Thursday, May 31, 2012

Let’s hear it for Mr Clarke who came into my life rather late in the day, but what the fuck

Those geeks who advocate all things binary were onto a thing or two, though they will be appalled to hear - as though they didn’t already know - that dichotomy, for that is what this 0 1 thing is all about is not in the slightest bit original. Everything, it seems, comes with its opposite and without which it might never exist. So to start at the beginning: there was nothing, then there was something. Things were dark, then they were light. But I shan’t labour the point, which I think you might well already have grasped. Fast forward several thousands of millennia from that fateful point in time when God became a little bored and decided to have some fun by creating everything to now.

By now, of course, I don’t mean now - 21.50 on May 31, 2012 - but now, which - I crave your indulgence - is more or less contingent with my lifespan (and what is left of it). So ‘now’ we have all kinds of opposites: to carry on, spuriously and not to say meretriciously, with the scientific angle (to give this entry an intellectual feel, don’t you know), there’s matter and antimatter (though I am sure I’m not alone in wondering what the bloody hell ‘antimatter’ is or could be). When I was younger, there were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Or how about Michael Jackson and Prince? In sport there’s, or there once was before a certain whore of a team hitched its wagon to the good fortunes and billions of roubles of yet another Russian oligarch, Chelsea and Fulham.

Broadening the it all I could refer to sweet and sour, New York and Chicago, good and bad, night and day, gays and straights, truth and fiction, but none of it brings me any closer to what I want to write about except, perhaps Liverpool and Manchester. For those who give a hoot, I am unashamedly Manchester. I have Liverpudlian friends and acquaintances, and I like and respect many of them. But unfortunately for me Liverpool, like Newcastle (where I once lived and worked) has a fatal flaw: it and its people are unbearably - or, more fairly, can be be unbearably and insufferably - sentimental and lachrymose, forever reminding the world and his dog what fine fellows they are, how unfairly the world has treated them, what a spirited place their city is, what marvellous, generous, kind-hearted people live there. Manchester has none of that: Manchester has the acid which cuts through all the grease. And I like it.

Manchester is, though Mancunians would be horrified to hear me say it, a first cousin to Birmingham. And then there’s that accent. I love it, too. . . . Some fuckwit somewhere wrote along the lines that to ‘be born British is to have drawn the first prize in the lottery of life’. Perhaps (though Brits don’t like it that every other nation under the sun says the same about itself, except, perhaps the Poles. I think the Poles rather suspect that they are the losers of this world. But that’s another entry.) Well, this fuckwit would like to paraphrase that other fuckwit and say to ‘be born in Manchester/Salford/Wigan or wherever the fuck else is nearby is to be born at the very least with the right accent and attitude to make a first-class comedian’. Does that make sense? But let me cut to the chase

. . . .

Born in November 1949, I was 20 in 1969 and a prime candidate for all the hippy-dippy acid bollocks. To be fair I never subscribed to the airy-fairy flowers-in-your-hair philosophy and never quite got into all the music, but I liked the dope (as in cannabis, not heroin) and had a fairly substantial number of trips. (Musically, I was seduced rather early on into R&B - what was then R&B, not what is now R&B - soul and eventually gospel, funk, jazz and the rest.

Crucially, I found it impossible to dance to on-beat rock and was very relieved to discover music which celebrated the off-beat. Man.) But having been born in 1949 I was 30 in 1979, or more pertinently 27 in 1977, so the whole punk thing passed me by. I didn’t particularly like the music, except that of certain ‘punk’ fellow travellers such as The Police, but in all honesty for me to turn up at some Clash gig and pogo would have been dishonest.

Oddly enough, punk spawned more important trends in what might very loosely be called contemporary art than its forbear, the hippies. (And it is no mystery to me why punk so successfully followed the hippy-dippy bollocks: it was quite simply a question of younger brothers and younger sisters wanting to do the complete opposite of their very boring, very condescending, very preachy and increasingly very, very dull older brothers and sisters.) But let me now bring the two strands together: Manchester/parts of Lancashire and me being just a tad too old to be a punk. What this entry is all about is John Cooper Clarke. . . . I heard of John Cooper Clarke when he was in his heyday but paid no attention. He was, after all, a punk thing and by then age had rather brutally excluded me from the punk thing. But by chance I have, very late in life, come across him again. And he is a gem.

