Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The incredible story of how the euro crisis was foretold in code in the Old Testament or the runes or by aliens or something like that (I haven’t quite understood the details). But whatever – man, it’s frightening what they are doing! Horrific!

All else being equal, I am far more of a cock-up theorist than a conspiracy theorist. For one thing, you are less likely to be written off as a nutter (never very pleasant, I’m sure) and for another, most conspiracy theories are usually so off-the-wall that it would easier to believe the Moon is made of cheddar cheese than swallow what many of them claim. (For a while, and, I imagine, having to fill in the space between the ads it was carrying with something, the Mail carried three-part series which were as whacky as anything you would find anywhere: an ‘ancient Bible code’ which foretold ‘with astounding accuracy’ Frankel’s win at Royal Ascot last week, and ‘authoritative’ and ‘compelling’ accounts of underwater UFOs, that kind of thing. To be fair no one here believed a single word of any of it but they did what they were intended to do: they helped to sell papers.)

Some conspiracy theories are, admittedly, not quite as whacky, and if you want them accepted and swallowed, the secret is to keep them as plausible as possible. (I use the same principle when telling lies: stick as close to the truth as possible and only change – lie about – essential details. Oh, and never volunteer further information. The accepted wisdom is ‘be wary of those who answer unasked questions’.) For example, only yesterday morning I heard an account of

Take me to your euro
how an alleged plot in the Sixties by the then communist Czechoslovak secret service to get the former Conservative Prime Minister to Prague, involve him in a homosexual honeypot, then run him as an agent was apparently dreamed up by right-wingers in Britain (who, it is believed have good contacts with our security services) to discredit Heath. Our Ted was, still is, I should imagine, widely assumed to have been gay, so there was an element of plausibility. And when you know that at one point the CIA were planning to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar, more or less anything is possible.

Today I came across another, contemporary conspiracy theory, which, if nothing else – that is whether it is true, half-true or just a load of old cack, and I’m never going to know anyhow – is entertaining enough. It involves the Americans, the Germans, the Greeks, that old roué Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his shenanigans in New York, the exposure of German and French banks to Greek sovereign debt and U.S. fears after the 2009 banking crisis that Europe had come out of it all rather too well and that the U.S. had come out of it rather less well. So when Greece went tits up in 2010, the U.S. thought it was rather good news, as a bankrupt country in Europe which had just been turfed out of the euro – as it thought was likely to happen – would prove to be a useful ally, a bridgehead into Europe. Also, being a grateful ally, it might also prove to be a willing customer for many of the military goods the U.S. likes to sell to keep its coffers full.

The trouble was that quite apart from looking silly if Greece were forced out of the euro, it seems far too many German and French banks were in it up to their necks, having previously hovered up Greek government bonds. So as far as Germany and France were concerned, that is Merkel and at the time Sarkozy, a Greek default must be stopped. The trouble was that although the Greek deficit was bad, it might not appear bad enough to persuade fellow Eurozone lackeys to dip into their pockets to bail out the Greeks. So – the conspiracy theory goes – Germany and France persuaded their friends in Greece to exaggerate the bad news so that the rest of the Eurozone would shit themselves and any resistance to stomping up the readies to bail out Greece would be minimal. (When employees in the Greek statistics office objected to the exaggeration of the deficit figure, they were apparently forced to resign.) What should be remembered is that the money handed over to the Greeks as ‘bailout’ cash might well go some way to paying the canteen staff in its parliament, but overwhelmingly it is being used to pay of those who bought up Greek bonds – the French and German banks. Seen in that light, the whole ‘bailout’ is nothing but an operation to get the banks off the hook (and, it has to be said, avoid a domestic banking crisis).

The Americans didn’t like the way things were going – according to the conspiracy theory – and were especially put out that Strauss-Kahn, at the time the head of the IMF and at the time the most likely chap to take on Sarkozy in the upcoming French presidential election was very close – so the theory goes – the Greek prime minister at the time, Papandreou. So, knowing that Strauss-Kahn was a dodgy, dodgy guy as far as the women were concerned, he was framed for attempted rape in the New York hotel. That the charge came to nothing is neither here nor there – he had to resign and was out of the picture. One up for the Yanks. Next, they got their man, or rather their woman, into the spot to replaced Strauss-Kahn: according to the conspiracy theorists Christine Lagarde is firmly sympathetic to the U.S.

So chaps, what do you think. Nutty enough for you? Not nutty enough. Swivel-eyed crap and poppycock? Dark, dark, dark? I don’t know, but whether true or not, it is highly enteraining.

I'll have two Cokes and fries to go. Do you take euros?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

One for all gays, homosexuals, dykes, queers, lesbians, same-sexers, friends of Dorothy and assorted hangers-on: can I come to the wedding and can I choose the outfits? Oh, and being the kind of cynical cunt who likes attention, I give The Kinks another mention. Then there’s a short piece at the end on how easy it is to lose money if you start mixing it with bookies

One of the issues which is - apparently, although I have yet to see any evidence to prove the claim - ripping Britain apart is the subject of ‘gay marriage’. David Cameron - yes, that one, who gives the impression that he dare not let a bandwagon pass without jumping on it - has decided that our parliament must pass new legislation to allow members of the same sex to get married. It is pertinent here that we - ‘we’ being stuffy Old Blighty - already have legislation allowing couples of the same sex to enter into ‘civil partnerships’. These allow them to treat their other half as a heterosexual spouse might be treated in law and in practical terms each partner has far greater rights than they did in, for example, inheritance law and the legislation governing wills and property rights.

So far, so much to my approval. There is an objection that non ‘same-sex’ couples - usually siblings who have, for example, dedicated their life to the other - still receive unfair treatment under the law, and I have some sympathy for those thus affected. But I should also add that I suspect that a large proportion of those who cite this as an example of the new, ground-breaking civil partnership’ legislation as not being - to use a current, although rapidly ageing cliche - fit for purpose are more intent on discrediting the legislation for - ahem - homophobic reasons than from any finer, legalistic sensibility they might possess. Such objections have, however, been overtake by a far greater, in their view, ‘danger’: proposed government legislation allowing gay couples to marry.

