Sunday, July 29, 2012

Official: Vladimir Putin doesn't like punk songs. And there was MS, a sweet, sweet girl who I was too stupid to appreciate. And in some obscure way Evelyn Waugh lives!

Pussy Riot are a Russian feminist punk band. So far, so unimaginative. On a scale of 0 to 10 of original names, Punk Riot don’t even register. But they are interesting in another respect. Pussy Riot is made up of up to ten members, of which three young women - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich – are due in court tomorrow (July 30) and if things don’t go well for them, they each face up to seven

Well, in British eyes not a lot. Their crime lasted less than a minute and consisted in entering Moscow’s Russian Orthodox cathedral of Christ the Saviour wearing neon-coloured headbands and bursting into song. This was, according to the Russian authorities, a lewd ‘punk prayer’ called ‘Our Lady, Chase Putin Out’, Russia’s president not being flavour of the month with many of his country’s more Westernised citizens. But, it has to be said, many others, especially those doing OK under the current regime, aren’t that bothered. On the face of it, of course, official reaction to Pussy Riot’s action is not encouraging. The official line is that they are blasphemous, which a devout Russian Orthodox believer might well claim. But that doesn’t really wash does it?

Russia (and China’s) support for Assad and his regime is widely believed to come down to the principle of self-preservation: if it is allowed to happen in Syria, they ask themselves, could we be next. Well, actually, not they couldn’t, given that the ‘opposition’ in Syria is not one coherent body, but is made up (according to my reading – need I remind readers that I am not on the Foreign Office reading list for internal confidential papers, so in the main I am merely repeating what I have gathered from the media, mainly the more or less impartial BBC. But I rather think that on balance arresting – and keeping in jail since the incident last February – does not bode well for anyone in Russia who wants a more democratic system, which all things considered is a rather lame conclusion. Russia’s real problem is that however much many of its citizens do want a more democratic system, it is not something which can be instituted overnight.

All that Western bollocks about ‘free and fair elections’ is all very well, my establishing a true democracy would entail a fundamental realignment in Russian thinking. They have no history of democracy. They went from Tsarism to Communism to more or less a non-Communist one-party state because the those nominally Communist in charge realised the economy was going tits-up under the old system and a new one was needed. They now have it, but it’s still just one man and his supporters in charge. The most vital change would be an independent – let me stress that word again: independent – judiciary. And that they haven’t got. You can have all the ‘free and fair elections’ in the world but if your judges do the state’s bidding it is all very silly indeed. I came across the story in the latest edition of The Economist and you can read it here.

Interestingly, there were 14 comments appended to it, and the first points out that it’s all very well for the West to get on its high horse, but there are several things which can also get you up before the judges here in Britain, for example calling someone a ‘nigger’, disparaging ‘queers’ and generally fulminating against various other groups. My instincts tell me that the objection is invalid, though off-hand I can’t yet day why, especially as I believe that we in the West are very guilty of an awful lot of hypocritical double-think. I’ll keep an eye out for further reports on Pussy Riot and pontificate a little more at a future date. Mayne Putin’s taste in music tend more to the conventional and he doesn’t have that much time for feminist punk songs

. . .

I haven’t given up on my plan to detail my romantic history, but it has already hit a snag. My idea was to give a chronological account, but on reflection it already seems to have gone slightly awry. When I wrote about SH, the lass who dropped copious tabs of acid while carrying Ian Hunter’s child, but not only seems not to have been affected by it but went on to do a Phd at Lancaster University (Lancaster? Now there’s a surprise), I might have got the timing mixed up. When we moved in together in the little urban cottage in Taits Lane (although as I pointed out we were merely sharing a house rather than living together), that was at the beginning of my third year at Dundee University and she was starting her second. Maybe I didn’t make that clear. I think I pointed out that by the time I had split up with young SH – for which read she called time, not me – I didn’t ‘go out’(such a quaint phrase) with anyone else for the rest of that year and that was when the pattern was established in which I would lose my heart and be desolate when it all came to naught, then would treat the next girl rather badly.

As far as I remember my next ‘relationship’ – and sorry for the inverted commas, but they do seem rather appropriate under the circumstances in as far as I am sure I wasn’t the only young thing on the block who had no idea what a mature relationship was and how to conduct one. Mature was not a word one might associate me with for many years to come, but in mitigation I can honestly say I was not the only one.I have wracked my brain and as far as I can remember my next relationship – i.e. the next time I went out with a girl full-time –was with MS. And MS was one of the sweetest girls on God’s earth. She fell for me hook, line and sinker but I was, unfortunately, in ‘don’t get involved mode’. Not only that, but for some reason or another I ‘jacked her in’, although I can’t for the life of me remember why, and she was heartbroken.

MS was a dark-haired girl from Bath. She was quiet and had a good sense of humour. She shared a two-bedroom flat with two other girls on the further reaches of Dundee, and one of whom was going out with one of my flatmates. So he and I would go around there, but as I was the only one to stay the night and MS and I got the single bedroom, he always had to spend an hour or so walking home again to our flat in the centre of Dundee. That never put him in a good mood. And I’m ashamed to say that although I can still picture MS and shall repeat that in the ranks of sweet-natured women she took a prime position, I did not appreciate it or her. I trust she finally met a more worthy man than me and went on to have a happy life.

. . .

I can’t but spend just a few minutes extolling the virtues of this Lenovo and especially it’s keyboard. It is a lovely machine. Might not be a Mac, but then who cares? I don’t. Since my entry in which I detailed my long list of laptops, I have put the 10in eMachine netbook on eBay and have reconciled myself to selling at a loss. The first time I listed it, I stipulated a buy-it-now price of £150. In the event, the highest bid was only £128 and I didn’t sell it. So then I listed it again with a buy-it-now of £130. This time it only got as far as £98. Now I have simply listed it, and I don’t know what I’ll get for it. One thing is certain though: it cost me £179.99 and I won’t get that. As for the Acer, a useful machine for someone, I was also going to list that, but have held off as I am in two minds whether or not to sell it. I can think of no reason why I should keep it, but …

. . .

It’s one of those when there are two of us doing the early turn, but as it’s a Monday there is not as much to do as usual, so I’ve fallen back on that old – and pretty boring – standby of surfing the net and trying to think up websites which might, just might, be halfway interesting. There are fewer than you might think. So I googled the name Evelyn Waugh, one of my favourite writers, in fact, my only favourite writer, and came across The Evelyn Waugh Society , which sounded reasonably interesting.

Unfortunately, there is not really a lot going on, just snippets of news and announcements. Then I noticed ‘EW forums’, and decided to take a look, wondering what info about Waugh might be interesting people out there. But that, too, was a disappointment: the forums were divided into ‘Forum Announcements, Comments & Questions’, ‘The Author’, ‘The Books: Fiction’, ‘The Books: Non-fiction’, ‘Short Stories, Essays, Article & Reviews’, ‘Diaries & Letter’, ‘Adaptations: Film, Television Radio & Stage’, ‘Miscellaneous’ and ‘The Society’.

Between them, those nine sections have so far – and I don’t know when exactly the society was formed or the website set up, but ‘internal evidence’ means it was at least 141 days ago – attracted a rather less than grand total of 36 topics and 46 posts. Of those sections , ‘The Books: Fiction’, ‘The Books: Non-fiction’, ‘Short Stories, Essays, Article & Reviews’, ‘Diaries & Letter’ and ‘The Society’ have so far not attracted a single post. Most popular by far – comparatively – was ‘Forum Announcements, Comments & Questions’. It has attracted 29 topics and 36 posts, so I decided to take a look. What I found would have tickled Waugh pink. He would, I’m very sure, have laughed his head off. For the net being the net and fools and idiots casting about for business being the name of the game, the topics, apart from a routine announcement that the ‘Evelyn forums are now live!’ (their exclamation mark, not mine), so far consist of:

Die Enstehung von Android
If there is no wind woods will win the good weather to match charm faded decreases
British open by the third round woods hold: JiuSanZhi bird before two bogies
Discovering Android
Tablet PSc – Arten und ihre Vorteile Exploring
No-Hassle Plans In Car Transport
Thoughts on Standard Elements In Cool Story Bro Clothes
The Alternatives For Important Requirements in No No Hair Removal
No-Fuss No No Hair Removal Tricks – Where You Can Go
Finding Simple Ideas Of Floor
Vital Aspects For Safelink Wireless
Fundamental Components Of No No Hair Removal
Men’s Professional Challenge second round of Cao a leading Fredric two behind
2012 the McAllen Cup Golf Tour SauHainingEagle’s Nest Station is a complete pars
and finally
May cases match All-Star golf team fell apart more than 40 stars participating.

