Tuesday, December 30, 2014

RIP my brother Ian (1948-2014)

I can’t start an entry without reporting the most serious news since I last blogged: my older brother has died. I say it is serious news not sad news, because in a way some might understand – and to use that old, even hackneyed phrase – he’s gone to a better place. He and I were both brought up as practising Roman Catholics, and although I have since gone my separate way, he returned to that faith and in RC terms he is now in a happier place: all the shit in this world has now been and gone for him.

For almost all his life he suffered increasingly from poor to bad mental health, and the medication he was prescribed to help him cope also caused him eventually to suffer from dyspraxia (or so I think it’s called – I’ve just looked it up and it doesn’t seem to be the right name). This embarrassed him a great deal.

Most recently he was hospitalised twice for malnutrition and that was the last time I saw him when I went to visit him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the funds to eat, it was just that he had simply stopped eating. When I asked him why, he just replied ‘why should I’.

On the first visit he also insisted that our German-born mother who had grown up in Osnabrück was in fact Dutch-born and had grown up in Holland. I told him this was nonsense but he was adamant (‘I know where my mother was born!’) and I then decided he had perhaps lost something. He certainly wasn’t at all happy these past few years and I could have done something, perhaps, to make him happier. I was close to him throughout most of his illness, which last more or less 40 years, but then something happened which decided me to withdraw a little.

He often stopped taking his medication – usually he simply forgot – and his mental state always deteriorated fast from then on. I could always tell when he was in that state: he was like a different person – arrogant, feeling superior intellectually to everyone else, mocking, and there was also a distinct feeling – increasingly – that he could become violent. I stress that this was in his later years when whatever illness he suffered – no doctor ever put a name to it – grew worse and worse.

One day I got arrived home (in Cornwall) to find he had left three extremely unpleasant answerphone messages. In all three he promised to get a butcher’s knife and ‘stab, stab, stab’ me to death. He had before travelled all the way from London to Cornwall, about 250 miles, and arrived unexpectedly and as my children were still around ten and 12, I decided to cut him off. I now wish I hadn’t, although at the time it seemed the wisest thing to day. (Incidentally, I had previously had a meal with him and noticed he was obviously not taking his medication and alerted his consultant psychiatrist. But he simply pooh-poohed it all.

A month later he left those messages, obviously by then in a far worse state, and was, for the umpteenth time, sectioned. When he was well, he could be witty and quite good company. I say quite good, because we were different characters. He – this might well be a small part of his illness – seemed to be time-warped in the 1960s when we were both still young, and there was in some ways a distinct childlike quality about him. He was also intellectually far more gifted than I am, and could turn his hand to anything if he wanted. The trouble was all too often he didn’t want to.

My brother and sister and I often discussed what was his essential character and what was his illness, and I eventually came to the conclusion that both were the same. Pour milk into a cup of tea and stir it: what is the milk and what is the tea? It’s not a conclusion I like because with illness we all cling to the illusion that ‘there is a cure’. In my brother’s case there doesn’t seem to have been. He and I were born only 21 months apart and in many ways brought up a pair.

Our sister was eight years younger than him and our younger brother ten years. Neither has particularly happy memories of him when they were children. But there again I must ask the same question: was that early bullying already part of the illness from which he later increasingly suffered? What’s the milk and what’s the tea? Who knows?

Since he was last hospitalised he has had carers calling in four times a day to ensure he was eating. Sadly, they couldn’t persuade him to keep himself a little cleaner and a neighbour I talked to this week told me he would often join her on the bus to town stinking of urine.

At 9pm on December 21 a carer called in and found him watching television. She called in again an hour and a half later and he was no longer breathing. A post mortem was held and the cause of death was natural, broncopneumonia and chronic pulmonary respiratory something-of-other.

His current psychiatrist rang me and told me he had been trying to persuade my brother to give up smoking, but Ian simply refused point blank. When I went to see him in hospital he persuaded me to buy him some more cigarettes. I half-heartedly tried to get him to ‘give them up’ but it would have been futile. RIP my brother Ian.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Zero Dark Thirty’s Maya: in real life she is apparently an Alfreda Frances Bikowsky

If anyone has seen that complete farce of a film Zero Dark Thirty in which a tenacious female CIA analyst more or less works out singlehandedly where Osama Bin Laden was, they will have read the film’s legend that the analyst, called Maya in the film, was based on one particular woman, although also partly on the work of others.

That woman has now been named, despite CIA pleas - I suppose they were pleas, though knowing the CIA’s penchant for torture perhaps their demand was a little more forceful than a regular ‘plea’ - not to. She is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky.

I got that name from The Intercept which ignored the CIA’s pleas. I came across the reference to The Intercept when I read a piece in today’s Telegraph outlining how Ms Bikowsky was not quite the bright young button the CIA made her out to be. Apparently, she chose to witness torture personally although as an analyst there was no reason for her to do so, she misinterpreted information to such an extent that the CIA launched a massive hunt for a spurious African-American Al Qaeda cell in Montana, and she lied to the US senate, claiming that ‘torture got result’.

Take a look at the Telegraph piece yourselves for further evidence that Ms Bikowsky was in many ways a disaster waiting to happen. I keep asking myself why the revelations about the fact that the CIA tortured a great many of its detainees rile me so much. After all, I am not an American, Muslim, they didn’t torture me and I’m not otherwise particularly principled.

But they have and they do. I think, as I pointed out in the last entry touching upon this, it is the ‘holier than thou’ attitude of some Americans which so gets up my nose (but once again I shall be at pains to point out that I am not about to indulge in a bout of gratuitous America bashing: there are as many in the country, both Republicans and Democrats, who are equally appalled at what one of their security services has been getting up to).

One thing that does irritate me a great deal is the insistence of many Americans not just that it is most certainly the best country in the world bar none but that the rest of the world us morally obliged to join in the self-adoration. I should imagine every country in the world likes to think it is up there with the best, but none goes on to insist - it seems almost at gunpoint - that everyone else should agree.

Well, might I point out that the U.S. is most certainly not the best country in the world if you are black and/or poor. Certainly, blacks get a raw deal in other countries and every country has its poor underclass. But those other countries don’t trumpet themselves as ‘the land of the free’ and the ‘land of opportunity’.

It is quite bizarre that proportionately more men and women are locked up in jail in the U.S. than in China. Bizarre, but unfortunately true. I doubt whether any of those locked up, whether white, black, hispanic or of any other hue and colour are inclined to join in a chorus in praise of ‘the land of the free’.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What name do we use to describe hypocritical f***s like Uncle Sam and good old Johnny Bull who don’t torture, but do? And why are they so suprised when it becomes obvious many, many people in large parts of the world hate them?

Just finished watching Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies. A week or two ago I watched Green Zone and In The Valley Of Elah. All three, in slightly different ways deal with the ‘war on terror’, the second Iraq War and related jihadi attacks.

None of the three is particularly complimentary about the U.S. actions in the Middle East and all three have been criticised by folk leaving their own reviews on IMDB for being something along the lines of ‘liberal propaganda’. Oh, and all three are Hollywood feature films produced by those who stomped up the money for their production to turn a few million cool bucks or so. Then there’s the slight matter that recently I and the rest of the world have been informed that the CIA - the ‘we never use torture CIA’, yes that bunch - has been torturing its prisoners.

The torture - let’s not get into any mealy-mouthed euphemisms such as ‘enhanced interrogation’, let’s stick to calling it by its real name, torture - was sanctioned by George ‘Dubya’ Bush and his deputy Dick Cheney, and it is very, very likely that Tony Blair and his various foreign secretaries knew it was going on. In what I can only assume to be damage limitation, much noise is being made here in the West that the U.S. is the kind of democratic country where the government can force one of its intelligence agencies to come clean about what it is up to and publish a report on the matter. The smug, though unstated, subtext is: try doing that in Kazakhstan, pal. Well, yippee! That’s fine then, democracy wins again. In that case tell that to those who were tortured.

Actually, that’s not fine, at all, but I am not about to go off on some knuckleheaded anti-American rant, because there are more than enough American citizens who are equally sickened by what the CIA - the ‘we never use torture CIA, yes that bunch - got up to.

Wiser heads have long pointed out that information apparently obtained by torture is rarely of any use because in the end those being tortured will tell you whatever they think will persuade you to stop torturing them.

Then there’s Guantanamo Bay and the poor fucking saps still incarcerated there for no better reason than the U.S administration would like to keep them incarcerated there.

Several British citizens, including Shayer Aamer, have been locked up Guantanamo Bay for many years, despite all the hoo-haa Britain indulges in about the principle of habeas corpus incorporated in our Magna Carta (in six months time exactly 900 years ago). The British government keeps telling us it is insisting that the U.S. should release those British citizens incarcerated there or charge them and bring them to trial, but they are getting nowhere.

Perhaps they would get a little further if they insisted a little more strongly. I don’t know. What strikes me as blindingly obvious is that no one should be in the least bit surprised at the outright hatred felt for the U.S. and Britain by many in the Middle East and, it seems increasingly here in Britain by many hotheads. Here we are preaching ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ one minute and then torture and kill those to whom we are preaching those values the next.

Yes, I know the situation is not simple, yet in a sense it is very simple: Western behaviour has been obscenely hypocritical for decades and that behaviour shows no sign of abating. Of the three films - the fact that at the end of the day it was made as entertainment to make money for the producers notwithstanding - Body Of Lies was decent enough to portray the deceit, double standards, hypocrisy and the consequent outright stupidity of some in the U.S. in the character played by Russell Crowe, and even the nominal ‘hero’, played by Leonardo Di Caprio is no one to write home about, although by the end of the film he quits because he is too disillusioned. And yet it’s still only a fucking film.