Initially, I was rather bemused. Surely, I told myself, now that gay couples have the right to enter into a civil partnership, all their concerns about being treated as second-class and inferior have been answered, Surely, I told myself, they have been reassured that after all the appalling treatment the - almost always male - gay folk in our cultures have received in the past several millennia, things are now different? And, surely, I told myself, there is, at the end of the day, no need, in practical terms, for legislation allowing gay couples ‘to marry’? I was, honestly,  bemused. So when the Tories - the Tories, mark you, which is a telling detail - announced that they intended to introduce legislation allowing gay couples ‘to marry’, I asked myself: why exactly?

I also asked two gays I know at work. I shall name them here as I don’t feel neither would object. First, about five or six weeks ago, I buttoned-holed a chap called Andrew Pierce who is, to put it cynically and at its basest, the Daily Mail’s ‘house gay’.  (That is putting it very cynically, but the hell.)

Actually, he is a lot, lot more, a very good journalist - and my no means the first homosexual national journalist - who has very good contacts, can write well in the way journalists write well, has a good brain and knows what he is talking about. I asked him whether, now that gay couples could enter into civil partnerships, it was important to him and his other homosexual friends and acquaintances, that they might also soon be able to get married. He me told that no, it wasn’t.

A week or two later I asked another gay acquaintance at work, an artist called Phil Argent. I put the same question to him, and he told me: yes, it is. This surprised me a little (although I couldn’t tell you why it did so), so I pursued the matter and asked him why. He told me that it meant that finally homosexuals would be treated as equals. And that I could, and can, understand. It sums it up, really.

. . .
Those against the idea of gay marriage say that the essence of ‘a marriage’ is that is the union of two people who intend to procreate. And as two people of the same sex cannot procreate together, there can be no sense in which their union can be regarded as marriage. That, on the face of it, is a reasonable argument. But I would counter that, at the end of the day, what they put forward as the essence of marriage is cultural - I almost wrote ‘purely cultural’ - and that, as such, it is a definition which, over time, can and will change.

Most certainly many cultural norms have changed, and they have changed far faster than we might think. For example, when I went to university in 1968, it was still unusual for women openly to admit to having an active sex life. Many did, of course, but they did not admit to it openly. That has changed utterly over these past 44 years. And in terms of ‘fundamental change’ 44 years is but a bat of an eye. So objecting to the proposed legislation on ‘gay marriage’ on those grounds is, at the end of the day, a tad feeble.

There might, perhaps, be other observations which could be made - and, please note, I say ‘observations’ not ‘objections’ - but I shall not record them here until I have reflected upon how to express them without running the risk of being horribly misunderstood. And that last sentence might give you an idea of how easy it might be to be misunderstood, along the lines of ‘now, don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are black/gay/communist/Tories/Americans/Liverpool supporters/chub fuddlers but ...

PS I didn’t mention that one of my brothers is gay. In fact, of my two brothers, the brother I am by far fondest of and spend most time with. So how liberal am I , eh? I mean, ten brownie points or what? Am I cool or am I cool?

. . .

A month or two ago, I wrote about The Kinks. They happened to be my first fave band, but apart from that they weren’t particularly distinguished (apart from, in the early days, being fucking great). Other contemporary and subsequent fave bands/artist were The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Steely Dan, Prince and, most recently Dave Fiuczynski. But that is all irrelevant. I am only writing the addendum to my piece above extolling gays and why the bloody hell can’t we have more of them - a government conspiracy or what? - so that I can include a mention of The Kinks.

Why? Well, the last time I did so a netbot, or whatever they call these things, came across this blog and linked it to some bloody Kinks fansite, and the upshot was that several thousands Kinks fans followed the link and visited this blog and my stats shot up. They all might, most probably, have lingered here for rather less than a millisecond, but stats aren’t that bright, so ‘readership’, for a brief and most glorious 33 hours hit the millions. And do you know, dear reader, I never got over it.

So here, in the hope that something similar will happen, is another mention of The Kinks. And Ray Davies. And Dave Davies. And bassist Pete Quaife. And drummer Mick Avory (who, apparently, was working as a painter and decorator and part-time drummer when he auditioned for a band which was to become The Rolling Stones. He impressed them and was offered the gig. But he turned it down because he didn’t think they were going to go anywhere. At least, that’s what I heard. I like to think it’s true. But either way it makes me like the guy just a little bit more.

. . .

Writing this, I am sitting with my stepmother at her cottage just down the road from me in Cornwall. We are watching Royal Ascot - I am inclined to write ‘Royal’ Ascot, but that would merely be gratuitously unpleasant, so what the hell - and I am logged on to Labrokes the bookies, placing bets on my stepmother’s behalf. Yesterday she one £10.50 after backing on gee-gee each way, but overall she must already be £70 down over the past three days.

I haven’t been betting on the horses, but I have been placing bets on various Euro 2012 events - in what half will racist chanting break out, will the Greeks beat up Germany’s manager in 90 minutes, that kind of thing. So far, I am also down, but more to the tune of about £25. Tonight Spain take on France and I am rooting for France because I have a treble, a trixie and various other bets which will only come good if France beat Spain and Italy beat England. Yes, I know that is unpatriotic, but, chaps, business is business. Germany have already done me a favour by winning last night (although I did have a separate punt on Greece winning, but only because the odds were so good).