Just thought I would share that with you and with Evelyn himself if spirits do exist and he takes a look in from time to time. No, I don’t know what it all means either, except perhaps that someone with some new technique for removing hair is hoping for extra business.
(From left) Ekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina. ©Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty
years in jail. Given that a spot of bad driving which involves the accidental death of someone else can earn a drive –if things go really badly – a similar spell in jail here in Britain, you must ask yourself what terrible thing these fillies have done.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Are we (were we) in for another bout of expensive Olympic kitsch? I rather think we are (were). And Apple shareholders are disappointed with record profit. Corrupt fuckers, I say. And - sorry - but another teensy bit about the bloody euro: just how patient are the Germans? Finally, I discover Thin Lizzy (about 60 years too late)

Now that I seem to have got back into my stride writing this blog after a rather embarrassed few weeks when I gave it a rest until a felt able to write something which was not about the euro, the EU, the eurozone and related matters, I thought I might tell you all about my fascination with kitsch.

As I first came across the word, and concept, when I was growing up and living in Germany, I still think of it first as a German word and concept. But, like many other German words and concepts, it has been enthusiastically hi-jacked by the Brits and the Anglo-Saxon world so that I’m sure most people think it is an English word. Other German words and concepts similarly hi-jacked by the bloody Anglo-Saxons are Weltanshauung, Angst and Schadenfreude. They are invariably used by rather trendy types, and when they are used in English. I can never quite rid myself of the suspicion that that user is, consciously or not, showing off a little, rather as they will use a French or Italian word and attempt to pronounce it as the French and Italians do. In fact, using a French phrase which is now solidly part of the English language presents a problem: making it sound too French merely shows that you are a pretentious. Giving it a completely English sound merely proves that your a thick twat. The secret is to give it a slightly French pronunciation, but not too much. Tricky that one.

When this happens, the speaker always - always - sinks a little in my estimation, thereby achieving the opposite of what he or she hoped to achieve. The practice has reached rock-bottom in my view with such speakers sticking the German prefix über before words. Such usage always makes me want to puke though I am
well-brought up enough never to do so immediately but to wait until the speaker is no longer present. Unsuprisingly, the Germans (as far as I know) don’t use it in that way at all, which is not, however, to say that they don’t also have a fair proportion of pretentious fuckwits. But back to kitsch.

I think we all know what kitsch is - Kitsch in German - though one man’s kitsch is often nothing of the kind to someone else. I thought of kitsch watching the news on TV a little earlier on when there was speculation about what Danny Boyle would produce to mark the opening ceremony of London 2012. The item previewed what we already knew and commented what might take place by showing footage of similar opening ceremony events at previous Olympic Games. And that’s when I realised that as far as I was concerned every last example shown was kitsch in its purest form. Olympic Games opening ceremony kitsch is, if you like a kind of überkitsch. There, I’ve now done it, too.

I am at a disadvantage here in as far as, apart from the Rome Olympics in 1960 when I was ten and attending a German school in Berlin which meant I was back home every afternoon by 2pm, I have not taken any interest at all in the Games and have not made a point of sitting down in front of the TV with a crate of beer and tray of sandwiches to watch ‘the opening ceremony’. It simply doesn’t grab me, and I still don’t know whether I shall bother watching tonight’s ‘Games event’, due to start in exactly one hour and 35 minutes. (UPDATE: I didn’t.)

But kitsch does fascinate me, and I have often promised myself that if I am ever rich enough to afford a big house with several more rooms than I might actually need, I should like to furnish
one of those rooms in pure kitsch: leopard skin-patterned furniture, pink lights, puky neon-coloured pictures of the Madonna and Child and the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  utterly horrible wallpaper, lava lamps, ducks flying along the wall, more pink, mauve and lime green than you might find in a tranny’s wardrobe, that kind of thing. It would be quite challenge - a rather enjoyable challenge - to try to ensure that absolutely nothing was in good taste. It would also be a challenge to try to ensure that everything was bought as cheaply as possible.
After seeing the 5pm TV news and its round-up of previousOlympic kitsch, I listened to the 6pm Radio 4 news in which Danny Boyle spoke - or someone - spoke about what would be intended by the London 2012 opening spectacular and I was a little heartened. He - or the speaker - said that it would
be futile to try to compete on a scale of grandeur and spectacle and that the idea was to give to the world a sense of what Britain was today, and furthermore that it ranged far wider than the usual cliches of the Tower of London and the Queen. Modern Britain was also all about the Sex Pistol and Mr Blobby (he added, thereby showing he is most definitely over 40. So perhaps it won’t be all bad.

Perhaps I should psyche myself up to watch it. We are told that it involves 1,000 participants and - bizarrely - 80 sheep. But I cannot but ask whether as a true reflection of ‘modern Britain’ it will also include scenes of inner-city drunken binge-drinking, looting and riots, widespread public fornication by under-age girls and litter. On balance, I probably think Boyle will have resisted the temptation to give too accurate a portrayal,

. . . .

We all have our concept of ‘corruption’, which can range from anything from police and state employs accepting bribes to the devaluation of moral standards (though here I must confess that I have long been convinced that moral standards are as relative as everything else and what is acceptable and unacceptable today is not necessarily acceptable or unacceptable tomorrow. For example, the news that in a year’s time people of the same sex can marry in church would have struck many less than 60 years ago as the stuff of vicious satire.

Then there is the news I have just spotted on the Telegraph website that ‘brain-dead patients might be kept alive so that their parts can be used’. Or then there is the creeping acceptability of official euthansia which, I suspect, will in time - though not for a long time yet - lead to policy of culling our old folk to help manage our care bills. But let me suggest another instance of corruption.

It is not an obvious one, but it demonstrates and attitude which is very widespread: the computer firm Apple, which last year alone sold more than 25 million of its bloody iPhones has seen its share price fall by, under the circumstances, are rather large 6pc. Why? The firm has made record profits but the rise in profits was lower than what was forecast. Oh dear.

. . . .

Despite my repeated promise to keep away from all things euro and EU, I have just come across a report in the respected Der Spiegel magazine about the latest wheeze the European Central Bank has come up with to try to ensure the tide doesn’t come in. (Astute readers will note an oblique reference there to our very own King Canute, who didn’t, as if all-too-often assumed, think he was powerful enough to command the tide not to come in, but who wanted to put in their place fawning courtiers who suggested as much. To show them what dumb wastrels they were he commanded that his throne be positioned on the beach while the tide was out and sat in it as the tide came ever closer and finally closed in around his throne. His point: no one can conquer the tide (which might also, if I could be arsed, which I can’t, serve as a useful link to a discussion of the Tao).

The Spiegel points out that German savers will be hard hit by the latest clever-dick financial manipulations of the ECB, which leads me to wonder just how long the patience of the average German will last. Not quite as long as their idiot political leaders hope, I suspect. And when they do finally lose patience - which will be before September 2013 at the latest, for that is when their idiot political leaders will present themselves for re-election - they will have all my sympathy. Pensioners who will see their savings shrink alarmingly and savers who will realise there is no point in saving will want to know why exactly they are being asked to agree to a course of action which more and more people think is doomed. And they will increasingly realise that no one, but no one can command the tide not to come in.

. . .

One last thing. I’ve just watched a BBC Four documentary on Thin Lizzy. I had - obviously - Whiskey In The Jar and The Boys Are Back In Town but for some very odd reason I’ve never realised quite how big they were. It was a fascinating documentary, but it has to be said that surely, apart from the great guitarists in the band at different times, of whom Scott Gorham seems to be the standout, if only because he was the longest lasting member (and by all accounts fundamentally a very down-to-earth guy - this is something of an outrageously simplistic account, but the way he says it, he overcame a very debilitating heroin addiction by taking up golf) Phil Lynott’s voice and lyrical talent were the key to their great work. I decided to buy an album and finally opted for Nightlife after hearing part of the song I’m Still In Love With You.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In which I make a confession, hang my head in shame and pray my wife doesn't discover my appalling acts

This entry is only to be read on the strict understanding that my wife is not informed of its contents. I shall not, however, be detailing some mad, passionate extramarital affair: it is far more serious than that. So, you have been warned. Any transgression will be viewed very dimly indeed, and all transgressors – there can be no exceptions – will be crossed off my Christmas card list. There will be no possibility of appeal. Right, now I have got the official stuff out of the way, as the Germans say, zur Sache.