There are many others who could rave about him far better than me, so I shall simply say that as far as I am concerned he is a one-off. His poetry might not impress the middle-class ‘poets’, but then they don’t impress him, either. He is witty and funny - and they are not always the same thing - he has verve, he has a love for language, he is good-natured and honest, and he does the virtually impossible: he takes what he does seriously without taking himself seriously. I think I am rather lucky to have finally come across Mr Clarke so late in life and I shall not pass up the opportunity to find out rather more about him and his work. For a flavour of the man, try this recent interview in the Guardian.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Let’s look on the gloomy side for a change: the idiots now have the upper hand, we can expect no more change out of China, and Syria is going to explode. So what can we do? Raise a glass to the Irish and get them to tell us a few jokes as we all go down in flames. And when will bloody Google get off our backs?

One of the reasons I took a break from writing this blog was that more and more I was writing about the same issue - the euro crisis and how inexplicably daft various governments are behaving in their ostensible aim of solving it - and I started feeling like the nutter in a bar who perhaps amuses for the first ten minutes you know him, but becomes tedious after 20, insufferable after an hour and is subsequently avoided at all cost whenever next he crosses your path. And who wants to be regarded as a nutter in a bar. But developments in the eurozone have become so bloody ludicrous and many politicians are behaving with such breathtaking inanity that I could and can no longer hold back. But I shall at least - with an eye on all those adverse to nutters in bars - try a different approach.
I shall be 63 in just under six months and it is a commonplace that old folk, or oldish folk, seem doom and gloom at every turn.

So I’ve been asking myself whether what’s going on in the world is any more frightening, threatening and dangerous than 27 years ago, in September 1985, when my dear old dad was just under six months short of 63. Or what was the state of the world in (I think 1953) when his dad was approaching his 63rd birthday. Certainly, for Walter Powell, chain-smoker, primary school head teacher, county councillor (which might have come later) and cricket buff there will have been plenty to worry a worrier: the Korean War, the increasingly bitter Cold War, a piss-poor economy in Britain with rationing barely over, the Empire so obviously well on its way up the swannee and generally a feeling that things should be better. The bright spot will have been that World War II was over and done with, though just how much solace Walter and Elsie, my grandmother, will have gained from that I really don’t know.

In 1985 things did look a lot brighter. The worst of the early Thatcher economic pain was over, money was plenty, the internet was not yet born so people were not immediately being made aware of the latest horror, although Britain’s miners were feeling bitter, having lost the very stupid fight started by that arch ham and undoubted chancer Arthur Scargill. But there was most certainly much to worry about, if not at home or in Europe, but elsewhere.

That is, of course, if you were in a worrying mood. My father, I rather think, wasn’t. He had retired three years previously on a very generous pension, he was happily remarried, he was ‘working on [his] book’ (completed but never, or not yet, published), he lived in a very pleasant part of the country and was enjoying the kind of country gentleman’s life to which he had always aspired, and the prostate cancer which was to develop and eventually kill him at 68 was still several years away. He was, however, a worrier, though I really can’t tell you what he might have been worrying about.

To be honest, I do think there is something in the idea that as folk, especially men, get older, they are more apt to see gloom and doom lurking in every corner. Yet having said that - so take that as a caveat - I do think that on many different horizons extremely ominous storm clouds are gathering.
. . .

As far as the euro crisis is concerned, it might help to try to look at daily and weekly developments as though they were past history. So, for example, what are we to make of Angela Merkel’s suggestion that euro debtor countries should consider handing over their gold reserves to pay off their debts? As a news item you heard an hour or two ago, you might feel inclined to say: ‘Well, why not? Makes a certain degree of sense.’ But reading about it in many years time, as a history student, say, as one of the many factors ‘preceding the great crash of the early 21st century, it might strike you as rather different. Let me set the scene: Germany is solvent and prosperous and is finding it so easy to borrow money that it doesn’t even have to offer a tasty interest rate on what it raises. It has low unemployment and low inflation and whichever way you look at it is doing rather well, thank you very much.