There was no director to shout ‘cut’ to end the torture a great may went through at the hands of the CIA, no one to tell whoever was in charge that the chap they were keeping awake for nights and days on end - I think in the case cited it was 172 hours - should be allowed to get a decent night’s sleep. This wasn’t Hollywood make believe, this was real, real torture. But what’s going to happen? Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing.

The West will go on preaching its stupid message that it wants to bring democracy and human rights to the Middle East, they will still not be believed, hotheads will still travel to Syria where they are likley to get themselves killed, and Hollywood will still go on making ‘entertainment’ out of real evil. Oh, and people like me will carry on writing, almost inarticulately because they feel so much anger at their impotence to do anything about what is nominally being done in their name, about the disgusting practice their governments get up to. And others will carry on reading what we are writing and dismissing it all as liberal codswallop. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

I have an 18-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. I like to hope that when they get to my age these things will not be happening any more. But I know they will. That’s the worst part of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I’m back and so is The French Stud

I’ve not written here for several weeks, and I’ve been wondering why. I know it has something to do with reaching a certain age at my last birthday, but it wasn’t that completely, either. But has spurred me on again to put fingers to keyboard is a comment my son has just made. Very often we will watch a film together on a Saturday night, and usually I watch something he will like rather than something I will like which could very well bore him. For example, I watched Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt several times and think it’s a very good film.

Trouble is it isn’t actually what folk think it will be: just another shoot ‘em up flick with a few punch-ups and car chases (a la Miami Vice). I recommended it and we sat down to watch it (actually lay down, because my wife will have commandeered the TV set - we are a one-set household - so we watch it lying on my bed on my laptop with a earphone splitter. But that’s by the by. I recommended it and it started and I soon sensed he was getting bored (he’s 15/16). So after about 15 I asked him and he admitted he wasn’t enjoying it. From then on if I suggest a film or he asks me to suggest one, I’ll make sure it’s something he might be expected to enjoy.

Tonight I suggested David Fincher’s The Game. I saw it the other night - after having caught the last ten minutes several years ago, so I knew the ending, dammit - and enjoyed it. OK, it’s nothing but a Hollywood shaggy dog story, but it’s done with panache and if you haven’t seen it, i.e. don’t know the ending, it’s very intriguing.

Anyway, I suggested it and he asked ‘is it an old film’. No, I told him, it’s not. When was it made, he asked. I told him ‘1997’. Then it is an old film. I asked him how he worked that out. ‘It was made before I was born,’ he told me. Well, I sort of understand it. The trouble is that the early 1980s still, in some ways, seem like yesterday to me. But anyone born in, say, 1983, would today be 31. So they aren’t ‘like yesterday’.

Here are two more films which I rate a great deal but I’m sure would bore the pants off my son. The both star Tommy Lee Jones, who’s a cracking actor: The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada (which he also directed) and In The Valley Of Elah, which is a good take on the pressures which men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan had to suffer, although it isn’t a war film as such, but a thriller. Anyway, I’m back.

. . .

The blogger stats tell me that the majority of visitors to this blog are interested in one Francois Hollande (aka The French Stud). I’m not, but the rule is to give your public what they want, so here is the latest pic of Hollande. This time he allows himself to be photograph looking a complete dick in a

full traditional Kazakh costume. Next to him is his dealer, one Nursultan Nazarbayev, who likes to be known as The President locally. But as Kazakhstan as an appalling human rights record and isn’t averse to locking up lazy bloggers and throwing away the key, I’d better keep my head down. Except to tell you that Nursultan Nazarbayev is a lovely, lovely man.

. . .

It seems the euro is about to enter a new phase in its slow, but inexorable, journey down the pan, but that’s for another entry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And finally the big one . . . PLUS proof that the Daily Mail still hasn’t lost the plot

Well, I’m rapidly approaching that milestone in everyone’s life which surely is the biggest of the big ones: 65, the age or retirement (at least here in Britain for men until next year). It seems to have arrived rather quickly, but then time does seem to pass ever faster as you get older.

Can’t say I feel much different to what I felt like when I was 25 or 35 or 45. That’s the irony: as every ‘old crock’ will tell you, you are still the same person — what is different is how you are perceived by the rest of the world. In a way you simply become invisible. I can still remember the horrible shock I felt more than 30 years ago when it was first brought home to me that I was no longer seen as ‘young’.

I was on a small course in studio recording, one of a group of about eight or nine, and I took a shine to a very pretty woman of a bout 18/19. I asked her out for a drink, and she turned me down, but she wasn’t at all unpleasant about it or rude: it was the look in her face and her attitude which spoke volumes. What it said was: are you kidding me? Someone your age? You must be joking! I had just turned 30. Christ, was it deflating. And generally what did increasingly upset me was slowly but inevitably becoming a non-person as far as tasty women was concerned. Turning 30, I believe, hits women harder than it hits guys, but I don’t remember it as being very pleasant.

Turning 40 wasn’t quiet as bad, though I did feel I was moving on a bit. I remember going to the doctor complaining of backache and he had some X-rays done. When I went to see him the second time, he assured me that there was nothing wrong, just ‘some deterioration of the spine’. Lord, I said, nothing wrong? What caused that then? Come on, he said, your are getting older. That was a bit of a blow.

Turning 50 — well, I thought I would hate it, but in the event I didn’t give a toss. And oddly enough I found I was beginning to worry less about life. Or rather, I was only worrying about the rather more important things. And that worrying was done in a far more practical way. I didn’t like turning 60 as much five years ago (my birthday is this Friday, on November 21), though I can’t really remember why. But since then birthdays have come and gone without me giving them much thought at all. Believe it or not, I have even once or twice forgotten it was my birthday.

I would be able to retire next week, but I’m not going to and hope to carry on working for a while yet, mainly because I want to save up more money. I shan’t have an enormous pension as it is, although down here in the hickland of North Cornwall, you don’t really need that much dosh. As usual the major bills come from electricity, council tax and running cars. I suppose when I do eventually hang up my pen, I could get rid of either my or my wife’s car to cut bills, but that remains to be seen. The only real difference I have noticed is that I don’t fancy going out partying as I used to and feel no shame at all in going to bed at 7pm and watching a film or reading a book. (TV bores me and what programmes I do watch, I watch on catch-up).

As for health, well, what is there to say? I had a heart attack more than eight years ago, but since then - touch wood - have had no trouble, and as for the everything else, I just keep my fingers crossed. I don’t drink a lot, and although I do smoke cigars (bought cheaply in Holland, as I keep pointing out in case anyone thinks I’m some kind of rich plutocrat), I don’t smoke a lot of them, fewer in the winter, I because I always smoke outside.

So there you have it. I have held off writing this blog entry for several weeks because, oddly and illogically, there does still seem to be something vaguely reprehensible about ‘getting older’. And I would prefer that you, who is reading this, picture me as some kind of young, devil-may-care chappie who is always up for a laugh. A bit like the chap below.

. . .

There might yet be some doubt that the Daily Mail is, in fact, working on the cutting edge of journalism. Well, here are two stories which might calm your fears.

The first provides proof that in the Antarctic seals are raping penguins.

Then there’s the touching story of the Irish bull who has been saved from execution, a fate which most certainly seemed his after he refused to mate with heifers.

Finally, there’s the reassuring news that despite owning an arse the size of Manhattan, Kim Kardashian can squeeze into a pink PVC dress. Well!

Monday, November 10, 2014

As Goebbels said: If you tell a lie, tell a big one. Blair and Bush agree. Eleven years on and more than 200,000 folk dead, they got away with it. Why did they do it?

Over the past few days I watched two films which reminded me once more of the second Iraq War and how Blair and Bush got away – I suppose quite literally – with murder. And before I carry on, I should substantiate that last statement: according to Wikipedia 4,425 U.S. servicemen and women were killed between 2003 and 2014. This website puts the figure higher, at 6,802. The number of UK service personnel who were killed is a lot lower, but then the UK supplied far fewer troops. But these figures are dwarfed by the number of Iraqis who have died: again according to Wikipedia around 286,667 of them were killed between 2003 and 2013.

Blair and Bush, of course, are still alive. Blair is well on his way to becoming one of the richest former British Prime Ministers and as to what George Dubya is now up to, well, I don’t know and to be honest I don’t want to spend a second finding out. I like to think that he has spent some time since leaving office reflecting on just how much misery he has caused a great many people, but I doubt it.

The two films I saw were Green Zone, starring Matt Damon, which dealt directly with the big lie about Saddam Hussein having a lethal stash of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which – according to Blair’s claim – were a direct threat to the West because they could be unleashed within 45 minutes, and In The Valley Of Elah, starring Tommy Lee Jones, which touches on the havoc caused by the second Iraq War far more obliquely.

Of the two, the second was more subtle, but both – with reservations – were a cut above your average gungho war hoss opera. I felt that Green Zone started well, but finally morphed into what its producers will have insisted upon: just another war film with ‘exciting’ chases and the rest. In The Valley Of Elah was a completely different film entirely, a murder mystery, but the dehumanising effects on a group of U.S servicemen of having served in the invasion of Iraq was core to the film.

. . .

I watched the Green Zone with my son, now 15, and, although I was very careful to stress that my view is just one of many and many folk will talk the complete opposite view, I gave him a basic outline of – what I regard – the great WMD con, which was at the centre of Green Zone. I also used it to try to help him get his head around the concept of a ‘moral dilemma’. In this case I posed the question:

On the one hand Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant; there were no political freedoms in Iraq at the time; many folk went in fear of their lives from the secret police; there was no real rule of law; but women had far greater freedom than in many neighbouring Arab states; broadly, the country was stable and there was little unemployment; and a university education was available to all who wanted one (and who, of course, were acceptable to the regime).