The big noise here at Royal Ascot is Black Caviare, shipped to Old Blighty all the way from Oz, so a couple of bob has also gone on her. But there’s another ten minutes to go before we lose all our bets, which give me time to ask one simple question: what is it with British women and hats? Do they like looking stupid? Is it a sister thing, solidarity with all other sisters? I really don’t know, but they spend thousands on some silly hat and do nothing but end up being stupid. Maybe I’m just being too German on the matter. (Note to new readers: I am half-German, which also might explain that in the Germany v Rest of the World stand-off over the eurozone, I am firmly behind Les Boches.) Incidentally, all the guys or at least all the guys in the Royal enclosure (‘Royal’ enclosure) are wearing top hats. What is noticeable is that they are all variously tall. Second question: is there in significance in that? Are we to believe that the taller your topper, the longer your cock. Or even, the taller your topper, the shorter your cock and some kind of compensation quirk comes into it? Do you know, we shall never know, though doubtlessly some Phd student as beavering away at a thesis on the matter as I write (and you read - mustn’t forget the reader).

LATER: We lost in as far as we bet far more money than we one. What with the various bets, we must have placed around £40. We won £6.71. As the Yanks say, do the math. As the Brits say, do the maths. In either language it all means that gambling is a mug’s game, though bookies the world over will sleep well tonight, and till the end of time, knowing that whatever else is in short supplies, there will be more than enough mugs to go around always, a mug writes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A corner of the Med which might well become forever Russia. And I finally begin the saga of how I didn’t become the world’s greatest lover: meet my first, WR

Doing nothing in particular tonight except sitting in the smoking area of The Scarsdale in Kensington, drinking a pint of overpriced cider (calling is ‘cyder’ seems to bump up the cost a little in West London), smoking a cigar - I know I shouldn’t, but ... - and surfing the nest courtesy of Fullers free wi-fi access, I came across a rather odd little story. (Incidentally, a pint of very nice cider and a bag of roasted peanuts at the Taw River Inn in Sticklepath, right on the edge of Darmoor and where I often stop off for a pint and a cigar as it’s only 40 miles from home, costs £2.50 – 70p for the peanuts. A pint of cider and a bag of roasted peanuts at The Scarsdale, Pembroke Villas (the name of the street it’s on, apparently), Kensington, West London costs £5.30 – 70p for the peanuts. Guess where I prefer drinking a pint of cider.)

Cyprus it seems, a complete tiddler economically in global and even European terms but nonetheless like almost every country south of the Rhine in the euro area beset by cashflow problems, has come up with a novel source of readies to pay its bills. Put aside for a moment the sheer lunacy of borrowing even more money to pay off your debts - and, yes, I know national economics are apparently far too sophisticated for saps like me to understand and nations have been doing it forever - and put aside for a moment, too, the debilitating link between EU Cyprus, i.e. Greek Cyprus whose economy is heavily linked to that of Greece so if Greece is in the shit, so is EU Cyprus (the north of the island is not in the EU, for which, I’m sure they are now extremely grateful after years of regretting the fact), the Cyprus government’s solution is rather odd.

Actually, once you get into the detail and the main protagonists involved it becomes rather obvious. Cyprus, it seems, has decided not to tap the EU and its various salvation mechanisms for the necessary to ensure it’s street cleaners, teachers, nurses and hangers-on are paid, but has decided to accept a loan from Russia. In fact, it has decided to accept a second loan from Russia - it is already in hock to Moscow for a couple of billion. Take a look at this story which appeared today in the New York Times for fuller details.

What is pertinent about this latest development (and it’s all in the news report, so you might want to read that first before carrying on ploughing through my two ha’porth worth) is that Cyprus’s president Demetris Christofias studied in Moscow and - now here’s a surprise - has been pushing Moscow’s case ever since. Would it be too, too cynical of me to imagine that he might well have been nobbled by the KGB or FSB or whatever they call themselves now and has become an extremely useful so-called agent of influence? No, do you know, I don’t think it would at all be too cynical. I mean if you want an ‘agent of influence’ in a country, having him or her as that country’s head of state would be pretty good going.

Christofias assures sceptics that the loans - Cyprus is already in Russia’s pocket to the tune of €2.5 billion ($3.1 billion at the current exchange rate) and needs at least another €1.8 billion euros ($2.3 billion) by the end of June to stay out of the shit - have ‘no strings attached’. What, a country lends another country vast sums of money out of the pure goodness of its heart? Pull the other one. Not even the U.S. does that. And if there really are ‘no strings attached’ whoever authorised the loans in Moscow must get the boot asap. I could carry on, but if you are interested, read the story. All I would be doing here is simply repeating what is written in the New York Times.

What really did amuse me was the claim that Russians feel a natural kinship the Cypriots because they both ‘belong to Orthodox religions’. I’m still trying to get my head around the logic of that one.

. . .

It’s always good to start at the beginning, so I shall start with WR (her initials - remember the last remnant of decency in me has rules that lovers, girlfriends and what not will not be directly identified).

I met WR when I had just turned 19 and when she was about 18. At 19, I was had still to lose my cherry and it was a matter of great importance to me then that I should do so sooner rather than later. To this day I remember with shame a nice girl called Liz who was a student at the TC next to Dundee University (TC = teacher training college) who was sweet on me and with whom I tried hard one night long to lose my cherry. When I didn’t, I lost interest in her, and to this day I remember sitting opposite her in the Queens Hotel in the Perth Road and ‘jacking her in’ and seeing her eyes begin to water. It was no great love affair by any means. She was merely hurt, very hurt at being used and at how shallow men - boys, really - can be.

I met WR at her flat through her friendship with a guy called Angus who was one of the students I initially hooked up with when I went to Dundee. She and her flatmate were employed by Thomson’s on one of its teen magazines. At some point a few days or perhaps weeks later, Angus made me aware that WR was sweet on me. I wasn’t sweet on her, but I thought to myself that, well ...

Christmas intervened, and by the beginning of the new term she had move back to Edinburgh to look after an elderly great-aunt who live in Morningside. I can’t remember just how we got in touch, but on the Saturday that Scotland played Ireland at Murrayfield in what was then (I think) called the Five Nations, I hitched down to Edinburgh to see her. She took me off to the match and then we returned to her great-aunt’s flat. We had another drink, she, guessing as much from my innocent fumbling asked me directly whether I was still a virgin, I admitted that, yes, I was, she took me to bed and nature took its course.

