businessman (or woman) and two were doctors. They were articulate and - I assume - intelligent, but they were certainly educated people. Most significant was that they were all members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which likes to describe itself as ‘the Liberation party’ and which organised a demonstration last Sunday outside the US embassy in London. These four, who had all taken part in the demo and who, one imagines, listen to radio and TV news, would most certainly have been aware of the untruths being put about in order to fuel the mobs’ outrage: it is inconceivable that - as intelligent, educated and professional people - they sincerely believed that the US government had indeed brazenly broadcast the insulting film on ‘state TV’. Yet they chose to ignore what they must have known to be untrue and took part in the demo and later agreed to be interviewed on Radio 4’s The World Tonight to justify their actions and the actions of violent mobs in many parts of the Muslim world. You have to ask yourself: why?

Hizb ut-Tahrir’s website has published an open letter to non-Muslims about the film and the ‘insult to the Prophet Mohammed’ (you can read it here) and it has the gall to castigate Western ‘hypocrisy’. The first paragraph of this open letter reads:

'It is a centuries-old Islamic tradition to engage in debate, tolerate criticism and hear the critiques of others. But insults against Islam, such as those in the recent film and cartoons, are unacceptable provocations that cross a red line that no Muslim or decent human being would ever accept. As such we condemn them in the strongest possible terms, as we do any such insults against Islam and the symbols of our religion; especially those against the greatest man ever, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.’

The open letter goes on:

We do not condone the recent violence that has broken out in response, but the blood-stained track record of Western foreign policy and hypocrisy regarding free speech means that all right to take the moral high ground has been forfeited when arguing that violence is an unacceptable response to this provocation, or when arguing that freedom of speech is sacred.

Does Hizb up-Tahrir and its four intelligent, educated and professional members who agreed to be interviewed on Radio 4 really believe that outright murder and innocent deaths are justifiable in defence of imagined insults against the Prophet Mohammed? Well, apparently they do.

I also wonder what Hizb up-Tahrir would have to say about the hypocrisy of its fellow Muslims who are quite happy to hand out awful insults to other faiths and their followers. Because or all the noble talk about not tolerating insults to Islam, many Muslims are far from shy about grossly insulting not only Jews and Christians, but their fellow Muslims. Here is a list (which I have taken from the New York Times website and which appeared here in one of its columns) of exceedingly gross insults made by Muslims (follow links for original source):

ON CHRISTIANS: Hasan Rahimpur Azghadi of the Iranian Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution: Christianity is “a reeking corpse, on which you have to constantly pour eau de cologne and perfume, and wash it in order to keep it clean.” — July 20, 2007.

Sheik Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: It is permissible to spill the blood of the Iraqi Christians — and a duty to wage jihad against them. — April 14, 2011.

Abd al-Aziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, a Saudi professor of Islamic law, calls for “positive hatred” of Christians. Al-Majd TV (Saudi Arabia), — Dec. 16, 2005.

ON SHIITES: The Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub: “Muslim Brotherhood Presidential Candidate Mohamed Morsi told me that the Shiites are more dangerous to Islam than the Jews.”  — June 13, 2012.

The  Egyptian Cleric Mazen al-Sirsawi: “If Allah had not created the Shiites as human beings, they would have been donkeys.” — Aug. 7, 2011.
The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan video series: “The Shiite is a Nasl [Race/Offspring] of Jews.” — March 21, 2012.

ON JEWS: Article on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website praises jihad against America and the Jews: “The Descendants of Apes and Pigs.”  — Sept. 7, 2012.

The Pakistani cleric Muhammad Raza Saqib Mustafai: “When the Jews are wiped out, the world would be purified and the sun of peace would rise on the entire world.”  — Aug. 1, 2012.

Dr. Ismail Ali Muhammad, a senior Al-Azhar scholar: The Jews, “a source of evil and harm in all human societies.”  — Feb. 14, 2012.

ON SUFIS: A shrine venerating a Sufi Muslim saint in Libya has been partly destroyed, the latest in a series of attacks blamed on ultraconservative Salafi Islamists.  — Aug. 26, 2012.

It does seem to me that for many of the more fanatical Muslims there is one rule for them and another for everyone else. There is very little quite as unpleasant as the stench of hypocrisy. (All the above references were published in a piece by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. You can read it here.)

. . .

I keep a keen eye on the so-called ‘stats’ provided by Google which tell me not only how many people have chanced up - or even knowingly returned to - this blog in any given day, week, month or year, but also where they live, what browser they use, what computer operating system they use, whether they are using a computer, tablet, iPad or smartphone when visiting and, crucially, whether they loathe hypocrisy as much as I do. The stats also tell me which sites are used to ‘refer’ the searcher to this blog and what are the most visited blog entries.

By far the most popular is one which features one Tony Blair, one Christine Keeler and one Mandy Rice-Davies. It includes a cartoon of Blair and a photo each of Christine and Mandy (my familiarity is gratuitous in that I don’t know either of the two ladies and am highly unlikely to meet either at any time soon.) But it did occur to me that to drum up more visits, I should include in each post a pic of both of them. So that is exactly what I intend to do.

(Incidentally, this second part of this entry has bugger all to do with Muslim, Muslim outrage, the Prophet or anything of that kind. The principle I am working on is that you can, indeed, have too much of a good thing.)