One of the standing jokes at work is the number of mobile phones I own. I actually only use one, and that one rarely, but I do have quite a collections. I shan’t go into detail here, because that would not only bore you, but, more to the point, it would bore me, and I hate being bored. I shall only say that the situation is not quite as alarming as it might sound and there were sound and rational reasons for acquiring each of them (i.e. some once belonged to my daughter etc.) But this entry is not about mobile phones but about laptop computers, because something rather similar has occurred with laptop computers,  viz I now own seven and have eight – the eighth is one I have been lent by work to ‘do the puzzles’ (of which more, perhaps or perhaps not) another time. In mitigation I should add – swiftly, to avoid any suggestions that I am quite mad or rich or both – that almost all of them were bought secondhand on eBay. However, three weren’t, and it is about those three which I shall now write.

But for background I should tell you that I have a Macbook Pro, a nice clean one, which never leaves the house, and a Macbook, nice but not quite as clean which I take with me on my travels. Then at my stepmother’s I have another nice clean Macbook Pro, of which I can only say that for the life of me I can’t think why I bought it, but it, too, was something of a bargain. I leave it at her house because quite often she likes watching racing events on TV – the Gold Cup, Ascot and the Grand National, that kind of thing – and I am then on hand to place her bets for her with Ladbrokes online.

This time last year, I was in Bordeaux for my visit to my aunt’s for the concerts, and with me I had the works Lenovo (to do the puzzles). Somehow, I fucked it up and couldn’t use it any more. I had, by then done all the relevant puzzles work for the week and didn’t actually need a laptop any more, but as we computer addicts know – Marianne – there is a kind of withdrawal process which takes place when one no longer have access to the net. So off  I went to L Leclerc in Langon to see what I might pick up cheaply. And there I found are rather neat little 10in netbook produced by Acer in their eMachines which had exactly the same chip, hard drive and memory as netbooks produced by ‘name’ brands such as Sony, Samsung and HP, but which was far more attractive as it was selling for around  40 euros cheaper. And, dear reader, I bought it. It was only when I got back to my aunt’s house and unpacked it that I realized I hadn’t thought matters through sufficiently. The problem was that everything was in French, a language of which I know next to nothing. Worse, the keyboard was a French layout, with, for example, Z where the W should be and Lord knows what else. I struggled.

The thing was I rather liked that small netbook. It was neat. So back home in Old Blighty I put it on eBay and got a good price for it. And then I bought the same netbook but with an English OS and keyboard layout. However – there’s always a however- I realized that it was – um, rather slow and, more to the point watching BBC iPlayer was something of a chore. This was because the graphic chip was integrated and nothing rang very smoothly.

I decided to get another netbook and after a lot of research opted for an Acer 722. This had a faster chip and all-round was a better investment. But it, too, had a flaw: the keyboard. As far as I was concerned the keyboard is useless for typing and as I had specifically bought it for writing, I had another problem. So – deep breath – I have bought another, and it is on this one that I am writing this entry.

So far, so utterly irresponsible and mad, but there is a silver lining. This particular model is not sexy and as it is a Lenovo, it is intended for business. It is a Lenovo X121e. But now to the important bit: there are two versions. One has an AMD C60 chip (like my Acer) but Lenovo also produce a more expensive version with an Intel i3 Core chip. And that is the one I have. New the AMD version costs around 345. The Intel is on sale for about 530. But, dear reader, I struck lucky, very lucky: on eBay I found an Intel version which I managed to nab – brand new and still sealed in the box – for just 355. I shan’t go into details, but everything is well above board: I simply struck very lucky indeed. And the keyboard is perfect. And as I have just installed a solid state drive (i.e. no spinning disc, no moving parts) it simply zips along. Lovely. If only I actually needed it. Now just to get rid of the eMachines and Acer, both of which are still in tip-top condition, at prices which will go some way to assuaging my feelings of guilt. Remember: not a word to my wife who isn’t as enlightened on such matters as I am.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

In which I let my hair down a little, go out on a limb and offer a little advice (but the cheek of it)

The usual: I'm driving up to London on a Sunday morning, with nothing else to do but keep my eye on the road, and I think of all kinds of things I should like to write about (which - crucially - don't involve the bloody euro: you're fed up with reading about it here? Not half as much as I am about writing about it here. For one thing, I have nothing original to say and merely repeat what has been said 1,000 by everyone else who think it's a dog's dinner, and for another, like the weather, there is bugger all I can do about it, bugger all you can do about it, and bugger all he/she/it can do about it.)

One of the things I could do is to use this space as a kind of note pad and sounding board. I have found, curiously, that I sharpen my ideas far more when I am debating something with someone rather than just mulling something over on my own, and I often find that I sharpen my ideas more if I try to set it and related matters down on paper. Which  brings me to the first thing I might record: a few truths about writing I have garnered over the years, either from reading or hearing someone else's view or from personal experience. So, in no particular order:

1 It doesn't have to be perfect from the off. It is quite crucial to realise that. The trick is to get started, then to carry on and then to finish. Revising can come later, once it is all down on paper. And what you initially put down on paper - writing this on a laptop word processor means obviously that 'putting it down on paper' is meant metaphorically - doesn't even have to be 'good'. It just has to 'be', it has to exist. It might sound like an outrageous truism, but a flawed, quite awful completed novel, short story, script or play is 1,000 times better than an incompleted piece of work. And far, far better than one 'you have in your head'. That is worth nothing, but once it is down on paper, it can be improved, then improved again, then again, until you get it to the point where you think it is reasonably worthwhile.

2 No one, but no one, is in the slightest bit interested in 'your work'. Years ago, I came across a piece of wisdom whose provenance (i.e. where I heard it and how I came to hear it) is so banal, I would hate to tell you and so I shan't. But that piece of wisdom, obvious once you have understood it, is all-important. It is this: just as you are the centre of your world, everyone else, without exception is the centre of theirs. Crucially, that means you are not the centre of their world, you never were and you never will be. So your work is of know interest to them whatsoever, especially when you are still completing it. They just don't want to know. They might be too polite to tell you, but they aren't in the slightest bit interested. Not one jot. Once you have completed it, they might, just might, be interested if it amuses them or entertains them in some way (and I mean 'entertain' in a far, far broader sense than you might at first think. More of that, perhaps, later).

3 This might well be summed up in a coarse, but highly truthful observation: we all love the smell of our own farts. The corollary is, of course, that others don't, and however much you point out the positive points of that fart, how others have rather missed the point of it, they still won't. Think about it: when were you utterly disgusted by the smell when you have farted? The answer is: never. That's the odd thing about our own farts: we don't mind them and so we lose all proportion about them. To expand that thought, when you produce anything, and I'm sure this goes for piece of music of any kind, a painting or a sculpture just as much as a piece of writing, you might think it is a piece of genius or, at worst, rather good. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. What is even more dangerous is that you probably think it is excellent or reasonably good for one reason: you produced it. But it's not.

4 Another observation I came across years ago and which strikes me as being eminently true is that 'sloppy writing betrays sloppy thought'. If you sit down to write anything and find the task rather difficult, it is only because you haven't thought about it. I would even suggest that all writing takes place and is often completed in the mind long before any words are set down on paper (OK, clever dick, tapped out on a computer keyboard). The more you think about what you want to write and how you want to write it, the greater chance you have of producing less than awful work.

5 Having made those four points, I should stress that they are merely points I have made for others, perhaps you, to consider. They are not rules, because and, this is both the easiest and hardest point to get over: there are no rules. Whether you are writing something, painting something, composing something or doing whatever you are trying to do - there are no rules. You can do what the hell you like. You can do anything you like. Now here's the catch: whether anyone is in the slightest bit interested in what you have produced is quite another matter. Your 'novel', for example, might consist of writing the word 'love' 60,000 times.

Fair enough, but I would bet my bottom dollar that anyone would ever bother to carry on reading it after 20 seconds, and no amount of explaining 'what you were trying to do' will spark any further interest whatsoever. When I was still doing a lot of photography, I would often visit photographic exhibitions and see some great pictures. But what always put me off in some exhibutions would be an A4 sheet of paper next to a quite ordinary photo 'explaining' explaining what it is all about. As far as I am concerned those photos should stand on their own. If they need some kind of longwinded exposition about why they are good and worthwhile, they are simply nothing of the kind.