But there is one small detail which I shall mention here but which I have never mentioned to anyone else. And I can’t think how to put it overly delicately, so I shall be straighforward. Perhaps it was nervousness or perhaps there was another reason but that first time I didn’t come. And do you know, dear reader, the following day I wondered and wondered and wondered, as callow, shallow 19-year-olds do, whether I was technically still ‘a virgin’. I can’t say I really know now, but I can say that it doesn’t bother me any more.

The term carried on, and the next, with me spending more and more time visiting her at her great-aunt’s flat in Morningside, hitching down to Edinburgh from Dundee at about Friday lunchtime and not returning to Dundee until Monday night and, I think, quite often Tuesday morning. She was good company, but I wasn’t ‘in love’ with her. I was just grateful to have a girlfriend with whom I had regular sex. This was in the days when having ‘safe sex’ meant using a condom to prevent pregnancy rather than using a condom to avoid catching or passing on the HIV virus, but I can’t remember having a lot of safe sex. All I remember was that it was regular, every weekend.

I always stayed the night at her great-aunt’s flat which meant that every morning we went through a ridiculous charade of me creeping out of the flat as quietly as possible, then, as soon as the door had shut, ringing the bells and being welcomed in officially. But I’m sure - no, I’m no utterly sure her great-aunt knew what was going on - because she wasn’t the ga-ga old crone everyone pretended she was. I once walked into the living room unexpectedly and far from moving with difficulty, she moved like greased lightening from one end of the room to the other to sink into her armchair and become once again the very elderly invalid she officially was.

She eventually died, and WR moved to London, although I can’t remember why. I stayed on Dundee all the summer holiday because I had failed very single one of my five end-of-first-year exams and was due for re-sits in the September. My attendance at lecutures and tutorials had dwindled to absolutely nothing - I am not exaggerating - and what motivated me to make sure I passed enough re-sits to get into my second year - and I did spend a lot of time with my books - was making damn bloody sure that grant cheque would arrive at the beginning of the winter term. In the event I passed four out of my five re-sits - methodology, economics, political science and history, and I only failed psychology (the university ran a four-year honours course, and the first year was by way of a foundation course in ‘social sciences’.

WR were keeping in touch by letter, but I finally decided to end it at some point, although I remember few of the details except that the letter I wrote to her telling her was simply sent back to me torn into small pieces. We did, however, meet up again, at the end of my fourth year. Finals were finished and with a college acquaintance, a druggie and dealer called Ian Hunter (I was not part of the druggie set because although I enjoyed the cannabis, chemist shop speed and acid as much as the next fool, I found the druggie set ineffably, unbelievably dull) I went to Edinburgh as the end of term was still several weeks off and we were footloose to do as we pleased. On a whim I tracked WR down. By now she had retrained as a nurse and agreed to put us up for the night. And the following morning with Ian Hunter out of the flat to attend to whatever he had to attend to, she took me to her bed again. And I remember her telling me - I proudly remember her telling me - that four years on I was a better screw than I had been the first time we hooked up.

I know that she later moved to Canada and later in life had developed breast cancer, and I did what I now feel was a silly thing about eight or nine years ago. Her surname was quite distinct and I had tracked down her sister and she had given me WR’s number. I rang her and we spoke for a few minutes. I can’t at all say whether or not she was pleased to hear from me. She gave me her email address, but when I emailed her, she didn’t reply. So I left it at that. WR was my first, though pretty certain I was not her first.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Here's an irony: I know even less than you probably do

And the agonising goes on. And on. And on. We're in the shit, Europe is in the shit, the US is in the shit and, with a bit of bad luck, the rest of the world which relies on us buying their crap, their not so crap and their most certainly not crap goods, will also be in the shit if we stalwarts in the Western World (capital Ws to be discarded, perhaps, when our economies cut us down to size) can no longer afford to buy our goods.

I've long believed, and when in my cups proclaimed, that the only really universal theme is 'irony'. I don't by that mean the pseudo-cynical attitude in the West of disbelieving everything and everyone however sincere they are, but the original meaning of the word. That, funnily enough for an irritating modern habit, is a direct descendant of the (cribbed from the Ancient Greek εἰρωνεία eirōneía - I 'have' no Greek so like everyone else these days I am obliged to crib from Wikipedia, an irony in itself,- meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance. But I don't mean that. These days, irony means, for example, a man who has staunchly proselytised about the sanctity of marriage being cuckolded by his wife; or perhaps, and this I do know, the blind prophet Teiresias being the only one who realises - sees - what is really going on.

The irony of the Western philosophy - the zeal to establish 'democracy', 'capitalism', 'growth', 'liberalism' and although it is, of course, no philosophy whatsoever - is that at the end of the day it is just a prolix justification for what in our heart of heart we all suspect is simply bad, self-interested, greedy behaviour. Or if we don't suspect as much, we still, again in our hear of hearts, feel a little queasy about.
Take 'economic growth'. It seems to be an economic truism that 'economies must grow'. I once asked my brother why. He told me that 'economies' must 'grow' because the global population is growing and that we must ensure that - well what? That everyone is taken care of? That everyone gets a slice of the cake? Well, that isn't happening, is it? It is almost impossible to collate 'figures', but we do know that an extraordinary number of people, more or less in every continent, are living extremely shitty lives. I don't have the figures to hand but an extremely large number of people do not have access to clean water and suffer because they don't. An extremely large number of people toil and sweat for no reward at all except dying next year instead of this year. An extremely large number of people have no say whatsoever in how they are 'governed' at all. But, we are told, economies 'must grow. Must they? I rather doubt it. In a sense 'economies must grow' rather as a man in debt must keep borrowing in order to pay off his debtors. And the essence of that is irony. And that is exactly what we are seeing in the 'euro crisis.