On the other, the people of Iraq now – nominally – live in a democracy; but they are still often in fear of their lives because of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims; water and electricity supplies can be erratic; there is a great deal of unemployment; the country is under threat from the murderous thugs who are Islamic State.

So, I asked him, would it have been better to leave Saddam where he was? Was that the ‘right’ thing to have done when one compares the lot of the people now with the people under his rule when he was alive?

There is, of course, no answer, or rather no correct answer. Bush and Blair (I told my son) would undoubtedly claim that what they did was justified and justifiable because they ‘liberated’ Iraq from a murderous tyrant. Critics of Bush and Blair (which, I told him, include me) would point out that the rise of Islamic State would most probably never have come about had it not been for the second Iraq War. And (I pointed out to him) given that WMDs never existed, how could anything good have come from such a blatant lie. Nevertheless, some folk would argue that it did.

. . .

Both films underline an irony which permeates the Hollywood world of filmmaking and of producing proselytising art generally. Of the two, as I have already pointed out, despite the, to my mind, admirable way it tried to tackle the big WMD lie, Green Zone did finally pull its punch and did, sadly, end as just another war film. In The Valley Of Elah has its critics (on IMDB) from servicemen who say it misrepresents life in the army and the reality of life serving in Iraq, and there is little I can honestly comment about their claims, for obvious reasons.

Usually I can smell bullshit from some distance, and I didn’t get that impression from Tommy Lee Jones’s film. In fact, I rather thought it admirably did play the whole thing very straight when I might perhaps have been tempted to jazz things up for the audience. And resisting that temptation helped to make it, in my view, the very excellent film it is and one I can highly recommend.

. . .

What I really want to do in this entry, apart from recommend one film and laud another as almost there, is to resurrect the matter of fucking George ‘Dubya’ Bush and Tony Blair getting away scot-free with conning their own governments into launching an invasion on a sovereign state for, as far as I am concerned, no very good reason at all. They have got away with it. But there’s even more to it than that (and this is also something I told my son): in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York, Bush claimed that Saddam was somehow in league with Osama Bin Laden and was aiding and abetting him. The protests from his own intelligence services that this was most certainly not true notwithstanding – Satan would have a better chance palling up with God than Al Qaeda would with Saddam - he went full-steam ahead and insisted on an invasion. But he needed allies. Everyone told him to fuck off – except Tony Blair.

There are two big, but related deep, deep mysteries here: what was Bush’s real motive for wanting to invade Iraq? And what was Blair’s motive for pledging his support? One explanation (I told my son) and one which I find quite convincing although it is admittedly almost beyond belief was that, at heart, Bush, a recovering alcoholic who always felt he was second-best in his father’s eyes when compared with his brother Jeb, was simply desperate to impress pop, George Bush Snr. Really, you ask? Really? Well, stranger things have occurred, and I do honestly think that lay at the heart of Dubya’s otherwise quite inexplicable decision to invade.

So why did Blair agree to support the invasion? Here I once more think basic human psychology is at play: I have long thought that Blair has somehow, somewhere got a screw loose, that he might well be a sociopath. Most certainly he has the facility for believing his own lies. And I think he gave his support to Dubya because his overwheening vanity made him want to cut more of a dash in the world, to make his mark. Really, you ask? Really? Are you sure?

Well, of course, I can’t be sure, but I think that is a lot closer to the truth than any other suggestion I’ve heard. That’s where the bullshit of the WMDs comes in: for once having decided to invade, Bush and Blair needed a pretext and, crucially, needed the blessing of a UN resolution. The UN, it had to be said, was sceptical from the start, but as the evidence for Saddam’s spurious stockpile of WMDs was constructed it finally gave its agreement.

What is now universally accepted is that although Saddam did, at one point, have such a stockpile, he got rid of it. Saddam wasn’t daft, and with UN weapons inspectors crawling around everywhere they could it was simply too risky to try to hide any and give Bush the pretext he needed. The weapons inspectors didn’t find a thing. But the pretext was needed: without it there could be no invasion and already U.S. and British troops were being shipped to the Middle East. It was obvious to even the deafest dog in Washington DC that the invasion was going to take place. But it couldn’t without evidence. So finally that evidence was fabricated and the myth of Saddam’s ‘hidden WMDs’ was born.

It is difficult to trace how it started but I believe tame intelligence agents picked up on a piece of info from some source or other, something someone had let slip in a taxi in, I think, Jordan. And from this, the slightest possible beginnings, an edifice of lies was erected.

The process was simple and will be well-known to anyone who has told a whopper and is then questioned on it: further whoppers have to follow. So, for example, the claim that ‘Saddam was able to launch a lethal attack on the West within 45 minutes’ came about from a tabloid newspaper splash headline (simplify, then exaggerate being the journalists’ principle at play here): at one point someone was asked how long it would take for Saddam’s forces to ‘get their weapons system ready’? Oh, they could do it in about 45 minutes, came the reply (most probably off the top of someone’s head).

What was the reach of Saddam’s rockets? came another question. Oh, was the reply, they were most certainly a threat to all the countries in the Middle East. Could those rockets reach Europe? came the next question. Could be, was the response. That’s when some stupid night editor did his job properly. Simplify, then exaggerate: the splash headline was something like ’45 minutes from attack’. Except that we weren’t.

Under threat - nominally under threat - were British bases in Cyprus and parts of Turkey and Greece. Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, Berlin and The Hague were as

safe as houses. But – and here’s the next useful journalists’ principle: never let a few facts ruin a good story. That’s all pretty much par for the course, but the real scandal is how Blair and his government react. They should have publicly stated it was all a load of cobblers. But they didn’t because it played into their hands very nicely.

Crucially, Blair never made the claim, but neither did he deny it. This was all included in the infamous ‘dossier’ which was compiled by Blair’s team, which included his Press spokesman Alistair Campbell (incidentally another recovering alcoholic, but adding that is just me being gratuitously unpleasant), Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff and John Scarlett, a tame MI6 bod who – surprise, surprise – was later knighted and appointed head of MI6. The dossier was rewritten several times to ‘sharpen it up’ and possibilities became probabilities and so the big WMD lie took shape.

It was bought by Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State (to his eternal regret and embarrassment – I bet neither Blair or Bush is on his Christmas card list) who made an impassioned speech to the UN asking for its support. And this he got. All based on a huge, huge, huge lie, which both Blair and Bush (and, I should imagine Campbell, Powell and Scarlett as well as assorted tame intelligence officers in Washington who are always prepared to further their careers) knew was totally and utter cobblers. And they got away with it. But close on 200,000 people have since died because – I’ll stress again, in my view – the inferiority complex of one man and the overwheening vanity of another.

. . .

They got away with it and they will get away with it for ever. Too much has happened since for anyone to care much about raking it all up again. But more’s the pity. And I also told my son that, the young lad who will sit in front of his Xbox for hours playing Call Of Duty and blasting folk to kingdom come. I rag him about it, and tell him war is nothing like that in real life, but I let him carry on because I want him to reach his own conclusions, to understand for himself why I object to the game. Sounds daft, I know: why don’t I just stop him? I’ll repeat: because I want to bring up my two children to think for themselves, to make their own moral judgments. But I am pretty certain that in time those judgments will be very much like mine.

. . .

The quote from Joseph Goebbels was actually something he wrote in his diary commenting on Winston Churchill (though I have no idea about what specifically). He wrote: ‘ . . . that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Now here’s a surprise — the Daily Mail comes clean and admits: We print complete shite bollocks crap nonsense! Or in the paper’s own words: We are WRONG about everything. And I have successfully culled my burgeoning population of iPhones and partially redeemed my reputation for being at least a little bit sane

I’m always prepared to be surprised and am still looking forward to that jaw-dropping moment when bankers throughout the Western world agree to forgo their annual bonus and donate it to charity. Yes, I do know it will be along wait. We might even get a glimpse of Lord Lucan having a pint with Elvis Presley before that happens. But I was surprised when I came across the following story on the Daily Mail website, Mailonline. Take a look at it here before you read on.

‘So what’s so surprising about that?’ you might well now be asking. Well, if you don’t live in Britain or don’t regularly log onto the Mailonline to get ‘middle England’s’ take on domestic and world events, not a lot. But if you do, you might agree with me that it is quite a bizarre story for the Mail to publish.

Let me make it clearer: it is not in itself an odd story. What is decidedly odd is that the Mail is publishing it. Why? Well, Mailonline and the paper which spawns it might just as well headline the story: ‘Guess what, we’ve been telling you a whole load of crap for these past 40 years’. (As it was the headline begins with something of a tacit admission: ‘How we are WRONG about everything. . .’

The point is that the Mail’s empire is more or less built on claims such as ‘most of our young teenage girls are whores who drop another one every nine months’; ‘the country is being swamped by immigrants’; ‘Muslims are taking over the country’; ‘Britain is no longer a Christian country’; ‘a quarter of our population are feckless layabout scroungers on jobless benefit’; ‘democracy is in danger: hardly anyone bothers to vote anymore!’.

We now know — courtesy of the Mail — that such claims are all complete cobblers. The proportion of 15-19 girls who have a ‘love child’ is not almost one in five, but just 3 per cent; immigrants don’t now make up a quarter of Britain’s population, but just 16 per cent; Muslims don’t make up one in five of Britain’s population but

just one in 20; Britain is not a heathen nation which has abandoned Christianity, but, in fact, more than half of all Britons identify as Christian; and finally it isn’t almost a quarter of Britons of working age who are out of a job, but just a rather smaller 7 per cent.

I feel I must again make the point which is crucial in considering this story: those Brits who do believe that most of us are feckless, jobless scroungers who are forever becoming pregnant in order to diddle the state out of more benefits and believe that Christians are now in a minority who are taken to court for sending a — Christian — Christmas card, it is largely because the Mail is one of several papers which tells them. But the Mail is now the same paper which is apparently holding up its hands and loudly proclaiming: ‘We print total bollocks — official!’