The one cloud on the horizon comes from several other members of the monetary union which are apparently heading towards bankruptcy, where one in four of those of employable age have no job, where pensions and social security payments are being slashed, where its people are so worried that their banking system will collapse that they are withdrawing as much money as they can and getting it out of the country and, finally, where the more democratically inclined political parties of the centre are rapidly losing their support to parties either on the far left or the far right. But because they are part of the same monetary union as Germany, their demise not only could, but most certainly will, be disastrous for Germany. So what does Germany do: it demands that if these countries want help, they should hand over their gold. As sweet-talking goes, as a way of pouring oil on troubled waters that is a lunatic approach.

It doesn’t, of course, help that in the not too distant past Germany - though I must and will stress a very different kind of Germany - was in a similar position of lording it over various other nations in Europe, thereby allowing those who want to do so to make - in my view wholly unjustified and gratuitous - jibes about das Herrenvolk and Das Vierte Reich. But is no one in Germany aware of the growing bad blood? Are there no siren voices in Berlin telling the German government to soft-pedal a little, take it easy, this isn’t working out as we would like it to? Apparently there aren’t.
. . .

I’m well aware, or think I’m well aware of the economics of it all and forgive me but I can’t hold back from commenting that I, as well as many, many others, warned that this whole fuck-up was going to happen at some point. The only - the only - unknown factor was when it would happen. But that is all water under the bridge now. The disaster is upon us, inexorably bearing down on us like some huge tanker cannot slow down and which cannot be turned around.

 The economics are stark: we’re now damned if we do and damned if we don’t. It is not going to end peacefully. I don’t expect there to be any civil wars but I do expect any number of mischief makers to seize the opportunity to make their mischief, whatever that might be and whatever they hope to achieve from it. There will be fighting, there will be riots, there will be deaths, there will be appeals for calm. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world other events will worsen the situation. The era of cheap goods from China, who export from China and import into Europe gave everyone a feelgood factor, is now over. There is an upward pressure on wages in China and many firms who went there to benefit from cheap labour are now upping sticks and moving on to other countries, such as Vietnam.

The situation in Syria is getting worse by the day. There is no way out for Assad and his supporters, so they will undoubtedly fight until the bitter end, unless Russia can persuade that gang to relinquish power. But who would then take over? The situation in Syria, we are continually being told, cannot be compared to the revolution in Libya. Libya is a sparsely coastal strip with massive of desert. Syria isn’t. Libya might be tribal, but as a rule they all regard themselves as being in the same club. They don’t in Syria. Syria is split between Sunnis and Shiites as well as between Islamists and Western-orientated folk. Should a war in Syria bother us?

Well, various fools are calling for what they regard as a universal panacea of ‘Western intervention’, not doubt on ‘humanitarian grounds’, yet they dont’ seem to have learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan of leaving well alone. But whether or not the West ‘gets involved’, as far as I know (i.e. from my superficial reading of news magazines and listening to the radio) a war in Syria would to a large extent be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, that beacon of Middle Eastern freedom, and Iran, that other beacon of Middle Eastern freedom and the West would be best to keep well out of it. Israel, of course, couldn’t and could well become ‘collateral damage’, no doubt creating as much collateral damage of its own as it goes downs.
And all this would be going on while Europe and the EU crumbles.

Am I merely being too gloomy? I am suffering from just a standard bout of pre-retirement Angst. I bloody well hope I am. Though I rather think I’m not.

. . .