Curiously enough I don't any more want to write about 'the euro crisis'. At the end of the day the 'euro crisis', for all the misery it will bring will, in time, be just another historical event, one to be analysed and dissected by future historians and economists, but one which, in time, 'will be in the past'. But will future nations, economies, societies and communities learn from all that analysis and dissection. No they bloody won't.
It's at this point that I am obliged to bring in another aspect of irony: many reading this (of which there are not very many at all) might feel inclined to demand 'change'. 'We must change things' they will shout, 'the system must be changed, and if necessary, violently. But change to what? Do you really manage to change how we, all of us, behave? Has any revolution anywhere, in the long term, actually change anything? Well, yes they have. The French revolution brought about, after a while, universal suffrage. The October revolution - which, 'ironically, depending upon which calendar you use, took place in November - meant that a substantial number of Russians were no longer serfs, were no longer 'owned' by land owners. And is are the lives of modern-day French and Russians any better? Well, in man respects they have improved beyond recognition.

But 'ironically, in many other ways they are more or less the same. Russia once had a dictatorial czar.
Now it has, arguably, another dictator called Putin. Granted he can no longer, because of changing circumstances, rule willy-nilly over the lives of Russians but, in my analysis, that is only because Russia has a thriving middle class who will keep him in power because they are doing OK, thank you very much. France is, of course, very different. Only a madman would claim that the lives of ordinary French folk have not in many, many ways improved enormously since 1789. But what is France facing today? At the very worse an economic crisis the like of which they have not faced for many years. Granted, it hasn't yet happened, and might nor even happen. But the way things are going, the best advice this pundit can give is: keep your fingers crosses and buy gold. But I have somehow slivered a long way from my initial diatribe.

Let me give you another example of irony: here in Britain while our NHS pays for women who cannot conceive normally to get IVF treatment so they can have children, elsewhere private companies abort several hundred foetuses by the day. While modern medicine beavers away tirelessly to find ever more effective ways to prolong life, our Western society has also started debating the 'morality' of euthanasia, which can be seen - can, I don't say is - seen as an efficient way of getting rid of old folk whose continued existence could present a heavy cost to society. That might well be seen as an 'irony'.
Here's another 'irony': while half the world (I say 'half' but let's not quibble about figures) still does not have enough to eat, the other half is suffering from an obesity crisis. And throws away food because it is 'beyond the sell-by date' and might therefore pose a threat to health.

So where is this all taking me? Well, I don't know. Were I 40 years younger I might well advocate a global revolution. But as I am not, all I can say, bathically (look it up, although I'm not too sure it exists yet) is: try to be just a little more honest with yourselves. I'm not saying don't tell lies, just don't pretend to yourselves, whoever else you pretend to, that you are not telling lies. Unfortunately, that's exactly what most of us do. Every time EU finance ministers hold a summit conference to 'sort out the euro crisis' and come up with 'a solution', they are all telling themselves lies. They know it's crap and we know it's crap. Time to read again Hans Christian Andersen's tale of The Emperor's New Clothes.

PS The ultimate 'irony' might well be that I am completely wrong. Oh well.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cigars, girlfriends, starving Greeks, hacks and whatever else floats our boat

Just how often can you write that 'things are going from bad to worse' without losing bags of credibility or, worse, your audience? I've just watched a BBC 2 Newsnight piece about the ever-worsening conditions - for some - in Greece, and it is really quite horrific. Given that hacks, and even the BBC hacks are hacks, go out to get the story newsdesk wants - OK, BBC hacks might have just a tad more integrity than the rest of us, but not much - and given that it is always wise to take what the media purveys with a bag of salt - usually - what was reported from an EU member state was simply bloody awful. Soup kitchens and, apparently, many people searching through rubbish after dark for food - after dark because they are so bloody ashamed of what they have been reduced to doing.

But I'm obliged to give the report credence and the only conclusion that can be reached is that the general election in Greece next Sunday (June 17) will really be a crucial moment for the EU. It seems the coalition of left-wing parties is doing rather well and if they do come out tops and get the extra 50 seats in parliament the winner always gets, it will form the next government. After which the shit will hit the fan. I wonder: could it really be feasible that the military will intervene as I suggested recently to form a spurious 'government of national unity'? Who knows.

That the left-wingers out for power unashamedly admit to wanting to take Greece in a Marxist direction, I cannot imagine that those with so much to lose will play the democratic card and resign themselves to the situation. Also on Sunday are parliamentary elections in France. The country already has a left-wing president, and if he were to gain control of parliament and institute all the measures he says he intends putting into practice, the euro ball game will change utterly.

What is so utterly bizarre about the whole euro crisis is that, in my view at least, the horse has long ago bolted. Here in Britain the Chancellor (a lovely chap called George Osborne who, according to one of the feature executives on whose conversations I regularly eavesdrop, is a far nicer guy than David Cameron - someting of a vindictive shit according to my eavesdrop victim who met both many times in a former incarnation and, crucially, long before either came within a sniff of power) has announced what were not actually called emergency measures to protect Britain from the worst of the fallout of a euro collapse. It was something to do with lending the banks more money on the strict understanding that they would lend it further. Again, who knows.

. . .

But just how often dare I mention the euro? Well, perhaps not a lot more. So instead I shall write about cigars. I have long been a cigar smoker and have carried on the habit, seeking out nicer cigars all the time (courtesy of the cheaper prices charged for them abroad and which prices I avail myself of when returning to Old Blighty to keep up my stock). The question I aske myself, before lighting one up is this: should a heart attack victim - mine was on May 2, 2006, a Tuesday - really risk smoking cigars? I tell myself, in that way we all have of burying our heads in the sand, that 'as I don't inhale the smoke, but simply savour it' I am not doing my pulmonary system any damage. Well, as they say, go tell that to the marines.

Yet, cigars are a true pleasure in a way cigarettes never were. I don't crave them as a cigarette smoker craves a cigarette, but I must be honest and say that argument doesn't even convince me. Then I tell myself that Churchill was a life-long cigar smoke and lived until he was, I believe, 167. OK, he died gaga, but I dont' think that can be put down to smoking cigars. My habit - there, I've said it - has even led me to buy a humidor in which to keep the latest batch, bought in the 'duty-free' shop at Valencia airport last May. These most recent are Jose L Piedra Cuban cigars, of which I bought 25 for about 37 euros. I googled them and discovered the same ciagrs, 25 of them, would set me back about £150 here in Britain. But would that undoubted economy measure really stand me in good stead when, as might well, happen, a clot forms in my blood which eventually gums up a crucial artery and brings my heart to a standstill? No, your honour, it won't.