My first thought when I saw the story on the Mailonline website yesterday — it doesn’t seem to have appeared in the paper, but then a lot of the shite which appears on Mailonline doesn’t — was that the C team was editing the day it appeared and that the plug would soon be pulled and the story would be well and truly buried.

I made a note of it and decided to write about it in this blog, but when I went to Mailonline earlier today to find it again to get the web address, I couldn’t at first find and thought someone with a bit of more nous than the usual set of YTS teens they employ on the Mailonline had made sure the story was pulled. But then I found it further down the page, pushed down the agenda by such gems as (as of today at 7pm) ‘Neymar collects new love interest on private jet’ and ‘Ministers admit 32 murderers and rapists are on the run . . . as figures reveal 12 sex offenders attack every MONTH after being released from prison’ (which, you must admit is far more like it).

I suppose you could be charitable and look at it like this: the Mail is not above taking an honest look at itself in the mirror. But you would, in my view, be wholly wrong to be so charitable. Any night editor (or whatever they call the bods who do the job on Mailonline) should have been aware of how ridiculous carrying that particular story makes the Mail look and deleted it asap. But no one did, which makes me suspect they are even greater amateurs than we print hacks thought.

There is, of course, another explanation: that someone was aware of the irony of the Mail carrying that story - irony not being one of the Mail’s stronger suites — but decided their readers are too bloody thick to notice how stupid it might make the paper look. Who knows?

. . .

For those who care and who read my recent entry about inadvertently — and rather carelessly — becoming the owner of not one, not two, not three, but FOUR iPhones for nigh-on a week, I have good news. I now own just two. And if that still seems excessive, bear with me. It’s traditional, see.

I’ve long had two smartphones: one on Vodafone which is the number everyone calls me on (or rather on which everyone could call me, but doesn’t — I get about three phone calls a month, and they usually consist of a brief ‘Mum says can you get some milk.’) The other is on Three and the rationale — yes even a down-to-earth super unpretentious blog such as this must occasionally be allowed a ‘rationale’ — was to use it to listen to online to Five Live coverage of Champions League matches as I sped out of London on a Wednesday night towards my halfway stop at the Brewers Arms in South Petherton, Somerset, where I could usually catch most of the second half on Sky TV.

I used it because until very recently Three had a £15 a month deal which gave you unlimited ‘all you can eat’ internet data. And as everyone who listens to radio, Spotify or watches TV on 3G knows, it sure as hell eats the data. So there you go, the man’s not quite as daft as he sometimes seems.

Except that he is.

You see for no very good reason I can think of, a few months ago I bought a Three ‘mifi’ which acts as a mobile router and to which a smartphone can be tethered to get a signal. And then, er, it gets even sillier: in the summer, I bought secondhand, again for no very good reason I can recall, a third generation iPad with wifi and cellular access. And I got a Three tablet chip for it. So I don’t, er, actually need that second smarthphone.

When I recently rationalised my growing collections of mobile phones, some smart, some not — well, to be fair, this household’s collection in that one or two of them weren’t mine — I didn’t actually have to replace the second Three smartphone with a second Three iPhone. But I did, and that is what was the root cause of the confusion which ended up with me owning four iPhones (which, incidentally, were all used).

So overall I had three different means for tuning in online to Five Live as I sped down the M3 and the A303. Be that as it may, I got rid of two of them on eBay (where I had got them to begin with), one at a slight profit, the second returned to some shyster in Plymouth who listed it as ‘manufacturer refurbished’ when it was nothing of the kind, a ratty piece of shit with two distinct faults which meant it couldn’t be used.

I eventually got a refund (or shall finally get it next Tuesday), but the ratbag had already put it up for auction once he knew it would be coming back into his sweaty hands, but before I had even sent it off. Here is the listing for when I bought it:

and here is his second listing:

Can you spot the difference?

He sold it for £120, but doubtless his latest victim will cut up as rough as I did and demand his or her money back. But overall the good news is: I no longer own four iPhones, just two.

As a certain Peter McHackey is apt to say: Isn’t life grand!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to become the owner of four iPhones you don’t want: it’s not that hard, believe it or not, and a lot easier if you are – like me – an idiot. And talking of idiots: Manchester United. What is going on?

I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest blade in the box (although if someone else were to do me the honour of making the claim, I would be flattered even though I know it would be complete shite), but every so often I find myself in a situation where even I, myself, doubt whether the lift always goes to the top floor. I am now in such a situation.

I can rapidly reassure any folk who might be concerned that my life is not in danger or anything of that kind, but if word got out, my credibility would once again be in shreds. And might I add a plea to one of my regular readers (read on and you will know who you are) to keep the following well under wraps and not to inform any of our mutual friends and colleagues of what I am about to reveal (although asking a hack, even a retired hack to keep something to himself is the very definition of futile. Still. Last July,

I came clean and gave an account of the many mobile phones knocking around Powell Towers. I am glad to say I have since got rid of most of them on eBay. But that’s as good as it gets. For now, believe it or not, have in the space of just ten days become the owner of not just one, not two, not even three, but four iPhones.

It doesn’t help my credibility very much when I add that all are used. It all began when my son, who has a part-time job washing dishes in a local pub and has saved himself a little money, asked me to help him buy an iPhone on eBay. (This is a lad, by the way, who doesn’t actually use a phone, and has had passed on to him about three phones, not of which he has used.) Certainly, I told him, and what did he have in mind? It was an iPhone 5s he said, which would now be coming down in price with the – then imminent – release of the iPhone 6. So I kept an eye out and managed to find a 16Gb model.

His price limit was £300, and this one was going for £366, so being a good-hearted kind of chap, I coughed up the rest myself – I mean, what are dads for? He was very happy with it. That’s when the rot set in: I decided that if I made an effort to sell all the other phones I had, including the two – yes, two, though for a reason – I could then afford to buy on for myself and not really be out of pocket. And as I also sold my iPod Classic and a 64Gb iPod Touch,

I realised that I might be able to find a 64Gb iPhone 5s which could double up as my iPod. And that is what I did, and on October 12 landed a very nice one for exactly £366. That was a stroke of luck because all other 64Gb iPhone 5s were going for at least another £100.

But let me explain why I ran two phones and why I decided to get a second iPhone, though this time just a 4s. My usual phone is on Vodafone, but I have been using another on Three which (until this week) had a deal of unlimited internet data for just £15 a month. And that meant that when I was travelling up and down to London, I could listen to Five Live coverage of Champions League matches.

So I bid for one on eBay – ‘manufacturer refurbished’ – and won it for £142. It arrived on Monday morning. I stuck in the sim, and tried to activate it, but was informed that it couldn’t be activated. Worse, it couldn’t be turned off, either. And the condition was pretty manky. So I decided to get my money back from the seller.

In the meantime, later that night I bid for another 4s and used ezsniper to put in my bid at the last minute (it works a treat, by the way: you put in the maximum you are prepared to pay and if it goes higher, who cares, you weren’t going to pay more anyway. On the other hand no one is aware of your interest and as your bid only goes in with three seconds to spare the price is not jacked up and I’ve found you get the item for a lot less than your maximum).

Later that night I saw another offering which looked good at a reasonable price, but this time a Buy It Now. So I bought it now – and realised only too late that I was already bidding on the first iPhone (well, the third if you have been following).

When I realised I was up at Tesco getting something for my supper, but even rushing back in order to cancel the bid didn’t help: I’d bloody won. So in a matter of minutes I was the proud owner of four iPhones, two of which I didn’t want. The manky one is now on its way back to the seller who will give me a refund. The second will go up for auction again. But do I deserve to be called a prat? You know, I think I do.

. . .

I’ve just been watching, here in the Brewers Arms in South Petherton where I break my journey on a Wednesday night, Arsenal save face in the nick of time. Elsewhere Liverpool were stuffed by Real Madrid and are unlikely to get through to the second knock-out round. After the matches finished, I went to the BBC sports site to look at the Champions League tables.

I couldn’t find mention of my team, Manchester United at all. Well, obviously I couldn’t because they didn’t qualify. But remembering that took a second or two. And I reflected just how odd it was that they were not able to take part this year. They have got off to a poor start and even under the managership of Louis ‘Mr Magic’ van Gaal, they are not really thriving.

Yesterday they had the opportunity to go fourth again, but didn’t. Ok, so they drew, but winners don’t draw – they win. And although they drew 2-2, each time they scored they came from behind.

Despite brave talk by van Gaal that they could still win the Premier League in May, I don’t think so. And I’ll be contented if they manage to qualify for the Champions League next year. But will they? Will they? I somehow doubt it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Heard of Grant Green? No, nor had I until I heard him play. And in case you haven’t yet come across them: Boardwalk Empire and Ray Donovan, the best since The Sopranos

This is where I come clean: I am a bullshitter. There, I’ve said it, though it’s not perhaps as you imagined it to be. To be honest, I’m not much more a bullshitter than the rest of you except out there, that I am, perhaps stupid enough/have the good grace - delete as applicable - to admit it. And here’s how I decided to tell you or - in the speak of our glorious red tops (US: gutter press, but don’t get quite so high and mighty about your imagined elevated description) - come clean.

First off, I like jazz, and as I get older, I like jazz even more. I have not idea why. While I am writing this, jazz has been playing on my laptop and I happened to ask my wife, who was in here in the kitchen washing up, do you like this. She, unequivocally - and, to be honest, few women can be quite as unequivocal as my wife - told me, no. I asked why. She said ‘it all sounds the same’.