There's is, what is, if I have got this right, something called The Intentional Fallacy. The debate centres on whether a work of art should stand alone without us knowing the first thing about the author, composer or painter. Some argue that knowing some details can - and I do hope I have got this right and am prepared to be corrected - somehow 'add' to that work. I'm sure there's far more to it than that, but I am firmly in the camp that each and every 'work of art' (and Lord how I loathe that phrase for being woolly and vacuous) should stand and fall on its own intrinsic merits, that everything needed to 'understand' what it was intended to be conveyed is given, that no more should be needed. Certainly, I must admit, that subsequently coming across certain biographical details can somehow enhance our experience. But my point is that such an enhancement is a bonus.

6 There are 1,001 different kinds of novel, painting, pieces of music or whatever it is you are producing and there will be 1,001 different kinds of people who will appreciate some but not others. So, my warning about farts and self-love notwithstanding (and unless, of course, you are simply writing like a journeyman and being hired to produce a certain something), it would seem obvious to me that you should first and foremost write for yourself. If others are also interested, all well and good. But don't go about trying to please others. Not only will you most probably produce pretty mediocre work, but the chances are you won't even impress those you are hoping to impress.
I've run out of steam on this one and if I carry on, I shall merely be wasting your time as well as mine. But there is one last thing I should like to advocate:

7 Learn to touch-type. First of all it is not half as difficult as you might think and you don't have to reach a particular level. PAs and secretaries might be expected to reach a touch-typing speed of whatever is the norm - 100 words a minute - but you don't. Forty words a minute or even slower is perfectly adequate. But what you will gain is the ability to write as you think. If, like me for years and years (and like almost all the hacks I know) you use the two, three or four-finger system, you are interrrupting your train of thought several times every few seconds and suffering because of it. The chances are that you will type in such manner, make quite a few mistakes and go back and correct them before you carry on. Or, like me, you will carry on regardless and then go back once you feel you have finished to correct all those mistakes. That is not only excessively boring, but the chances are that you will start re-writing what you have written and ensure that what was more or less a coherent train of thought becomes anything but. That's what happened to me, but a few years ago I bought the Mavis Beacon touch typing program and taught myself and the benefit is enormous.

8 Perhaps I should restate my first point and expand on it a little: quite apart from what you write not having to be perfect from the off, don't take on too much in one session. It only gets worse. Set yourself a target, reach it, then get up and do something entirely different for at least a few hours, but preferably a day. You will then come back to what you have written and see it with a far clearer, far more objective eye. So you revise it and try to improve it, discarding, more often than not, those bits you first thought were quite magnificent because in a rather colder light they are nothing of the kind.

Oh, and I have only written a few short stories over the years, two short novels and one what would be called a novella. Of those I will only stand by the second novel as - perhaps - getting there. Everything I wrote before then was, I'm sure, shite, because I had no idea what I was doing or even wanted to do.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lesson for today: Never Trust A Grown-up, especially if you elected him or her or they deal in money. The chances are he and she find it impossible to distinguish between their arse and their elbow

Let me take you back to your childhood, to the days when there were still ‘grown-ups’. These ‘grown-ups’ were initially like gods: when you were 3 or 4 they were simply always right because the were ‘grown-ups’. Later, at 7 or 8, you might well have become a little more rebellious, or not, but you usually felt rather overawed by these ‘grown-ups’. In those days, too, people of 17 and 18 were quite simply ancient and could quite easily be put in the same category as the ‘grown-ups’. (These days, I find I can’t even treat men and women in their late teens and early twenties as though they have much of a clue of what’s going on, and even feel ever-so-slightly guilty if I find a woman of 19 or 20 sexually attractive, knowing just how emotionally vulnerable she still is. But, ssh, don’t tell anyone, especially not anyone in their late teens and early twenties, who do so like to think they have reached the winning line.)

The point about ‘grown-ups’ were, among other things, was that if something went wrong, a ‘grown-up’ could sort it out and there was an end to the matter.  ‘Grown-ups’ were seemingly all-powerful. Naturally, as we get over, we wise up. As I have told my two children over and over again since they were quite young, in many ways ‘grown-ups’ are just older children: they, too, squabble and bicker and lie to each other in just the same way as children do, but unfortunately they are not amenable to the same kind of sanctions. (As recently as three years ago, when my daughter was, 13, she misbehaved and I ordered her to ‘go to your room, now!’ And off she went, admittedly protesting, and meekly stayed there for the next ten minutes until I came upstairs to tell her ‘not to do it again’ and ‘you can go downstairs now, if you like’. I could not believe I got away with it.)

I also tell them that when ‘grown-ups’ squabble, bicker and lie to each other in it far more serious than when children do it, because they know better. But although we wise up, aspects of that attitude still remain with us. So, for example, we have what can only be described as a naive belief that those engaged in the law and medicine know what they are talking about, and crucially, more than we do. To a certain extent that’s true, but at the end of the day a lawyer and doctor can only give you his or her informed opinion, one based on extra training and experience. But it can still be a bloody awful opinion, and of you get more than three or four lawyers or doctors together and present them with the same problem, you will get at least three or four opinions and, unhelpfully, at least two will contradict each other totally.

Then there are the ‘money men’, the big businessmen, our politicians and others of that ilk. Most certainly we all wise up in time and realise that not only do a great many of them have feet of clay but their brains are also exceptionally suspect, but such realisation does come rather later in life than would be sensible. And that brings me to my favourite topic: the euro crisis. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, lads and lasses: we all assume that at the end of the day our politicians and their advisers know what they are doing, however obscure and daft it might seem to us. We tell ourselves that if we can’t quite follow the logic of it all, it is our fault for not being bright enough or lacking a sufficiently knowledge about certain matters.

But have none of it: they haven’t a bloody clue. And those who DO have a clue, simply haven’t the backbone to do what they know to be the right thing. It’s politically impossible, they say, so instead they almost willingly lead not just Europe but the rest of the world into an economic depression the like of which none of us has seen in his or her lifetime.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The joy of stripping to the altogether in a French provincial airport just to convince whoever needs to know you are not Muslim, Jewish, Syrian, Christian, Irish or otherwise using a handy stick of Semtex to separate your arse from the rest of your body with the intent on destabilising everything for everyone for ever. And have you heard about Romania and Hungary? So have I

Merignac airport, Bordeaux.
Well, after queuing most of the morning just to join another queue for another queue, surviving the security checks, buying the whisky and chocolate for the dear ones back home, I can sit down and get my irritation down on paper while I am still in full rant mode. Posting from an airport cafe is something of a first, but I have one of those 3 dongles which is costing me £8 a month and which I never use, so bugger the roaming charges and whatever other charges they add, I’m going to use up what I have paid for.

While I was on holiday, and with the irritation of flying here fresh in my mind, I looked up trains and ticket prices from Calais to Paris, then from Paris to Bordeaux with a view to next time possibly taking the train instead of flying. It’s all very well taking just one hour ten minutes flying from one airport to another once you’re on the plane, but the bloody pfaffing around just to get on and then off the plane really is no one’s business.

The aspect which I find most irritating are the security checks, which have become ever more stringent ever since that Muslim convert go it into his head to try to set his pants on fire on a flight to the U.S. Why do the security authorities always assume we all want to go up in flames on a plane dressed in nothing more substantial than our underpants? Yes, I exaggerate a little, but not much. The experience here in Bordeaux airport was particularly galling today: it really gets beyond a joke when some

Me earlier on today, particularly galled

guy wearing too much aftershave who dyes his hair insists he take you into a backroom for a strip search. I was livid, especially as he suddenly seemed to think the whole matter was unimportant after all and turfed me out almost before I was dressed. Caused something of a consternation in duty-free, I can tell you.

Speaking of which: duty-free? Really? Then why are so many of the goods supposedly duty-free almost always that much more expensive than in your local Super U and Intermarché? I use these trips abroad to stock up on all sorts of goodies, including aftershaves since I shaved my beard off (to almost universal approval, I should add - it’s very gratifying when your 13-year-old son being picked up from the school bus walks over to the car and the first thing he says is: ‘You look really young now’ - not once but twice). Well, I have brought back from La belle France a 50ml bottle of Pierre Cardin something-or-other and a 50ml bottle of Daniel Hechter. Both are very nice and not, in terms of quality, cheap. Yet both cost me just under €15 - the equivalent in Bordeaux duty-free were around €33, and I checked: they were still only 50ml bottles.

Didn’t actually get around to posting this entry at Bordeaux airport because we were summoned to board the Gatwick flight around 50 minutes before we were due to depart. Knowing that it usually means queuing up for 10/15 minutes to get through passport control, just to queue somewhere else for another 10/15 minutes, I was inclined to cut it fine, but was urged to make a move by a Scottish couple I was talking to when there was an announcement that Gatwick-bound passengers should get a bloody move on or else. So after a nifty bit of queue-jumping (‘sorry, can I just get past, yes, I know but, sorry, can I just get past, my flights been called’), I passed passport control and was virtually whisked onto the plane by 2.15pm even though we were not due to fly off until 2.50pm.