Then, of course, there’s Ireland. Honest Ireland which played by the rules, upset no one, made a lot of good friends (as usual), and generally played it straight, but is still being burned by the big boys. For about the umpteenth time in its history. No wonder those poor Irish saps turn to drink. They have a referendum coming up in which, as I understand it, the question will be: Do you, being of sound mind and sane judgments want to screwed and taken to the cleaners by Tweedledum? Or would you prefer to be screwed and taken to the cleaners by Tweedldee? God bless the Irish. At least they can laugh at themselves. . . . I know that by writing what I am about to write I shall be seen as hugely ungrateful, but I can’t resist it: Bloody Google really get up my nose. They are fucking everywhere! These past few years you couldn’t install anything with a bloody Google toolbar being installed while you weren’t looking. Now I am getting a warning every time I access my blog to post or edit that my browser will soon no longer be supported. Well, why not? I use Firefox because I am used to using Firefox and I like Firefox and I update Firefox every time Firefox - politely - asks me whether I want to update Firefox. The crucial difference between Firefox and bloody Google - and a difference I appreciate a great deal - is that Firefox doesn’t impose on me, take me for granted, do things behind my back and generally behave like to complete pain in the arse. So my - Google - blogspot will soon no longer be supported on Firefox. Why not? Only because Firefox isn’t bloody Google, that’s why. Why don’t the Islamic terrorist do something useful for a change and go and blow up Google HQ. Call themselves terrorists!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The lunacy of newspapers – Pt 4,337 of an occasional series

This is not, admittedly, the worst example its kind, and one or two jugheads around the world might even ask themselves what the hell is he talking about. But for me the following does somehow typify, in a quiet way, just how wacky newspapers and those who produce them are and why in any sane country all its hacks would be settled quietly in a corner out of harm's way with a bottle or five of spirits and a tin of shag.

Anyone turning to Page 60 in today’s Daily Mail (May 23, 2012, available at all good newsagents) will find the Wednesday travel page. Today we are highlighting several spots around the world where you can get a great view of the sky at night. The – rather obvious – headline says it all: Star struck, and the sub-head reads: Nothing beats sleeping in the big outdoors. Follow our sparkling guide to the top star-gazing holidays. Several pictures accompany the piece, of which the main one (which has the headline superimposed on it) shows a night sky and a modern four-poster bed on a terrace. Sleeping out in the open, geddit? That’s when the trouble started.

Rather late in the day – that is the page was due ‘off stone’ at about 7pm and the deadline was approaching – someone noticed that there were precious few stars in the night sky for whoever would be sleeping in the four-poster to gaze at. In fact, there were none at all. And gazing at stars at night while sleeping in the great outdoors was the whole point of the piece. So the picture was sent of to the colour studio to have stars added. Back it came, but those in charge decided there weren’t enough stars, so off the picture went again for the addition of more stars. Then it came back for a second time, and now those in charge decided that there were enough – it has to he be said, fake – stars to give the impression of a star-filled sky, but that they weren’t, umm, bright enough. So off the picture went for the third time for the bods in colour to brighten the stars.

If you are able to get a copy of the paper today, buy it and turn to Page 60 and see if you don’t agree with me that not only is this kind of modus operandi just a tad short of mad, but the ‘stars’ in the picture won’t win any prices, either. For those who can’t get hold of the paper, here is the picture, though it was obviously posted online before the bods in colour applied their peerless skill.
Pip, pip!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I’m back and still predicting doom, gloom and misery. And a short break in Spain was very welcome

After something of a hiatus, I'm back. Just as many opinions and just as much bullshit will be on offer, but I should tell you that one of my few principles - dangerous things principles, but I do risk it once in a while - is 'bullshit for fun, never seriously'. There is too much of it around and I don't want to add to the sum total in this world. I stopped posting for a while because I suspected I was beginning to take myself a little too seriously, so I wanted to knock that on the head as soon as possible. So no posts for a while.

. . . .

Nothing much has changed out there, as you will have noticed from the news. Greece, and now Spain, are still going to the dogs, though Greece is doing so rather faster than our Iberian cousins, and everyone, but everyone knows the outcome: Greece will leave the euro and resurrect the drachma, in time the euro will collapse and the whole rasion d'etre of the European Union will be up for question. Why, countries will ask themselves are we members if, in the long run, we aren't assured the prosperity we were hoping for. That's not so say that they aren't, just that the outcome they all so fervently hoped for is simply not as achievable as they thought it was. The trouble is that people are apt to remember bad times rather longer than good times, and they will see what is happening in Greece, Portugal and Ireland and wonder whether that might not happen to them, too.