Well, no, it doesn’t. But then I like jazz and she doesn’t, and trying to persuade someone that jazz isn’t necessarily just the mish-mash of total bollocks they think it is is rather harder than persuading a five-year-old that garlic isn’t all that bad, come on, it’s OK, just give it a chance (you tiny little bastard). Then there are those jazzers I like.

The great thing about jazz is that, magically and unlike music in other genre, you simply don’t ever come across any jazz musician you’ve never heard of and decide ‘I don’t like him’. Coming across a new musician you’ve never heard of invariably means that the body of stuff you like gets ever larger. Well, at least that’s the case with me.

Because I play - or, better, try to play - guitar, I am attracted to jazz guitarists. And in my iTunes collection I have, in no particularly order, Wes Montgomery, John Scofield, George Benson, Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt, Jim Hall and several others. I am also addicted to looking up on YouTube looking up jazz scales, jazz chords, jazz progression and the rest. As you are. That is how I came across Grant Green.
Mr Green - why not be respectable and give him his title? - was something of a revelation. I had never heard of him before, but why not? There are many people, not jazz musician, you have never heard, but heard of. But given that the field of ‘jazz guitarists’ is pretty small, it was odd that I’d never even heard of Grant Green. Well, who cares? I eventually did, and I bought some of his recordings. And I’m glad I did. His sound is clean and precise. That doesn’t put him in any kind of opposition to, say, Wes Montgomery, but it does help him define his own ground as his own. Here’s a picture of the lad, and for an aspiring jazzer guitarist, I reckon you couldn’t really do much better.

. . .

As I write this I’m listening to a shuffle play of my iTunes music. So one thing follows another. And although I am now listening to Pink, a minute ago - while writing about Grant Green - I was listening to a track Marcus Miller recorded with Miles Davis. It occurred to me to wonder why the Fifties/Sixties jazz apparently inconsequentiality gave way to the funk and dance music more or less linear music on, for example, Marcus Miller’s recordings with Miles Davis. I know that one thing develops from another, but in recent years it seems to me that one simple thing has given way to an even simpler thing. And if that trend continues, that simpler thing will evolve into and even simpler thing. Worried? Well, not me, except that ‘simple’ usually means ‘pretty bloody boring’.

. . .

There are the latter-day soaps and then there are Boardwalk Empire and Ray Donovan. And both leave your other latter-day soaps standing with their dick in
their hands waiting to be told what the starting pistol is going to sound like. OK, so admittedly these things are subjective, but on the other hand there’s your subjective and my subjective, and if your subjective doesn’t rate both series as la creme de la creme, go and join the queue of those waiting to be told what the starting pistol going to sound like. If you think I’m talking crap, take time off to watch both or either - they are streets ahead of a the competition. Try them. Oh, and absolutely no one does thoroughly likeable, totally charming complete and utter cunt as well as Jon Voight as Ray Donovan’s father Mickey (right).

What I like about Ray Donovan, who is nominally a Bostonian who has relocated to Los Angeles, is that his troubles mount and mount and mount and then when you think they cannot mount any further, they mount again. Yet Ray, supposedly an American Mick portrayed by Liev Schreiber, though a more Jewish actor with a Jewish name for an essentially more Jewish character you could not hope to get for live or money, apparently takes it all in his stride. That’s not to say he isn’t terminally fucked off, because, of course, he is. But he doesn’t let it show. The next complete piece of nonsense which comes his way just has to be dealt with. And that’s it.

There is almost the blackest of black humour running through it all, particularly as you get the feeling that at the end of the day Ray would like nothing better but to chill out with a few good friends and possibly take time out to do someone a favour. Yet it life keeps crashing down in on him again and again and again. If I ever got the chance to be cool, I should like to be cool in the way Ray Donovan is cool. But some hope.

Friday, October 10, 2014

I introduce you to a ‘Journalist’ - not quite what you think. And Ukip has 15 minutes of fame - every dog, as they say, has its day

The other day a colleague - no names, no pack drill, but he is the author of various travel guides to several eccentric cities around Britain all of which you can find on Amazon - arrived at work and announced he had the night before been served a cocktail called a Journalist. And it was very nice, he added. Intrigued by the name I looked it up and discovered it is basically an elaborated gin martini, but decided to try it myself anyway.

I looked it up on the net and came across several sites giving the constituents and proportions. They all vary, but here is a notional guide. As far as I am concerned it is a glorified gin martini: six parts gin to one part each of dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, triple sec or other orange-based liqueur, and one part lemon juice with a dash of bitters and all shaken up in a cocktail shaker with a generous helping of crushed ice.

My verdict (a verdict from a chap who drinks a cocktail about once every month of Sundays, if not quite as often and doesn’t know that much about cocktails): nothing special. It’s OK, but I wouldn’t wake up the neighbours to tell them all about it.

As I get older, I have been drinking less and less, and although there have in the past down here in North Cornwall been nights when I have gone to bed rather drunker than sober, they are, to be honest, few and far between and with increasing years getting fewer and further between. I simply don’t much like hangovers.

Ironically, however, were someone to come into our house and take a look behind the kitchen door where I keep some of my booze, they could not be blamed for thinking they have entered the house of a raving alky (and as I use that word the usual apologies go out to all those raving alkies who feel I am not respecting them and their situation). There is everything there and then some: Campari, cider, Pernod, ouzo, tonic, schnapps (which should be in the freezer, but isn’t) port, sherry, orange juice, vermouths, brandy, Cointreau, port, triple sec - the list goes one. And it grows longer by the week. The wine is kept next to the Rayburn.

For example, knowing that I wanted to try out a Journalist (and it does sound a pretty naff name for a cocktail, just a tad too self-conscious and pseudo-ironical), I
bought all the ingredients and equipment I thought we didn’t have in the house, a cocktail shaker being most important. Well, I could have saved myself the new bottle of dry vermouth, because I already have a sealed bottle. So now I have two. I had considered that a sealed jam jar might be equally as effective for use as a cocktail shaker, and, big enough, it most certainly would be, but I did manage to track down a bona fide cocktail shaker at Homebase for £13, so what the hell. It will do good service until my wife ‘tidies up and puts it away’ and I forget all about it as I have forgotten all about all manner of gadgets I have bought in a fit of enthusiasm, a fit which as a rule lasts no longer than one and a half weeks, two weeks max.

Speaking of ‘putting away’, I had occasion to look ‘under the stairs’ yesterday (we have storage space ‘under the stairs’ where my wife sticks most things, but as it is so crowded there, I rarely venture in to find something because it is such a potch ensuring it all gets crammed in so that the small door can be closed).

I was hunting down a small CD of software which I couldn’t find elsewhere and so decided must have been ‘put away under the stairs’ so ‘under the stairs’ was the obvious place to look. What I found, of course, was even more booze: another bottle of Campari (do like my Campari and tonic and Campari and ornage juice and don't care who knows it even if it is thought to be the drink of pubescent teenage girls), more sherry, more port and Cava.

No expensive champagne in this household, oh no, especially if you are going to adulterate it with brandy to make a Champagne Cocktail, details of which you can find here and several bottles of red and white wine, all of which were presents to my wife over the years. Oh, and don’t at all be put off by the idea of a Champagne Cocktail. At least a gang of four to six can enjoy themselves living a supposed high life knocking them back for less than £12.

All it needs is a bottle of the cheapest cooking brandy, a bottle of Cava and several sugar lumps. If you like you could add a dash of bitters, but I really can’t see the point. The drink is one of those which tastes out of all proportion to the quality and effort which has gone into making it. That is: quality so-so, effort negligible, but enjoyment top class. Plus if your friends are snobbish - and aren’t in on the secret - you score double the Brownie points.

Try it, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Remember: you’re going to fuck up the ‘champagne’ by adding brandy and your going to fuck up the brandy by adding ‘champagne’, so for God’s sake don’t bother with anything even vaguely expensive unless you’re a chav trying to persuade yourself you’re not.

Anyhow, I mixed up my Journalist tonight, sat down with my wife and watched the latest edition of Emmerdale (which I haven’t seen in about 14 years - it’s still bollocks) and polished off what amounted to three tumblers of the cocktail. It was three because rather underwhelmed by the pretty tart, not to say sour, taste of the drink when I first tried it, I added more triple sec and more sweet vermouth. It helped a little. Overall: OK, but I wouldn’t stake my reputation on it becoming the next drink of the month.

. . .

Look at a map of the world and you’ll notice, not for the first time I’m sure, that Great Britain is rather smaller and physically less impressive than a fly on an elephant’s arse. OK, so over the years it has played a great part in world history but let’s not settle for past glories. It is not the most insignificant of nations and the innovation of its engineers, scientists and pop artists has made a tidy sum for many. But what goes on here is not of that much interest to folk elsewhere in the world, so if you want to slouch off, roll a joint, get a beer or take a dump, now’s the time to do it while I recount the latest successes of Ukip.

Who they? Exactly.

To hear the pundits you would think that that the past 24 hours have been akin to a British second coming. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

To fill in those who have decided not to slouch off, roll a joint, get a beer or take a dump: there has been an increasing antipathy to the EU here in Britain and just over 20 years ago an academic called Alan Sked formed a pressure group to try to counteract the then popular political enthusiasm for the EU because he didn’t think the Tory party (i.e. our Conservative Party) was being resolute enough in its opposition. He attracted quite some support, but rather worried about the nature of some of his supporters, he finally quite the leadership (or was ousted - I neither know nor care).

What bothered him was what he perceived as a somewhat racist undercurrent and the Ukip seemed to attract those for whom the overtly far-right British National Party was a tad infra-dig. They might agree with some if not all of the BNP’s policies, but they were buggered if they were going to identify with such an uncouth bunch. That was then.