In the event, we left 10 minutes early and arrived at Gatwick 20 minutes early - where on earth is the sense in all that? The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t really matter how late you are once you have checked in your bag and once it has been loaded onto the plane, because they prefer to leave late with all passengers accounted for rather than leave even later after having to search the luggage hold for the luggage of the missing passenger in order to take it off again (which they have to do, you see - Muslim converts, semtex, underpants and all that).

The M25 was the usual nightmare of stop-start traffic, so I took off cross-country heading for I don't know where - Dorking then Guildford, I think - and only went the wrong way twice after ignoring the sage advice of my satnav. But I am now sitting in The Brewers Arms in South Petherton (a very pleasant pub, by the way, if you are ever in these parts), enjoying a pint or two of cider (have only started my first) and a cigar (La Paz cigarros, which is equally oft-putting like all the rest by prominently insisting on the box that I shall probably drop dead within minutes of stubbing out the latest. But I am only 105 miles from home and shall see my little ones at around 9.30pm.

As for the flying, I am seriously considering whether it might not be equally as comfortable to next time to get a train from Calais to Paris, the on to Bordeaux and then on to Cerons, which is a small station just 10 minutes drive from my aunt’s house. At least you’re not obliged to do the journey dressed in nothing but your underwear.

As the Germans say Mahlzeit! 

. . . 

As far as I know, the latest thinking on why - inexplicably - the Russians (who we once called the Soviets) and the Chinese (who we once called the Red Chinese) refuse to back sanctions on Syria to put pressure on Assad to leave power: it isn’t that they are turning a pretty penny selling ever more lethal weapons to his regime or even that the Russians want to keep hold of the port they use in the Med. It seems what really worries them is that if all these popular efforts to rid the world of unsound regimes gets any stronger, their folk might see an opportunity. That is the latest thinking.

However, I think its crap. From what I have read, your average Russian isn’t doing too badly and the majority of them, like the majority of what we are not obliged to call the ‘middle-class’ Chinese prefer the baubles of affluence to whether or not they have a say in how their country is run. So there might not yet be much of a danger that the populace will turn around to raucous cries of ‘Freedom! Freedom!’

Two further points: it is utterly simplistic to imagine that with Assad out of the way, everything will be sweetness and light in Syria. We ain’t seen nothing yet, as the man said. Furthermore, it seems the U.S. State Department is in the process of doing a substantial U-turn and planning to make friends with the Muslim Brotherhood on the useful, though cynical, principle that all other things being equal it makes more sense to stay on the winning side. As always oil (which I learn today for the first time is sometimes referred to as ‘Texas tea’) dictates the agenda.

The second point is to imagine that holding free and fair elections every five years or so means you have a democracy. Oh no it doesn’t. What is crucial is the rule of law (which is so important, I might even resort to my limited stock of capital letters and call it the Rule of Law). And as for that crucial rule of law, things are now looking more than a tad dicey in Romania and Hungary. I have in the past here wondered what exactly the EU - make that the ‘EU’ - would do if one or more of its member states were to become de facto dictatorships, which is not at all that far-fetched. No doubt Brussels would ‘condemn the most recent developments in the strongest terms’ and urge apostate states ‘to consider the consequences and return to the rule of law’. I wouldn’t care so much if I didn’t have a 13-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter for whom I want a safe, prosperous and as far as possible hassle-free future. And it really isn’t looking that way, is it.

Once again, Mahlzeit!

. . .

Does anyone honestly believe this whole euro mess can still be sorted out? Honestly? That’s it’s all just teething troubles, that it just needs one more push and, you know, with a bit of luck, God willing, fingers crossed, if we all hold together - look just leave it to us, the experts, and we’ll make sure everything comes good . . . After the riots in Greece, we now have riots in Madrid and people don’t riot just because there’s nothing particular good on the telly. Now the Italian government in Rome is considering taking over the running of a bankrupt Sicily.

I am most certainly not an economist or a banker, but even for Pee Wee Powell here nothing, but absolutely nothing stacks up. A dog’s dinner doesn’t even start to describe it. Even the IMF has more or less given up on hope of ever finding a solution. UPDATE: According to the Spiegel, the IMF has told Brussels that it is no longer interested in bailing out Greece. Greece is on its own. That is good news for Greece, which can leave the euro, re-introduced the drachma, devalue and start living again. Meanwhile, the rest of us can look forward to a few years of dirt-cheap hols in the Aegean.

In Romania and Hungary two rather unsavoury prime ministers are riding a coach and four through their constitutional laws as they try to ensure they get an ever tighter grip on power. Now why would they being doing that, I wonder? Could it be that they rather enjoy being in charge and would rather do away with whatever democratic restraints could get in the way? Neither country has a track record of being a thriving democracy. The irony in all this is that one, unspoken, principle of the EU and its remorseless development into an ever more integrated political unit was to try to ensure that by binding Germany and France closer together, Europe would never again see war on the scale of the conflict which ran between 1939 and 1945. Some hope of that, it would seem.

And one more time, Mahlzeit!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More music, guitars, saints who don't get burnt, free wine and an artist who (in my very uninformed view) is something of a nine-bob note

Illats, SW France
It was off to St Emilion on Monday to inspect the world’s largest underground cathedral, in fact, probably the world’s only underground cathedral. The trip was as much to avoid lunch though that’s not as bad as it sounds. I took my aunt out for a meal the night before and started with a salad of which foie gras played a prominent part, and then had magret du canard. It was all very rich, so much so, in fact, that waking up the following morning, I didn’t feel like eating anything more for 24 hours. (Incidenally, my aunt isn't really my aunt, but my stepmother's sister, but I stick closely to the First Rule of Blogging: Keep it simple, and make allowances for the slower ships in the convoy. For all I know people from the UK also read this blog.)

So the problem was: what to do about lunch? Explaining to a Frenchman or woman (although my aunt is not French) that you fancy skipping lunch for a change, you know, just to clear your system (pour clearer la systeme is what they call it) will be met by the same incredulity as if you were to announce that you fancy a quick dip in a vat of boiling oil. So rather than get involved in some long-running explanation and most probably settling for some kind of compromise (‘OK, I’ll just have a bit’ when, in fact, I didn’t want to eat anything), I thought the simplest solution would be to take myself off somewhere and would ‘look after my own lunch’. Scoured the net for nearby, or reasonably nearby, places which might prove to be interesting. One, a ‘bastide town’, was too far, but then I came across the ‘underground cathedral’ at St Emilion which is only about 25 miles away, so off I went.

In typical pagan-catholic fashion, St Emilion (who might well have been demoted in the recent and long-overdue clearout of saints as being far too implausible for words - founding the world's first underground car park indeed, and all that in the 8th century), is revered because of two miracles. He was a chap born of humble origins - like the rest of us, then - and living in Brittany in the household of a nobleman where he was responsible for providing bread for the castle. Being a soft-hearted kind of guy, he also used to slip a loaf or two to the peasants outside the castle, but someone snitched on him to the noblemen, who one night lay in wait to catch Emilion red-handed. On his way out with his stock of bread for the peasants, Emilion was challenged by the nobleman: ‘What, sir, do you have under your coat?’ he demanded. Upon which Emilion opened his coat - to reveal that the loaves had all turned into wood.

That was the first miracle and Emilion’s fame grew far and wide in Britanny. In fact, it grew so far and wide that he began to dislike it and left the nobleman’s employ and headed south and eventually arrived at a monastery where he was ordained. At the monastery his job was once again to keep the establishment supplied with bread and one day he couldn’t find whatever implement was used to remove the bread from the oven. So he simply climbed in to retrieve the bread by hand - and emerged utterly unscathed, with not one burn. Another miracle!

Again he became the toast of the town and being a modest chap, took himself off again, arriving at the spot we now call St Emilion. There he found a cave with springs inside and settled into a life of sainthood.

First a chapel was built next to the cave a couple of centuries later (it wasn’t called ‘marketing’ in medieval times but the RC church knew every trick in the book when it came to attracting pilgrims, who could be regarded as medieval tourists and who also spent their money locally). Then the local bigwig, a chap called Peter of Somewhere or Other who had fought in one of the Crusades, got it into his head to copy several of the churches he had seen in the Middle East and had the underground cathedral carved out of the limestone.