One glaring mismatch between the EU and those who have recently joined or still hope to join is that whereas the apparent guiding princple of the EU, one fondly encouraged by those running it - superannuated to-the-left former Sixties politico hippies - was a kind of brotherhood of man, a vaguely capitalistic socialism in which everything is done for the common weal is hugely at odds with the motivation of new and aspiring members, namely self-interest.

Self-interest most certainly wasn't behind the idealistic thinking of the original Iron, Coal and Steel Community members, who later became the 12 before insanity took over and the 'European Community' became the horribly unwieldy 27 member states, but that is what now drives most members forward. In the early days, the motivation was quite simple and delightfully admirable: to ensure that a merciless war such as World War II would be a thing of the past. But now look where we are. Germany is once again being blamed for everything. Admittedly, it only has itself to blame in as far as Berlin obviously cannot understand how others might not share its values, but to my dying day I shall defend Germany against the charge that it is 'trying to dominate Europe'. Germany is, at worst, guilty of appalling political naivety and incompetence, but if that were a capital offence, there would few far fewer politicians round. Sarkozy would have been one of the first to have last his head.

I think the real problem is that the EU all too soon lost sight of its fundamental objective: to unite Europe through trade by bringing down barriers to trade, spreading prosperity and ensuring that we all had too much to lose by going to war. But when things were going well, as most certainly they were for many years, it all went to their heads and the idealists committed the cardinal sin of believing their own bullshit. The rather more down-to-earth Brits were labelled troublemakers for urging caution and refusing to join in an increasingly silly game, but mainland Europeans went ahead. They did not understand that most people are still intrinsically local, that loyalties are still local and all this bull about a political union was simply not welcome or, at least, way ahead of its time.

But now we have the mess. Launching a common currency would only have been a good idea within a political union, but as such as union was still decades off, the euro was far too premature. And now we have the mess, a mess which will not only bring misery to Europe but North America, China and Asia. The only part of the world which will be spared a great deal of misery is South America. Am I too much of a doom monger? No, I really don't think I am..

. . . .

I have just returned from a very pleasant and relaxing seven days in Spain. I wasn't, thank goodness, on the Costas rubbing shoulders with Brits complaining that you can't get a decent cup of tea for love or money, but in the back of beyond about 70 miles north of Valencia between a one-horse town called Els Ibarsos and a rather bigger places (a three-horse town?) called Albocasser. I was visiting a friend of my stepmother's who I knew vaguely before I went and who was very good company. He is a potter, and the son of one of Brtain's famous potters with wide interests. More about that, perhaps, another time when I am not at work and pretending to be beavering away on something, anything, which isn't personal. I took quite a few piccies and shall post some of those, too. Pip, pip!

. . .

Well, there has been movement of a kind on the Eurozone front as various EU state finance ministers prepare for the next in a long, long, long series of ‘make or break’ summits, so having regained my verve for adding my two ha’porth, I thought I might add a word or two to the above.

It does strike me that were one to set out to create a messy situation which would be farcical were its implications not so tragic, then you would be hard-pushed to do better than the current cock-up with the euro. Quite simply, there is now no longer and acceptable outcome. Whatever happens will be unpleasant for everyone, not just those of us living in Europe, but for the American and Asian economies. South American economies might be spared as long as they don’t rely too heavily on exporting to the rest of the world. But we should all be clear: the shit is going to hit the fan soon, whatever clever ruses the EU finance ministers come up with on Wednesday.

The talk is that France now has the upper hand over Germany in as far as there is widespread support among member states for the creation of so-called Eurobonds. These are the same as national sovereign bonds but imply that the EU is one fiscal unit, with every member of the Eurozone being equally responsible for every other member’s debts. Well, I can’t see the good and thrifty folk of Germany settling for that. Furthermore, the Eurozone is not a fiscal unit and the chances of it becoming one any time soon are rather smaller than me getting a romp in the hay with Holly Willoughby. Germany is against such Eurobonds, though not for sensible reasons: it wants to carry on with austerity.

This is all a supremely good recipe for the mainstream democratic parties in the EU to lose ground to the various crackpot groups on the left and right. Hungary already has one in power. For a venture which was designed to ensure peace in Europe for ever and a day, it is all pretty poor going.