Over the years Ukip struggled as a fringe group. It liked to see itself as ‘a political party’ but, really, was nothing of the kind. It was basically a focus and rallying call for pub and golf club bores of all kinds (and that description might well indicate how I feel about them). It all changed about five years ago with the financial collapse and a growing disillusionment with the three mainstream political parties, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour.

The Tories got it in the neck because - courtesy of our popular press which caricatured the EU out of existence - it was not seen as ‘anti-EU enough for many Tories. Labour got it in the neck because it was seen as the party which ‘had allowed all those bloody immigrants to come to Britain and live the life of Riley on the back of our benefit system’. And the Lib Dems got it in the neck because they had gone into coalition with the Tories ion 2010 and so were tarred with the same brush (those tarring being none to specific in the crimes they accused the government of).

Europe-wide there has been a kind of right-wing backlash, and here in Britain Ukip were the beneficiaries. A month or so ago a Tory MP left the Conservative Party and joined Ukip. Because he resigned his seat, a by-election was called. Yesterday he regained his seat and will now sit as Ukip’s first MP in the Commons.

In Manchester, in the constituency of Heywood and Middleton, another by-election was held yesterday after the sitting MP, Jim Dobbin, died. It has long been a Labour seat and at the 2010 election Dobbin retained it with a 6,000 vote majority.

Yesterday, Labour retained the seat - but Ukip were only around 600 votes short of taking it. The turnout was very low and I suspect that many Labour voters did not vote, thinking either that Labour would hold it comfortably, or were so pissed off with Labour under its leader Ed Miliband that they didn’t want to vote, but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for anyone else.

Then, of course, there will be those who have previously voted Labour, who decided that Ukip was no the party for them. And for me that is the most important fact about Ukip. The conventional wisdom is that Ukip will soak up Tory votes and harm the Tories at the general election next year. I suspect that there are as many Labour voters who feel Ukip ‘speaks for them’ as there are Tory voters and the Ukip will cause as much damage in many Labour-held seats.

The trouble is, of course, that when push comes to show, no one really knows what Ukip stands for. Ukip has benefited from a protest vote and ‘anyone but this bunch’ sentiment which benefits all outsiders. But to date it has brought forward not one single identifiable policy on anything. They proclaim ‘We will curb immigration’: yippee, but aren’t they aware that however cynical were Labour’s reasons for allowing in a great many immigrants, that immigration has helped the country. And just how will they ‘curb immigration’?

A week or two of long queues at our airports as incoming travellers are sorted out between those ‘we want’ and those ‘we don’t want’ will piss off a sufficient number of people so that the the curbs are ‘temporarily’ suspended and it will be business as usual. As for education, defence, transport, the economy, agriculture and the rest Ukip has come out with nothing but the universal platitudes we have heard year in, year out, from every other party.

As for ‘leaving Europe’ an overarching naivety shoots through everything the party says about the EU. I shall never break a lance for the EU as it stands and the quite awful bureaucratic dogs’ dinner is has become over these past 25 years. But a simplistic ‘right, that’s it, we’re off’ attitude is worse than useless. Yet that is what Ukip seems to stand for.

I suspect the coming general election next May will see another coalition, and hurrah for that. Ukip have made clear that they don’t want to work in coalition but would prefer an informal arrangement - if, of course, they manage to have MPs in the Commons, which is by no means a given - whereby they support a Tory government as and when they want. Yes, it will not be business as usual but I, for one, treat any notion of a coming dawn and a new kind of politics with a great deal of scepticism.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A bleeding heart writes. But then why not? Please don’t be put off by the rather boring preamble about smartphones . . .

For the past week I have been ‘rationalising’ the household stock of mobile phones. That means I have been selling them. And if I am honest, by ‘household’, I mean ‘my’ stock of phones, or almost all my. There are a few - well three - phones which were used by my daughter, but the other 56 - oh, all right, the other 87 - are mine, picked up along the way I don’t know why, and any further analysis of the ‘why’ will only result in sheer embarrassment for me and you will undoubtedly lower your already low opinion from ‘pretty daft’ to ‘possibly certifiable’.

I always like to claim, quite truthfully, that in context the history of the acquisition of each phone makes perfect sense, and it does. The trouble is that recounting that history - as though anyone might be interested - would take at least ten minutes. I have a rule of thumb which runs along the lines of ‘if any explanation of any kind of unusual behaviour takes lasts for longer than 20 seconds, switch off, count the silver spoons, make your excuses and leave at your earliest’. If that is my rule of thumb, quite honestly I can’t blame anyone else for adopting it and, more pertinently, applying it to me. But given the sheer volume of ancient, old and old-fashioned mobiles cluttering up the various drawers in the house, I am have now started a selling campaign on eBay.

It all started when my son, living proof that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, enlisted my help - he’s not daft, though in that respect the apple must have fallen a little further than is usual - to get him an iPhone. He had set his heart on an iPhone 5s. He now has a part-time job washing dishes at a local pub/restaurant and has slowly built up a nest egg.

The puzzle for me was that he had an iPad Mini, bought on the money he had saved from the weekly allowance I give him, but had somehow lost interest in it. He dropped it a while ago, and I organised getting it fixed - by, as it turned out, a set of cowboys in the City - and was generous enough to cough up half of the £140 it cost to put right. But those cowboys did a bad job, and over time the screen became unresponsive. And then he smashed it again.

I suggested that I could organise to get it fixed again, this time at a rather good Apple repair service called Apple Bay (in Mytchett, near Farnborough, a 70-mile round trip, but well worth the effort, and who did eventually do it for £120) but he wasn’t interested. So, being a dad who, like most other dads, thinks the sun shines out of his children’s arse and who gets a kick out of spoiling them, I bought the cracked-screen iPad Mini from him for £45 and got it repaired myself. (Subsequently, my wife paid my £140 for it and gave it to your daughter who has just started college 140 miles away, but that’s another story. And for those who aren’t as good at maths (US ‘math’) as they should be, I am still £25 out of pocket, although it is charmless of me to mention it.

So when, three weeks ago, my son enlisted my help in getting an iPhone I was puzzled. For one thing, he doesn’t make any phone calls. He had counted up the money he could spare and decided he could only afford an iPhone 5c and asked me would I mind getting one for him on eBay? He then handed over £300, which was almost all the money he has earned these past few months. Well, being the dad who thinks children - not just mine, by the way, but all children - were born to be spoiled rotten, I took the £300, but bid for and won an auction for a new iPhone 5s for £360, contributing the extra £60 myself.

Then came: Chapter Two - the bloody awful Sony Experia SP my daughter has on contract from O2. A few years ago, I stopped paying my daughter her weekly £10 allowance and agreed to take out a contract with O2. The first phone she had was a Blackberry. Then - and I can’t at all remember the details, she upgraded and got another Blackberry. Then she decided that she wanted a touchscreen smarthphone - ironically, as for a couple of years up to that point in which I had outlined the benefits of touchscreen phones . . .

But, dear reader, I have got to this point and not only is this entry becoming ineffably boring, but, more to the point, I am becoming ineffably bored writing it. So can we agree that it should end there? Please? If, of course, there is a groundswell of opinion that, having marched all you saps halfway up the hill, I am morally obliged to carry on marching you to the top, I shall gracefully conclude it. But until then . . .

 . . .

I was watching Channel Four News earlier tonight and, as usual, the news was all dire. And the direst piece of news was just how fast the ebola virus outbreak is spreading. So I watched avidly, ‘feeling bad’ for all those poor folk living in shanty towns in Sierra Leone and Liberia exposed to the virus, but then, again not for the first time, I felt like a complete fraud.

Do my 320 seconds of ‘empathy’ really do the slightest bit of good? Does it change anything in the slightest? Of course, it doesn’t. For having ‘empathised’, this chap, the kind of chap who can, apparently without second thought, ‘spoil’ his kids and help buy them smartphones they really do not need, will metaphorically shed a tear for those ‘less well off’, then forget about them entirely and absolutely and spend a great deal more time worrying about his own sorry self until the next time he watches or hears some other heart-rending report when the ‘empathy’ will kick in again for a minute or two.

I don’t for a minute doubt that the lives of those folk in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and in the shanty towns of South Africa and Brazil, or in rural China and even in the sink estates of Britain aren’t always utterly miserable. I don’t doubt that for an hour or two, maybe even longer, when they are together with friends and family, they laugh and joke and do not perpetually reflect on what a poor hand life has dealt them.

For one thing humankind adapts to everything. So what if you have raw sewage running down the middle of the lane outside the shanty house you occupy in your shanty town; so what if, as a women, you yet again put up with being screwed by

Not posed by models. At least they are young enough not to know the shit that faces them later in life

your man even if you don’t feel like it because it’s simply the easier thing to do even though you might risk getting pregnant again or contracting Aids? So what if supper tonight is the same old boring bowl of boiled maize you have eaten for the past 20 years? A joke with a friend, a chat, can help you forget it for a minute or two.
But, face it, we who imagine we can insure ourselves against almost everything except death and know all about ‘our rights’ are a million times better off however sorry we feel for ourselves. A little earlier today I came across this on the BBC website.

I have no idea of the lives of those reading this (and I noticed a great deal of interest in this blog from folk in Ukraine, who have troubles of their own), but I doubt whether anyone obliged to work in that silver mine in Bolivia for eight hours from 2am on, before walking off to school in the vague hope that an education will get them out of the hell their lives have become, has the leisure to fire up that computer, connect to the net then visit this bloody blog to see what crap Patrick Powell is coming out with today. Read the piece I have linked to if you don’t understand what I am saying.

So where is this all leading to? I don’t know. But I can say that for a guy almost universally assumed to be ‘conservative’ politically I don’t half feel like throwing a few bombs sometimes.