. . .

Later, it was off to the Chateau Gravas in Barsac, which produces Sauternes wine, for a concert given by an Argentinian guitarist and a Spanish saxophonist who played a programme of different South American music. Guitar and saxophone - in fact three different saxes, ranging from a huge bass sax to one which resembled a clarinet - might seem and odd combination, but it worked very well. I liked it a great deal, my aunt not quite as much. They call themselves Le Duo Corrientes and here is their Myspace page. The drink afterwards, in which very generous glasses of Sauternes were served, was where the chateau’s barrels of Sauternes are stored and which also housed an exhibition of work by someone called Flickinger which I found hugely unimpressive.

There was a similar exhibition by the same chap last year, and then my aunt and I fell out after I called it ‘corporate art’, and when she asked me what I meant, I explained that as far as I was concerned it was pretty much the kind of stuff you find in the reception and corridors of multinational companies which any halfway decent graphic designer can turn out on a wet afternoon. Flickinger (if that is his name - I can’t find a reference to him anywhere)

. . .

Last night it was off to a concert by a classical guitarist called Emmanuel Rossfelder who played a medley of various pieces, although, as my aunt said, could have been a little more adventurous in his choice of pieces. And I have to admit that I far preferred the previous night’s guitarist and saxophonist.

The concert last night was at the Chateau Pape Clement on the outskirts of Bordeaux. Tonight it’s a programme of music ‘with a Spanish flavour’ on violin, clarinet and accordion, which sounds promising. That's at the local Maison du Vin at Podensac, who if I remember correctly from two years ago are very generous with their wine. The least generous were the Chateau Smith Haut Laffite who barely wetted the bottom of the glass with red wine, but as my aunt’s husband pointed out, it was probably a wine which sells at more then £100 a bottle, so it’s really not much of a suprise.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Forget your soaps, try Mad Men

Many years ago, I was once drawn into watching Emmerdale and from personal experience I know the addiction of soaps. I got out of that one and apart from a flirtation with The Bill, I have never become hooked again. I can’t quite tell you why, but I regard soaps as Karl Marx regarded religion, but hold them in even less esteem than he held religion. Despite the fact that my wife and my daughter - 51 and 16 in August - both avidly follow Emmerdale and EastEnders, I regard soaps as pap for morons (at which point I must repeat that I, too, have been there, and fully understand how - I would say perniciously - they can get under your skin.

A while ago, I wrote here that however good a series such as The Sopranos is, it is merely the first, wealthier, better behaved and classier cousin to soaps. Well, I have changed my mind, if only because show such as The Sopranos are most definitely not pap for morons. And, it has to be said, irrespective of what they are - pap for morons - a great deal of creativity, talent and professionalism is put to use in producing soaps. In just such a shame that at the end of the day the are nothing more but the cultural equivalent of Ready Brek or Cupasoups.

What got me thinking along these lines again is Mad Men, of which you might or might not have heard. It’s about advertising agencies and those people who work in them. The first series was set in the late-Fifties and the current, fifth, series takes us to the mid-Sixties, which gives the show ample scope to investigate the changing attitudes of that era - the growing civil rights movement, growing female emancipation, the evolution of youth culture and other changing attitudes. Putting it like that makes it sound all very worthy, and it is most certainly not that.
What sets it aside from others of its ilk is just how high its standards are: the script, the acting and the direction. Mad Men has the uncanny knack of conveying wordlessly merely by the pause an actor makes or a significant look. But it does so not in any ‘look at us, look at just how good we are’. It is immensely understated.

I believe the guy who came up with the idea, a Matthew Weiner, had previously worked on The Sopranos, so it is no surprise that he is keen to make a show which just shouts - or in the case of Mad Men - casually hints at quality. It has been criticised for ‘being slow’ and ‘not having a story’. Well, take it from me that that is bollocks. There is plenty of ‘story’ if ‘story’ is your bag and as for being slow, there is more going on beneath the surface than in any number of bloody soaps. OK, have it your way: if you want ‘fast-moving’ and spurious ‘drama’, stick to your average soap. If you want something a great deal more satisfying, give Mad Men a whirl. I like to think you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Back in France for a week for some great music

Illats, sout-west France.
In France for a week which, as this is the third year running, I might well now call my annual visit to eat well and listen to some baroque and renaissance music at several of the many concerts being staged as part of at least two summer festivals at various Bordeaus wine chateaux. Last night was my first this year, an enjoyable, if a little odd, performance of pieces by Pergolesi (he of the Stabat Mater, but he did a lot more besides. Samuel Barber used to say he got very ticked off indeed when people kept asking to hear his Adagio for Strings and assumed that was more or less the sum total of his output).

Performed were various arias from several Pergolesi opera (incidentally, I didn’t know until Thursday night that Pergolesi died when he was 26). The performers were a soprano, a women on various recorders, a chap playing a theorbe (look it up, I had to, but basically it is a stringed instrument with between 12 and 15 strings with an extra long neck), a chap on harpsicord and a third chap on a viola de gamba (which is not an stringed instrument covered in prawn - good pub quiz question that: which musical instrument is intricately related to prawns? Answer: none of them).

The oddness came from - and I am still finding it very hard working out why - various intermission and interruptions by a Punch and Judy show. Made me laugh a great deal, but: why. The programme notes (in French, a language I have no mastery of whatsoever, but I can laboriously read some of it and get the gist) point out that Pergolesi was intricately related to the city of Naples as was the commedia del’arte and its main character Pulcinella (from which we get our Mr Punch, a derivation of the anglicised Pulcinello),  but as far as explanations go, that’s a non-starter. Pergolesi was well-known for his comic operas (or so Wikipedia tells me - I don’t actually just happen to know that kind of thing) and there was interaction between the soprano singing her songs and Mr Punch. Perhaps, this being France, it was sophisticated, something which always leaves us Brits standing out in the rain. Still, the music was good. It was held at the Chateau Smith Haut Laffite.

Last night at the Chateau Caronnieux it was the turn of a certain Maxim Vengerov, performing a Handel sonata for violin and piano, a solo Bach partita and then Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. His accompanist was a certain Itamar Golan, and looking up the chap and whatever relevant details I could find, it seems the programme we got, as well as two of the encore pieces, were exactly the same they performed at London’s Wigmore Hall at the beginning of April. My aunt an I saw Vengerov last year at the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, but he didn’t really perform a great deal, but gave a masterclass. Itamar Golan is a handsome chap, but to my eyes didn’t look anything like a concert pianist and more like a hard man in the French securite - stocky and square-jawed. Shows what I know.

On Monday we are off to Chateau Gravas, which I dont’ think I know, for an evening of South American piece played on guitar and, I think, saxophone. Not very baroque or renaissance, but what the hell.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Will someone please save me from all this London 2012 bollocks? A shot in the back of the neck would do the trick

I hope I am not the only one utterly underwhelmed by the coming Olympic Games 2012 in London. Perhaps I’m now just a grizzled old whingeing cunt, but everything about it manages to piss me off. I’m not going to noodle on about ‘the Olympic ideal’ but for God’s sake where is even one ideal? From where I sit, the 2012 Games are simply about money and how to make fabulous amounts of it. Long gone are the days when the athletes and sportsmen and women taking part were gifted people doing something for the love of it and for the challenge to be the best in the world at whatever they were attempting. The athletes are now all professionals keen to win because it ups their value in the sponsorship and advertising market and gets them on the world’s talkshow circuit.

Elsewhere we witness the piss-awful spectacle of sponsors cutting up rough in order to protect ‘their investment’ and suing the fuck out of anyone who dares even to come near encroaching on their territory. I can’t remember which credit card company it is who has ‘won the franchise’ to do whatever they were bidding to do (piss in everyone’s cup of tea, I should imagine), but is seems if you are unfortunate enough not to have one of their cards, you will be unable to pay for anything using your credit card and I read somewhere that you will also be unable to use one of the many cash machines which are being installed on the Olympic site.

One measure of the dishonesty which pervades the whole sorry exercise - which, incidentally is costing the country a cool £12 billion, several billion more than we were told it would cost - is that the 2012 Games are being billed as ‘great for Britain’. Bollocks. No one outside London is going to benefit in the slightest economically, and a great many people in London will be at a disadvantage - I read the other day that tourists not interested in the Games are giving London a miss this year and hotel room bookings are down, although that might also have something to do with several greedy hotel chains upping their room prices substantially to make extra moolah from the number of Games visitors expected. You can find more info on that particular piece of heartening news here.