I started cigars in a small way smoking piddly little Henry Winterman cigarillos. But they were nothing but brown ciargettes and I soon progressed to Henry Winterman half coronas. Then, in the mid-Eighties, my sister, who live in Germany, bought me a box of Fehlfarben: whole coronas which were cheaper because they each had some kind of cosmetic blemish. Otherwise they were as good as those without a blemish. And that really was that. Oh, well

. . . .

Several years ago, this blog featured all the cars I had bought. I've since bought a few more, but that list gave me the idea of listing all my girlfriends. Why? I really don't know, and I was rather affected by the thought that listing them might be just a little bit tacky. But what the hell. Who can't be tacky once in a while. So, dear reader, if you are intersted read on in coming entries. I shall not be identifying them - I shan't actually be naming them - but I shall give their initials. Oh, the glory of being tacky once you have reached and passed the age of 60. (I'm 63 in November.) My first was WR. My second, with whom I 'fell in love' was SH. Then came several more. To be continued.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dave Fiuczynski: a fan writes

Years ago - I suppose I should now write many years ago - a curious device arrived called the ‘MP3 player’. I’m not exactly a technical bozo, and it took me a while to get my head around it, and I was not especially fast off the mark in getting one. This was especially so because the iPod had then been recently launched, the iPod was - as, it seems, are all Apple products - pretty expensive, so non-iPod MP3 players, I reasoned would also be pretty expensive.

Then one day (while on holiday in Devon for a travel piece I was going to do for the Mail, which can be found here. UPDATE: No, you can't any more. The bastards seem to have wiped it from their system. But you can read a travel piece about a Tuscan cookery course here and a travel piece about a nostalgic trip to Berlin here.) I came across someone using one and, not knowing too much about them, began to question him. What first of all surprised me was how cheap the model he had bought was. It was, admittedly, not half as useful, user-friendly or ‘cool’ as the iPod, but it did exactly what the iPod did at something like a tenth of the price. I then began to investigate the things, on many visits to my local branch in Kensington of PC World, and I eventually bought one. I think it was a 128mb model and I think I paid something like £49 for it, which might help you work out how many years ago this was: not many in human years but several lifetimes in technological years. You can probably no longer get an MP3 player that small, and as a 2/4gb USB memory stick will not set you back more than £6/7, that 128mb model I bought would be yours for about 94p.

With my new MP3 player came the usual gubbins of guarantee and a small user manual, but with it also came an offer to download, I think, 20 tracks for nothing. All you had to do was register on a website. I did and downloaded a collection of jazz tracks by a variety of different musicians. I can no longer remember much about the tracks or most of the musicians, except that the tracks were pretty conventional and the musicians were more or less all well-known names. But one musician stood out for me because he was a guitarist and I am a guitarist manque (very manque. I could be better if I practised - anyone can be better if they practise - but I don’t, and as I just noodle around on guitar because I like noodling around on guitar, I don’t care). The guitarist was called David Fiuczysnki and he struck me as a tasty guitarist (although as all guitarists the world over are better than me, they almost all strike me as tasty guitarists).

This is where it all gets a little, or rather very, hazy. I decided to check out David Fiuczynski to see what else he had done and whether he had made records of his own. Indeed he had and I bought one, although as I say everything is a little hazy and I can’t remember why I bought that particular one. It is called Amandala, and it was a revelation, music unlike any I had heard before. More to the point it pressed every musical button in me I want to have pressed and then some. It was exactly - exactly - the kind of guitar and music I would like to play if I had the gumption to practise a lot more and apply myself and was able to play to that standard. And not only was the guitar playing great, so were the drums and bass.

After buying Amandala (not to be confused with Miles Davis’s Amandla, which is also great but very different), I then bought Lunar Crush (with John Medeski), then Kif and most recently Jazz Punk.

Some reading this will be familiar with Fiuczynski’s guitar playing and music, many more will not, but to try to describe it to those who are not is, I’m afraid, pretty much impossible. Fiuczynski (who was born in the US, but who moved to Germany with is parents when he was eight and didn’t return to live in the US until he was 19) has described himself as a ‘jazz musician who doesn’t want to play just jazz’.

He most certainly can play ‘conventional’ jazz guitar, but when you get to hear his own music, you’ll understand what he means. It is accessible to those coming to it from jazz, but it would be equally accessible to those coming to if from rock and heavy metal. But it would be utterly misleading to try to categorise it as something - as crass as - rock/jazz fusion or even jazz/rock fusion. It is almost a genre of its own. It is organic, it is itself and for me ‘fusion’ implies some kind of melding of two, rather like a mule being half-horse, half-donkey.

I am writing about Fiuczynski because I have just recommended to a young colleague who was asking for ideas of what to give her dad for Fathers’ Day that she might like to give him one of Fiuczynski’s CDs. She is 23 and her father is 49 and, she says, ‘likes rock’, but he might now be of an age to expand a little, if he hasn’t already done so. (These days I find rock, however pleasant, just too two-dimensional, if you get me.) I lent her my iPod to listen to some, and she agreed it might well be the kind of music he would like.

Then, driving home from London last night (and stopping off at The Brewers Arms in South Petherton to watch the second half of the Holland v Germany match, and weren’t Holland a peculiar kind of unimaginative shite?), I spent the best part of two hours listening to Fiuczynski. And what with Syria, the euro, the euro and the Middle East and all that crap, I decided to blog on something entirely different: just how great David Fiuczynski’s music is and how much I like it and how glad I am that I came across it. Apparently, according to Wikepedia, he is a ‘full-time professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston’ and since 2011 ‘Guggenheim Fellow’, but please, please, please don’t let that put you off.