At college I was, at least in the early days, regarded as the typical ‘public school’ boy who didn’t know shit from sausages. For example, I distinctly remember how, a week or two into the first term of my first year when we were all getting to know each other and hadn’t yet formed our circle of friends, a gang of us went down to the students’ union bar one lunchtime for a drink.

Now, at 18 I wasn’t a big drinker at all, and having tried one pint of Scottish ‘heavy’, I most certainly knew I didn’t want to try another. So there we were, five, six of us and the question went around ‘what are you having?’ And I replied ‘a schooner of sherry, please’. That will have marked my card for a month or two. Throughout my college days, all four years as it was an honours degree course (though in the event I only landed an ordinary, and that was a stroke of luck) I was regarded by ‘the Left’ as ‘on the right’ and by ‘the Right’ as ‘on the left’.

Actually, I was neither. I didn’t have one political thought in my head. But I did, even then, have a heart. And my heart told me, even then, though I would have been greatly troubled to articulate it, that the world is unfairly stacked. And nothing I have heard, seen, eaten, drunk or screwed since then will persuade me otherwise.

There, dear reader, I shall leave you, for either I do that or I go on for another 3,00o words, but it is late and I am in danger of becoming inarticulate as I have just polished off a bottle of wine - I wonder how many folk in Freetown and Monrovia have been able to polish off a bottle of wine tonight in the certain expectation that they can, switch off the light and go upstairs to a comfortable bed of clean cotton and that when they, perhaps, get up in a few hours’ time to have a slash, they can flush it away with water 1,000 times purer than they are obliged to drink?

Rest assured at my age - I joke about being 97, but the truth is that I shall be 65 on November 21 - I know it’s ‘not all that simple’. I know that a bomb thrown here, a pamphlet printed there does very little to ameliorate the lives of several billion people. But there are times, increasingly many as I grow older, when I wish I did know what I might, practically, be able to do to improve this shitty world. I am really no longer content with ‘empathising’ for a minute or two once or twice a week.

A few more piccies in case you think I’m talking through my arse:

Again, not a model in sight. This chap is pushing a wheelbarrow through shit for real

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ukip go for the Labour voters’ heart and we might well be in for interesting times. And to make things a little more interesting here’s a pin-up of mine, Gemma Arterton. Then there’s my abortive attempt to introduce you to the music of Reggie Washington but those bastards from Islamic State have nixed it (though quite how I don’t know)

Well, someone’s got a brain in Britain’s Ukip, and the party’s supporters must hope it isn’t just Nigel ‘No, no, no, let me speak’ Farage. The accepted wisdom is that because of the party’s obsession with showing those stinking foreigners that Johnny Bull wants to sup his ale and eat his pie when he wants, thank you very much it is Conservative parliamentary seats it has in its sight has taken — well, the only way to put it is a lurch to the left. It now says that all folk on benefits and all those being paid the minimum wage will not pay a penny in income tax if it came to power, and that will, I assume — as must Ukip — mainly attract those usually thought to vote Labour.

Certainly various interviews with ‘the man in the street’ suggest it is quite a smart move. I was, for example, very taken aback to hear one young man tell us that he used to vote Labour, but switched to the Greens, but might now perhaps vote Ukip. He could well have been a Ukip plant. And if he was genuine in his support for the Greens, it cannot have been that strong if he now feels like switching to Ukip, a party that might possibly be viewed as on the opposite extreme to the Green Party. But his conversion to Ukip might well resonate with some who privately would like to follow suit, but don’t know how well it will go down with their mates. If, however, they discover your mates feel the same way, coming out as a Ukip supporter will not be at all difficult. So Labour might well have to look out.

Actually, no one in his or her right mind, and most certainly not a capable politico like Farage, expects Ukip to gain a majority of seats and be ‘asked by the Queen’ (who, no doubt, would to it through very gritted teeth) to form her government. But — and what with Ukip’s new strategy of appealing to the left as well as the right it is not at all so fanciful — if Ukip gained a sufficient number of seats to hold the balance of power?

Don’t Lib Dems already do that? Well, yes, they did at the last election, but could Ukip, perhaps, replace the Lib Dems as ‘the third party’. Could happen. As for how to pay for its promised magniminity for those at the bottom of the pile — and it has to be said that the only interest Ukip has in them is their votes — it’s simple, see, or at least according to Farage: Britain pays billions to the Johnny Foreigners who run Europe, so when Britain is no longer a part of the EU, the billions we save on our annual contributions will make up for the dosh we lose in income tax.

So far, so Dick and Dora. If, as Ukip hopes, the party gains a sufficient number of seats to ‘hold the balance of power’ the quid pro quo will be that you - whoever ‘you’ are - must agree when in government to take Britain out of the EU. That, I suspect, is where it will all come unstuck. For both the Tories and Labour will know that the following is bound to happen: they say ‘no’, we don’t agree that we will necessarily leave the EU (both Labour and the Tories want there to be some kind of EU reform first before it will decided whether to stay in or not), Ukip says ‘right we won’t support your bid to form the government’, so after a month or three or minority government an election will follow and Ukip will do rather less well, with one or the other party doing rather better and perhaps scraping through to be able to form a government.

As for Ukip itself, well, I’m still very underwhelmed. Farage (pictured) has a useful brain and the gift of the gab. But so far, with one exception, every last Ukip spokesman I’ve heard on either the radio or TV, as been an inarticulate fool. To
underline the point, I can’t even remember the name of the chap who didn’t do badly. (I saw him on Newsnight, if that helps.) I don’t doubt that among the bunch who will stand for election - and the Tory MP Mark Reckless tonight announced he will be joining Ukip, although he hasn’t yet resigned his seat (Later: he has now), but he is the second Tory MP - Douglas Carswell was the first - to jump ship - there are some bright ones, some daft ones, some admirable folk and some downright sinister folk, exactly, in fact, the gathering you would get if you looked at a gathering of people at random. But still I remain unconvinced. In Germany, AfD, the party rather loosely described here in Britain as ‘Germany’s Ukip’, is doing well. In three recent state elections it has gained between 10 and 12pc of the vote and will have an influence in how those states operate.

It has to be said that there seems to be a growing groundswell of support for AfD. But they are not ‘Germany’s Ukip’. They are in one essential respect very different. Afd doesn’t want Germany to leave the EU, but it does want Germany to leave the euro and to stop shoring up what it - and I - regard as a dog’s dinner of a monetary arrangement. But it doesn’t want to leave the EU. Ukip does. As for the future Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor is in no immediate danger from AfD. The last national elections were held last year and the next are not due for several years. And a lot can happen in several years.

What with Afd’s success locally, and the results from the last EU elections in May when, on an admittedly abysmally small turnout, anti-EU parties gained a number of seats, we’re in for interesting times. Which, of course, pace the Chinese, we don’t want. What we really want is boring, uninteresting times. Some hope.

Later: Here’s another piccy of Farage. Quite why his left arm is so big (see below) compared to the rest of his body I really have no idea. But I was so struck by the the pic when I came across it a few minutes ago, my one thought was to share it with you. After all just how many times do you see a blog featuring pictures of politicians with unusuallu big arms? Never, I suspect. Could well be a first, not only for this blog, but for blogging in general! (The guy shaking his hand has just sold him a timeshare in Frinton. It’s the kind of thing Ukip supporters go for. Bugger Tuscany. Perhaps that is why Farage is so cheery.)

. . .

Then, of course, there’s Gemma Arterton (picture below) who, I should point out has nothing to do with Ukip (as far as I know). I have only seen her in two films, a St Trinians film and one of the recent James Bond films. And boy is she gorgeous. I mention her because I am just watching the iPlayer rerun of Graham Norton (of

whom more later - he is, in my book - the very acceptable face of talk shows. Usually they are crap. Graham Norton manages to redeem them and then some. I think it’s because he has a very good sense of humour and doesn’t seem to take himself, or anyone else, seriously. But back to Gemma. Digging up the picture (above), it is obvious from the many others I found that she has many faces, and that a good make-up artist does her proud. But our Gemma also has, in my book at least, natural good looks, and I thing she is gorgeous. At my age she wouldn’t take a second look which is more the pity.

Naturally, it is horses for courses as far as ‘she’s gorgeous’ is concerned. But Gemma gets my vote every time. And if she is as natural as she was on the Graham Norton show, she is also rather a pleasant character. And that plus looks and talent means she won’t, I hope, go far wrong. (Take a look in the right eye, left as far as we are concerned: she’s no one’s fool. And that adds to her attraction.

. . .

Years ago the way to hear new music, to discover new music, would be to listen to stuff at friends’ places you hadn’t heard. But over the years, what with one thing and another, friends getting married, friends’ wives starting to rule the roost and children arriving, so that friends’ wives would make plain that it wasn’t going to be a late night again you got to hear less and less new music (and for the sub/copy editors a little joke: you got to hear fewer and fewer new artists). What ‘new’ stuff you did hear was invariably middle-of-the-road bollocks which didn’t interest you at all and what got you labelled with the tag ‘he is really desperate to be different’. No, he wasn’t, he just wanted to hear interesting music, different music, not the same old shite re-recorded by the same old farts. (It is pehaps obvious that I have been a tad revealing in that last bit.)

One of the musicians I’ve discovered ever since friends got jobs, moved away, got married, had children and I was banned from the house after 8pm was Dave Fiuczinski, of whom I have written before. Today, by way of interest, I looked up two of the musicians he played with and came up with drummer Gene Lake and bassist Reggie Washington. Then, as one does, I looked up, on Spotify, music played by the two and found a CD called A Lot Of Love, Live! It’s not a great name, granted, and musicians, especially jazz musicians for whom the music is the thing tend to come up with rather naff names. But what the hell.