Here in Britain, we are being entertained by a number of Games-related cock-ups ranging from outrage that the British Army is insisting of parking tanks on the top of residential tower blocks beside the Olympic stadium in order to deal with a terrorist attack, to looming chaos on London’s streets with attendant misery for commuters as all roads leading into to London will be partially blocked to non-Olympic traffic (overnight many roads have had the seven Olympic rings painted on them to reserve them for Olympic traffic along with the warning ‘Fuck off this lane if you know what’s good for you, squire’).

There was talk (and a debate in the Commons) on whether capital punishment should be temporarily introduced to deal with all and sundry convicted in Her Majesty’s law courts of not showing due and sufficient deference to ‘Olympic traffic, athletes, officials and all others connected, however loosely, with the 2012 Games’, but the idea was knocked on the head when the authorities realised that they would be unable to have made, test and commission the necessary number of gallows before the end of October, by which time all Olympic-related hoo-hah would have died down and by then popular support for the measure could be expected to have fallen. (Incidentally, Britain abolished the death penalty more than 40 years ago for murder, but you could still be hung, drawn and quartered for treason as late as 1999.)

The good news is that rather late in the day Transport for London (aka London Transport) has discovered that parts of the elevated section of the M4 leading into London are crumbling and has had to shut the motorway from Junction 3 all the way to Junction 1. They promise the work will be sorted out by July 29 when the Games start but, fingers-crossed, that’s just so much whistling in the wind and just so much hooey.

Adding to the irritation of the closure of almost all the roads leading into London is that whereas every January and February colleagues come in and bore me rigid with their war stories about how they they were caught up in traffic chaos because of

Thousands of London commuters struggle to work

snowfall (or what passes for snowfall in this gentle island nation), they are also coming in and boring me solid with their war stories about how Olympic road closures are causing chaos and a commute which usually doesn’t take them more than an hour is now taking them up do two days, that although they might be here and now, they are, in fact, only just staring last Monday’s shift.

There was a great deal of fun and games over the allocation of tickets which was due to be done by lottery. Absolutely no one is pleased with the outcome, especially as some ticket prices for the less popular sports are being slashed to drum up the numbers and, for example, those who paid several hundred pounds for a ticket to the ballroom dancing quarter-finals are very put out to find that similar tickets are now being flogged off at a fiver a piece to avoid the embarrassment of rows and rows of empty seats. Adding insult to injury, loads of freebie tickets are doing the rounds and can be obtained depending on who you know. A friend has obtained ten tickets for the opening ceremony simply because the chap down the pub he got them from has a gay brother who recently gave Lord Coe’s hairdresser a blow-job. It simply isn’t funny any more. Give me a break, please.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Continuing my romantic history: introducing SH, various shenanigans and I admit to being just a tad embarrassed

I threatened – I think that’s the right word – gradually to give a rundown of my former girlfriends and lovers as I have previously given a rundown of all the cars I owned. I must admit, and said so here, that I felt the exercise is slightly tacky, or even more than just slightly, but what the hell: I get about 20 readers a day, 19 of whom are apparently only interested in seeing a pic of Mandy Rice-Davies (info I have gleaned from the stats page of the blog) and apart from my sister, a good lady in Carolina and a chap who went to my old school (although before I went, or after – I can’t off-hand remember) I know none of you good folk out there who happen upon this blog. So here goes.

My first was WR. She returned to Edinburgh and by chance be hooked up again in those glorious weeks of freedom when I was knocking around after my finals had ended but before graduation and I could simply do as I pleased. She took me to her bed again, and paid me the compliment – a rather left-handed compliment, mind – of telling me I was a better shag than I had been four years earlier. I have no doubt she was right. She had previously trained as a nurse and taken herself off to Australia. She had now returned and eventually took herself off to Canada.

Term started in October and I was now in my second year. I can’t remember where and how I met SH, but I do remember we got it together when we went to a party at a farm where a group of my friends lived. They were all in a band called Fat Grapple (a silly name, though by no means any sillier than other names thought up by bands then and since). SH was young for someone in her first year of university – her birthday was in October – October 16, in fact , so it had either been a question of going just before her 17th birthday or waiting a year. I, as the saying is ‘fell in love’ with SH and – this is the embarrassing bit – more or less followed her around like a puppy dog. She didn’t actually discourage me, but looking back I must have been a pain in the arse. Guys can be like that – the accepted wisdom is that the mature later than girls (if at all I hear some of you women say).

Trying to recall that year now, in order to write this account, I find I can’t really remember that much, simply isolated incidents. But I do remember coming back to start a new term and one of her friends gleefully telling me she had been seeing some other guy. I was devastated, though I now realise it had more to do with feeling rejected – my apparent self-confidence was no more than skin-deep – than any worth she might have had.

We had planned to move into a small cottage together in Tait’s Lane off Hawkhill close to where Hawkhill merges with the Perth Road. I’ve just taken a peek at Google maps and find that cottage has long been pulled down and Tait’s Lane is now looking rather respectable with loads of yuppie houses down the side where our cottage was. Despite the fact that we were no longer ‘going out’, we did move in. She took the upstairs bedroom (it was a small cottage and upstairs there was only the bathroom and the bedroom) and I took one of the bedrooms downstairs. The third bedroom was taken by Arthur MacDonald, who became a good friend but with whom, sadly, I have lost touch.

Arthur was one of the leading lights of Dundee University’s ‘revolutionary’ movement and prominent in a group called International Socialists. Either that one of one called Solidarity, I can’t remember which. The two groups, as is the way of such movements, were at daggers drawn on ideological grounds, although I doubt even they, if pressed, would be able to tell us what those difference were. Arthur was a humourless cunt for about a year, then suddenly rediscovered his sense of humour and after that was very good company. More of Arthur later, perhaps, in a tale which involves another girlfriend, coincidentally another SH, her promiscuous nature – although if would only be fair to add that it turned out she was schizophrenic – and a dose of the clap she passed on to me, having caught it from Arthur. It should tell you something of my affection for him and how much I valued our friendship that I soon forgave him, especially as I have no doubt my schizophrenic girlfriend had made all the running and Arthur was not the kind to turn down a shag (as they call it, I’m told).

I eventually moved out of the cottage after SH – the first one now, not the schizophrenic medical student – began shagging not only a trendy psychology lecturer about town, but also his wife. And as the guy was – and still will be if he’s still alive – a shit of the first order, I shall name him: Martin Skelton-Robinson. Two-faced cunt. By this time I had overcome the worst of my love-pain, but I didn’t want to hang around.

SH went on to live with the drug dealer, one Ian Hunter, now dead, I knocked around with for a few days in that period between the end of finals and graduation. In fact, it was because of him that I hooked up with WR again: Ian and I had gone to Edinburgh – although I can’t remember why and, anyway, we were more acquaintances than friends – and come the evening had nowhere to stay. He was all for dossing down in the park. I wasn’t (never have been) and it occurred to me to get in touch with the only people I then knew in Edinburgh, WR sisters. They told me she had returned from Australia, gave me her phone number, Ian and I went around there and dossed down in her living room – better than the fucking park, you’ll agree – and the following day Ian buggered off somewhere (probably to try to score more drugs as it was all he was interested in) and WR took me to her bed.

While she was living with Ian SH was both dropping a lot of acid and got herself pregnant, carrying on dropping acid during her pregnancy. To this day I’ve wondered how it will have affected her child who, being born around 1972, will now be around 40. SH was quite bright and from Dundee, she went on to do a masters at Lancaster University.

I hooked up with her many years later in the early 1980s when I was back in Scotland visiting my uncle Pat and aunt Lou, who were living south of Dalkeith where my uncle was the bursar at a girl’s boarding school. I had driven into Edinburgh and as in some pub or other near The Scotsman offices where Arthur was now working as a reporter. He like his drink, did Arthur, but eventually had to go back to the office. But he told me SH now lived in Edinburgh. I rang her and went around to her flat. We chatted and had several glasses of whisky (for me on top of however many pints of cider I had drunk in the pub with Arthur) and at the end of the evening I drove home the the 20 miles to my uncle’s house. And that I didn’t kill myself is a miracle: usually when we have had too much we realise we have had to much. But I was so drunk, I decided to see how fast I could drive all the way to Pat’s place. I was touching 80mph on roads not made for more than 40. Some angel just must have been watching over me.