The way I described it to Libby is ‘if you don’t like it, you’ll hate it. And if you like it, you’ll love it’. So get a taster and see what you feel.

Friday, June 8, 2012

‘Germany abandons euro and re-introduces DM’ - that, I think, is a headline we will read at some point in the next two months. And Euro 2012 kicks off with my bets already going awry

For what it’s worth, my guess in the whole Germany v Everyone else in the euro crisis will be that Germany blinks first, but they won’t do what we expect. To bring you up to speed, Germany and its people are industrious, conscientious, don’t throw money around like confetti, like to pay their way, are good savers, make quality goods the world wants and, as a result of all that, are doing rather well, thank you very much, while the rest of the eurozone is slowly - painfully slowly, to be sure, but nevertheless surely - going to the dogs.

Well, that is my view, and there are others. One, for example, which I can’t quite get my head around (though blame my Dick and Dora grasp of economics) is that when the euro was set up, it was set up to benefit the Germans. That, at least, is what some are claiming. But whatever is true, the solution to the crisis now universally put forward is ‘eurobonds and fiscal union’. Eurobonds mean that in theory all eurozone members would be responsible for paying of the debts of every other eurozone member, and fiscal union means that tax rates would be centrally established for the whole eurozone.

Given that Greece is largely in the trouble its in because it borrowed money, spent it grandly and now can’t pay off its debts because it lived beyond its means (and no self-respecting Greek pays a cent in tax), Germany is ineffably reluctant to agree to pay of Greece’s debts or anyone else’s for that matter. My view is ‘can you blame them’, although I am honour-bound to admit there are other views. As for fiscal union, it would work in theory, but would take years of detailed negotiation and preparation to set up, whereas the eurozone has got about another month to go before it goes the way of the dodo. And that brings me to my point that Germany blinks first.

For several weeks now, I have believed that the most likely outcome of the crisis is not that Greece, or Spain, or any of the other eurozone members will be forced out, but that Germany will pay its respects, kisses all round, tell everyone what a smashing time it had, and then head for the exit to a far safer and far saner world of a re-established Deutschmark. That would, naturally, precipitate a collapse of the euro and eurozone and all such a collapse would entail, but Germany and its hard-earned wealth would avoid all the fallout. It would most certainly be reviled from here to Timbuktu for a year or two, but as is the way of these things, in time it would be forgiven. And that is what I am now certain is going to happen, although I admittedly do not have shred of evidence. The great thing is that if I am right, folk will say ‘well, he’s a bright cookie, and make no mistake’. And if I am wrong - well, people have exceptionally short memories.

. . .

I’m not any good at football, despite 143 of watching the game on TV man and boy, but I can think of no reason why I shouldn’t add my two ha’porth worth on games I’ve seen on TV. Tonight was the opener, Poland against previous Euro champions Greece, after Greece’s performance tonight it is worth asking just how did they clinch that championship.

 It ended even-stevens 1-1, although I thought Poland had the edge, showing more flair - just - and being the more disciplined players. Their first goal was a good one, and when Greece had a player sent off for his second yellow card, I thought that was that. And as I have two bets riding on the result - a double and a Yankee or something - I was rather pissed off. But then Greece equalised, with a goal which once again wasn’t at all bad, although Poland’s defence was pretty bad, and when they were awarded a penalty after Poland’s defender fouled a Greece striker and got a straight red, I thought I was quids in. Was I hell.

The new goalie guessed the right way and dived the right way and save what was not a bad strike but not a good one, either. Things did look up when Greece seemed to score again, but had the goal disallowed for offside. So that was that. My first bet, the double, is now out of the window, and although my second could still return if I get the other three results right, my winnings, because of the nature of the bet, will be very much reduced. On to the next game in  20 minutes, Russia agains the Czech Republic. I’m backing the Czechs so it looks as though Russia will be a shoo in.

Euro 2012 Part II: the Russia v Czech Republic game made Poland’s spat with Greece look like Sunday league. OK, so Russia won and played some great football (and I have already lost money on bets), but the Czechs also played well. Where Poland v Greece was kick and rush at it worst, sometimes, Russia v Czech Republic was like watching to Champions League sides playing at their best. Anyone disagree?

Friday, June 1, 2012

The question we are all asking ourselves: will it rain? And several Royal facts the papers won’t tell you

It can surely not have escaped the attention of the rest of the world that our glorious, glorious Queen Elizabeth is this weekend celebrating 60 years of occupying the throne. (Note to foreign readers: not literally, of course. Although we Brits are sticklers for tradition and custom, no one in his or her right mind will have expected that she literally spent all that time with a crown on her head and keeping a sceptre straight in her right hand. It used to be like that, of course, but we British do like to move with the times a little, whatever French cooks thing).

Prince Philip, who has in the past demonstrated a superb organisational flair suggested that the Queen should row most of the stretch, but that idea was ruled out on health and safety grounds because the Queen is apparently not qualified to row more than half a mile in any 24 hours. (And, it will surprise, our foreign friends who think Brits are utterly in thrall to their monarchy and all it stands for, if she does do so and health and safety gets wind of it, she risks a stiff fine just like the rest of us. We didn’t behead Charles I just for the hell of it, you know). It has to be said senior courtiers, who were appalled by the suggestion from the off as they regarded it as insufferably infra-dig, were for once wholly supportive of what is quite obviously an intrusive piece of unnecessary bureaucracy. (NB If you think that’s far-fetched, take a look at these this and this.)

Whatever: the Queen won’t be rowing, although as a compromise (Labour insisted that she should, at least, make some kind of demotic gesture in solidarity with all those who have no choice but to row to work every day, so I understand she will symbolically ‘touch an oar’.)