That’s the last I heard of SH. Writing this, I seem to have a dim memory that she was due to get married at the time we had our drink at her flat, but it really is nothing more than a dim memory.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

So let me get this straight: Bob Diamond has discovered the God particle, but he’s a shit, so Newton was right all along? No? OK, how about this: the banks and those lovely people at Cern are costing us all an arm and a leg, but - sorry I’m lost. Completely. And for all those who like to eBay, a few home truths and how to try to ensure you get what you want without paying through the nose. (No secrets, just common sense)

My Economist arrived this morning, on time for a change, and this evening - just about 45 minutes ago, in fact - I sat myself outside in the fresh air (it’s finally stopped raining) with the magazine, two cigars and a glass of ice and white port (which I can highly recommend - far more macho and far classier than mere sherry, although that, too, is very pleasant with a cube or five of ice).

As usual, I start by reading what those dear fellows at the Economist like to call their ‘leaders’. First off was one about the Libor scandal (and its first cousin the Eurobor - bloody euro freaks never miss a trick, do they), Barclays and Bob Diamond. The thrust of the piece was that this is just the tip of the iceberg and if the Libor baffles you, be prepared to be even more baffled

God’s particle (apparently)
over the coming months and years. What with Fanny Mae, Fanny Mac, sweet Fanny Adams,  Northern Rock going tits up, the demise of Lehman Brothers, RBS almost but for the financial genius - or should that be stupidity - of Gordon Brown and, I suppose, various European banks being bailed out, it would seem that the writing is on the wall for our banks. But of course it isn’t.

There will be a lot of outrage, some exceptionally incisive and quite often witty soundbites, various inquiries, perhaps even a Royal Commission or two before it is back to business as usual. The only change will be, to use a saying quite prevalent in the media, same shit, new broom. Why? Because governments worldwide need those with money more than those with money need governments.

Then it was onto the next leader, one all about the ‘discovery’ of something called the Higgs Bosun. This discovery, the dear Economist informed us, was a ‘triumphant elucidation of the laws of physics’. They now know, we were told, that the Higgs Bosun exists, because all those clever chaps at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Switzerland, finally came across ‘deviation’ in ‘particle behaviour’ they weren’t expecting.

OK, I am playing a little dumb here and in broad - very broad - outline I do know what the Economist is getting at, but I am finding it a tad difficult, if not to say a tad impossible to get even a little bit excited. The Higgs Bosun ‘discovery’, apparently, is so stupendous because it confirms the ‘Standard Model’ of reality. Without the Higgs (as we in the know like to call it to distinguish our more superior intellects from those who refer to it as the Higgs Bosun) that Standard Model would fall apart. With it - well...

What bothers me is this: first there were the Greeks who referred to the ‘atom’ as such because it was the ‘smallest possible’ and crucially ‘indivisible’ particle. So far, so good until physicists quite soon went on to divide that ‘indivisible’ particle into electrons and protons. Meanwhile, Newton (who everyone now thinks was gay, but not only is that another entry, but one which isn’t, thank goodness, even interesting) did all his stuff (which I shall quickly gloss over, mainly because I don’t really know that much about it). Then there was Albert Einstein (of whose work I do know a little more) but even though he demonstrated that there is a lot more to it all than Newton realised, he was merely skirting around the problem of what is what. That’s where the Standard Model, various bosuns, quarks and suchlike come in and where I and I should think you, too, bow out. But you see where I’m going to: Einstein trumped Newton, Newton trumped the Greeks and now the Standard Model trumps Einstein.

Being, in my more pompous moments, an empiricist - as opposed to all those whacky, mainly French, Descartian rationalist - I can’t help feeling ineffably cynical. It won’t be in my lifetime, but at some point in the future various bods and bodesses, all of them far, far cleverer than I could even dream of being, will snort in derision: those Standard Modellers, eh, what a joke! And they thought they had cracked it! Well, listen to this!

What has this to do with the bankers, wankers, hankers, chancers and and deadbeats upon whose greed we all rely to keep our democracies afloat? Well for one thing this: both they and the marvellous folk at Cern are costing you, me and Mrs Trellis in North Wales a shedload of money. And then some.

However, please console yourselves when next your pension can no longer buy you warmth and food: it’s all for the best, both what those wonderful Cern people and those marvellous bankers are doing. You might not realise it but, well, if you do actually accept that Christ was divine, Allah is merciful, God was an elephant and the only way to be happy is to want absolutely nothing at all, my advice is simple: believe. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

PS I haven’t resorted to referring to the Higgs (see above, saddos) as ‘the God Particle’ because even for this blog that really would be a cliche too far. And the obvious crack is to try a joke or two about the ‘Li-bore’ and ‘Euro-bore’. But do you know, dear reader, it’s so fucking obvious that even this tart can’t be tempted to attempt it.

. . .

This is apropos nothing whatsoever, but I thought I might add my two ha’porth worth. I regularly buy stuff on the eBay (usually computer stuff I really don’t need, but read on anyway) and I am continually amazed that so many people don’t understand the two simple principles of bidding and buying on eBay. I’m not saying I always get what I want, but I can say that when I do get what I want, I never pay more than I want to.

First off, when to bid: leave your bid until the very last moment. It is foolish to alert others interested in the item you want that you, too, are interested.

All you will do by bidding early is push the price up even higher, possibly higher than you want to pay, as others try to discourage you and get the item for themselves. All you will do is - human psychology being what it is and all of us all too often being our worst enemy - carry on bidding for the item for no better reason than YOU want it and you’ll be buggered to be bested by some other, faceless, creature out there in cyberspace. Yes, you will get what you wanted, but you will pay far too much. I know this from experience. Believe it or not, I am just as stupid as you are, perhaps even more stupid, but at least I now know that and try to do something about it.

The problem with leaving your bidding until the last moment is, of course, that you can’t always be at a computer at the time the auction ends in order to put in your final - and, you hope, winning - bid. The answer is to use one of the several services available which will place your bid for you, at the last moment. I use ezsniper - you can find it here. Sign up to one of these - it costs almost nothing but is very much worth it.

The second, and most possibly more important principle, is to decide just how much you want to pay for a particular item. If others want, and are prepared, to pay more, so be it. Just decide for yourself how much that item is worth to you and don’t be suckered into paying more. So when you use one of the bidding services, as I use ezsniper, put in your top bid. I’ll repeat: if others are prepared to pay more, so be it.

Keep in mind that you did not want to pay more - it was not worth more to YOU - and if they outbid you, what the hell: they are paying - as far as YOU are concerned - over the odds. Never forget that the world is not going to end tomorrow (although for some poor saps it will, but you could bet your bottom dollar it won’t be you) and there will be other ‘opportunities’ along in due course. Remember: NEVER pay more for anything than you want to. Yes, sometimes you won’t get what you thought you wanted, but that’s the price you pay for peace of mind. In other word, that’s life.


. . .

I’m in the writing mood (several thousand glasses of white port, of course, have nothing to do with it) so I thought I might bring my most loyal readers up to speed on my holiday/travel arrangements. Non-loyal readers have my dispensation to bugger off and do something else.

Tonight is Saturday, and I am off tomorrow for my usual schlepp up the A303 to London to work my shifts which, apparently, justify the huge sum the Daily Mail pay me every week for sitting at one of its desks and doing as little as possible.

This week, however, I shall not work on the Wednesday but make my way to Gatwick airport to catch a flight to Bordeaux to visit my favourite aunt Ann (in fact a step-aunt) and attend a serious of Renaissance music concerts. These are being held out and about in Bordeaux (the area not the city) and I always enjoy them. Plus it is nice to have a week off, do even less than I do at work, pretend I am a man of the world and sleep a lot more. The great thing about being on holiday is that you can wake up, turn over and go back to sleep again. For some reason I can never go back to sleep when I am not on holiday. I lie awake (having woken at about 7am) telling myself that I don’t have to get up, but I can never drop off again as I can when I am on holiday.

Writing of holidays, my brother Mark and I are planning another joint two weeks away in some gite or other in France. As I know he never reads this, I can reveal (as in ‘reveal’) that of the many reasons I have for going away with him - he’s very good company and my favourite brother for two - I also like to get him away as otherwise he leads a very solitary life. At the beginning of last year, he suffered from a very bad bout of shingles and I decided that a holiday would do him good. So I was pleased that this year he has again agreed to come off with me for two weeks because I feel that two weeks away will do him good.

Why, some of you might be asking, don’t you go off on holiday with your family. Well, the short answer is that I would very much like to. The long answer - well, you’ll have to wait a while for that. We can’t always have what we want. In too many ways my wife and I life on different planets.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ironically enough . . .

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 their 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 cuckoled 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 claiim 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) 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 Emporer's New Clothes.

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