The following day there is to be an open-air concert outside Buckingham Palace, when the Queen has agreed to ‘strum the first chord’. The line-up of artistes (I think that’s the word) was only finalised last week and, it has to be said, has not met with universal approval. Cliff Richard is set to perform, as are The Moody Blues (or the two of them still alive), Leo Sy Duck in Gravesend (a favourite haunt of Charles Dickens’) to The Pig and Whistle at West Molsey where the Queen is due to down a pint of Jubilee ale and polish of a plate of pie and mash. Prince Philip originally suggested (with the enthusiastic support of his daughter Anne, who takes after him in many ways) that the Queen should row most of the stretch, but that idea was ruled out on health and safety grounds because the Queen is apparently not qualified to row more than half a mile. And, it has to be said senior courtiers, who were appalled by the suggestion from the off as they regarded it as insufferably infra-dig, were for once wholly supportive of what is quite obviously an intrusive piece of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Whatever: the Queen won’t be rowing, although as a compromise (Labour insisted that she should, at least, make some kind of demotic gesture in solidarity with all those who have no choice but to row to work every day, so I understand she will symbolically ‘touch an oar’.)

The following day there is to be an open-air concert outside Buckingham Palace, when the Queen has agreed to ‘strum the first chord’. The line-up of artistes (I think that’s the word) was only finalised last week and, it has to be said, has not met with universal approval. Cliff Richard is set to perform, as are The Moody Blues (or the two of them still alive), Leo Sayer, Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Paul McCartney, Lulu, the last remaining Bee Gee, Kira de Something or other (the one from New Zealand), and several other bands, singers and what-not who are thought to personify the Zeitgeist of the past 60 years. There was a lot of loose talk about disinterring Noel Coward and Jimi Hendrix (who is now regarded as an honorary Brit because he lived in the house once occupied by George Frederic Handel) but again health and safety were rather against it all, as I write that idea has gone to appeal and no judgment has yet come down. We do know that Brian May (who was lead guitarist for Queen, not married to the Queen as far too many people in the US seem to believe) will also strut his stuff, and if you’re a nostalgia buff, the concert outside Buck House is not to be missed.

But that, rather neatly, brings me to the dilemma central to this entry. Let me make it plain: I am neither a rabid monarchist nor a rabid republican, but I would like to see it all, from the Queen swimming upstream to Windsor Castle from the Tate & Lyle pier in Rotherhithe to what promises to be a really fabulous open-air concert, succeed. And it all, as does so much else in Britain, come down to the weather.

The Met Office have ruled out unseasonal snow, but are adamant that they cannot ensure that it won’t piss with rain. And rain would, of course, ruin it all. So far the forecasts are by no means optimistic. Rain, I’m afraid to say, has been forecast. Usually at this juncture, we Brits fall back on the hope that, as a rule, the Met Office, more or less totally useless to a man and woman, always get it horribly wrong. But . . .

So let us pray: no rain, please God, no rain. The idea of the Queen spending most of Sunday and Monday huddled under a large umbrella with just Prince Philip and Prince Charles for company while everyone else whistles cheerfully and insists it doesn’t matter, is just too awful to contemplate. Think about it: Britain would be the laughing stock of the world and it would surely be curtains for the Coalition. Think about it.

. . .

I realise that there are many, many, many people who simply cannot get enough of our British Royals and there are many books which will reveal the inner workings of the our monarchy to satiate that appetite. There are, however, several facts which aren’t that well-known about the Windwors, so here are a few:

Prince Harry, though still a young man, has shagged more women than most of us (though not me) have had hot dinners.

Prince Philip is a very proficient spoons player and even applied to appear on Britain’s Got Talent. Unfortunately, senior courtiers, who have a fine ear for these matters, nixed the idea and, it has to be said, the Queen, who otherwise is wholly supportive of Philip, agreed with them. So no Prince Philip on our screens.

Charles, a keen gardener whose garden at Highgrove is a classic of its kind, is often satirised after he admitted ‘talking to his plants’. What is not as well known is that he has a very good relationship with a herd of cows at Highgrove and will often doss down in the cowshed for the night if he feels his presence will cheer them up.

Anne, the Queen’s only daughter and second child, now has to shave every two days.

Prince Andrew has a ‘love child’ in every continent. In fact, he has several in every continent, but only one in North America.

Edward, who plays the cello rather well, was once offered a job with the Halle Orchestra. But he had to turn it down, again on the advice of those oh-so-stuffy seniour courtiers.

William can fly a helicopter blindfolded.

The Queen once admitted that she was a keen EastEnders fan and even wanted to knight several leading players in the soap. But yet again - you guessed it - senior courtiers persuaded her not to do so.

Prince Philip has the world’s largest collection of original Bill Hailey recordings, and turned down a multi-million from Bill Gates to buy them.

. . .

UPDATE (June 4, 2012): A reader has kindly alerted me to the fact that a diamond jubilee doesn’t celebrate 50 years, as I mistakenly thought, but 457 years, and I have now corrected this entry accordingly. Apologies to all readers who had begun to doubt their sanity (‘Surely it's not 50 years? I mean it just can’t be, can it?’) and, of course, to you Ma’am.

This isn’t pleasant viewing (especially if you aren’t white)

I can’t deny that I’m not excited by the prospect of three weeks of wall-to-wall football coming up when Euro 2012 kicks off on June 8 in Poland and the Ukraine. But I’ve just watched a BBC Panorama report on iPlayer about racism and white supremacists in Poland and Ukraine which makes sickening viewing. It would be dishonest to retort, as I’m sure some will, that ‘they are only a minority’, because that minority is well-organised and some of its elements are even training themselves up for quasi-combat. Actually, describing this behaviour as racism is a little misleading. These idiots, both young men and women, are also virulently anti-semitic.
I know from experience that it is very possible and very easy for a reporter and his team to go out there and construct the story you want, but what was so striking about the report was the footage of massed supporters giving the Nazi salute and beating the shit out of a group of Indian students who were sitting, thinking themselves to be safe there, in the family area. Take a look at the whole programme and make up your own mind as to how sickening it is: Just to play it safe: this video is the copyright of the BBC and the report was shown on BBC One's Panorama on Monday, June 4.