I’ve said — I, who attempts to play guitar — that Dave Fiuczynski plays the kind of guitar I would play if I were good enough. Oddly enough, I’ve always been attracted to bass guitar (and have bought one which I very occasionally play. Similarly, if I played bass guitar more seriously, the way Reggie Washington plays is the kind of music I would like to play. So here’s a track. It’s called Reuben 2 Train. Why? Who cares. As I said above naming the pieces they play is not a jazz musician’s first priority, and possibly only his/her last because somewhere down the line someone is insisting.

NB I was hoping to give you the chance to listen to a track by Reggie Washington (not, of course, to be mistaken for either Ronnie Seattle or Roy Chicago) but sodding technology being what it is and what works on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday doesn’t, for whatever, bloody reason, work on a Wednesday. Me, I blame Islamic State and all their fucking ostentatious piety. (‘What, us, inhuman? Us? We believe in Allah, matey! And Allah wouldn’t want us to behead people on You Tube just for the sake of grabbing power and making millions by selling oil on the black market. Infidel! Watch it, sunshine, you’re next. We might be devastating Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria at the moment but don’t think bloody North Cornwall is safe! Bastard! Taking the piss out of us! Cunt!’)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Another poem.Then there’s the baffling fuck-up in the making in the Middle East: what is going on?

I wrote the other day about how poetry passes me by, and then added a poem. Well, here’s another.

It’s that itch to write again, to blather on
about it matters not what, to till the word
that comes before it comes until it comes,
then hasten on with no regrets, no backward glance,
no pride, no superficial care, just on and on and on,
a notion here, a joke there, a seeming wisdom
here and there and here again,
and there, then on and on
(and what is this irritating odd and wasteful pause?)

To pass the moment, kill the moment
until the moment’s gone as none,
with not a thought, not one,
for who might already be bewildered
by this rush of nothing,
absolutely nothing, but words, words
rush, rush, rush, words, words,
nothing but sound and nonsense.
Then on, on, on again and on until I die.

. . .

Look, chaps and chappesses, buy the bloody book, I need more cigars. And, yes, the novel is better than you might assume, and the cigars are, too, mild, but very satisfying, just the kind of thing to help you relax in a quiet corner while you ponder upon other ways to persuade the world to buy the bloody book. I’m no artist, you know, I work for money.

. . .

As I blather the West seems to be on the brink of another disaster. Here in Old Blighty or members of parliament have been recalled to debate whether the government should allow Britain to join the air campaign to bomb the fuck out of Isis (or IS or Isil or whatever we are supposed to be calling them). The modish watchword is - given the fuck-ups that Iraq and more recently Afghanistan were - ‘no “boots on the ground” ’, by which we mean no troops will be involved.

Well, fair enough. But the second proviso, that we should only stick to killing those fighting for IS (etc - see above) if they are in Iraq (whose government has invited us to do the killing) but should steer well clear of any action in Syria seems to me so daft I can’t even think of a dismissive joke. But aren’t the Yanks already bombing IS in Syria (and being quietly applauded for doing so by the Assad regime because we are getting rid of their enemies)?

Yes, I’m fully aware of the political niceties of it all, that, officially, Assad and his henchmen is still a bastard and the rest. But were anyone to set out to create a situation of such nonsensical delusion, they would struggle to create what is actually happening. I thought the power struggle in the Middle East was broadly based on a tussle between Saudi Arabia - Sunni - and Iran - Shi’ite? And because Assad is officially still that bastard Assad, the West in its wisdom - and I do use the word as loosely as possible - has decline to work with him (though I suspect there is a lot more going on behind the scenes).

But why do we hate Assad so much if we are perfectly happy to pal up with Egypt’s Sisi and his gang of henchmen? And whose coup d’etat ousting a democratically elected presidnet was somehow an acceptable coup d’etat because, not putting to fine a point, we didn’t really like the cut of the jib of the chap Sisi ousted.

As we are on the subject of cuts of jibs, surely to goodness Morsi - for he is the guy Sisi toppled - has a far more acceptable jib than the cutthroats from IS? Or am I missing something? Morsi, I gather, was an inept chap who rather hoped to make Egypt more Islamic. He didn’t lock people up, he didn’t torture folk, and he most certainly didn’t execut those he didn’t take a shine to.

But then I don’t get poetry, so how the hell am I supposed to make head or tail of the tooing and froing of my political betters? And it is well beyond my bedtime. And the two or three small glasses of Rioja I was going to drink have, once again, become the whole bloody bottle. Hick!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poetry: what is it? Buggered if I know. Then there is a sad, sad tale: my comments on the Scottish referendum are lost forever. And a cheap solution to an eternally pressing problem

For a man of my pretensions, it is hugely embarrassing to admit that ‘poetry’, or at least, modern poetry, not only passes me by, but leaves me pretty much stone-cold. It is to me a closed book, and going on what I hear on the radio not one I exactly want to open at any time soon.

Admittedly, I haven’t read that much poetry. In fact, even that apparently candid admission rather overstates the case. I have, actually, read very, very, very little. Of what I have read, I am more attracted to the ‘verse’ of, for example, Shakespeare, the Metaphysical Poets, Alexander Pope and one or two other, all those who wrote several centuries ago who knew what to do with rhythm and metre more than some of the stuff I’ve heard on the radio. But this is a difficult topic and I am I really danger of making myself look very ridiculous. And even what I have just written might give the impression that I am just being modest. I’m not. I’m just very badly read.

Of more modern poetry, what I have heard by Dylan Thomas I like very much. But then Dylan was fascinated by words, their sound and their import. Then there were the poems I have come across - more or less by chance, which is a shaming admission for a chap who ‘read’ English at university - by Philip Larkin and several others. A few years ago I bought a volume of poems by Seamus Heaney and got a slight inkling of what poetry just might be. But still it passed and passes me by.

But what about the ‘Great War Poets, Ted Hughes, and various other names with which I am so familiar and can’t remember one? Well, I’m sorry to say they, too, just pass me by, especially Ted Hughes. I hear them, am told the are ‘good’, and then quietly wonder exactly why they are good as opposed to ordinary. Dear reader, I don’t have a clue.

Then there’s the recent, as in the past 30 years, tendency to accept that a ‘poem’ is ‘good’ if the ‘poet’ is speaking from the heart. End of story. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. All too often is strikes me as nothing but ineffably trite sentiment written in prose, then chopped up into lines and verses. The trouble is that we can no longer say so.

These days we are supposed to genuflect before such work merely because it is ‘personal’. For some very, very odd reason a ‘poem’ is supposed to be special, and we are somehow expected to revere a ‘poem’ because it is someone ‘baring their soul’. Well, crap on me, sunshine. Not in my neck of the woods. I’ll give everyone - everyone - the respect and space they deserve, but I’m not about to bullshit myself for the sake of ‘form’. Come one, poems aren’t ‘special’ just because they are ‘poems’ however much the folk on radio want to tell you they are. And almost always the ‘modern’ poetry I hear is nothing but horribly trite shite.

However, all that notwithstanding, I have thought and wondered about ‘poetry’ quite a bit and decided that what attracts me is the sound of it. When I hear ‘poems’ read, it always seems to be in a pseudo reverential tone. (Incidentally, actors, who are nothing more than paid hands hired to read something, always make a far better fist of reading a poem than the bloody poet themselves, who read it in an irritating monotone and don’t for a moment seem to understand their own work.)

It’s as though the ‘poetry’ which does attract me is more that which gets closer to music and is less of the ‘me, me, me’ which so pisses me off. Face it: there are now several billions ‘me’s in the world and each of them is interested in the one ‘me’ - themselves - and not in you. At the heart of it your ‘me’ can get to fuck because it rather crowds the ground for my ‘me’. So as far as I can see making poetry more attractive to the majority by emphasising its musical qualities seems, to me at least, a way forward.

Below is my first - as in most recent since the days when I was a callow 19-year-old fuckwit - poem. Driving home from London on a Wednesday night after supping, usually, two and a half pints of cider, I have come to wonder whether I, too, my not try my hand at this ‘ere poetry lark. But it is most certainly about me (although, in a sense, it is in that it describes my bias).

To be honest I have no idea
what poetry might be
 unless good music plays its part.

And those of us who know that rhythm,
rhythmic excellence,
the omega and alpha of all
that sound might hold,
feel and sense that meaning
is but nothing
but the trite and boring
subterfuge lesser muses,
(keen to hold their own)
enrol to tarn their modesty,
and lose for it all love, respect and interest.

By all means tell me all your secrets,
and by all means join in the noise
and banality of life.

But don’t, don’t ever, don’t,
don’t ever try to persuade me
that they are any more vital and important than
the noise and banality of the secrets
of one, ten, twenty billion other souls
with whom you share this world.

But by all means try.

. . .

Before posting the above I spent about an hour writing an entry about yesterday’s independence referendum in Scotland. But, in all the technical shenanigans of posting these entries I bloody deleted it all. It is now unrecoverable. So: either breathe again or reflect that several pearls of wisdom have been lost forever, because I really can’t be arsed re-writing it. I might be at some point in the future, but don’t hold your breath.

. . .

One last thing: I have now got to the age where I can’t even fart without wearing a pair of reading glasses, and there’s the rub. I could go to an optician and be tested for a bespoke pair. Or I can, and have been, buying two for £2.50 at Asda.

Actually, because I keep losing them I have been buying many pairs, and keep at least one pair everywhere - in the car, in each of my jackets, in my computer bag, in my other computer bag, upstairs in our bedroom, downstairs in the kitchen, in the living room next to the computer, everywhere, in fact, where fate and my life might take me. It is a simple solution to a bloody irritating problem: where are my reading glasses? Doesn’t matter, cos there’s another pair here.

The good news is that Tesco, who are going downhill fast have been up to all kinds of tricks to get the punters back through their doors. And one of those is to offer selected items at just £1. So the other day I bought a bottle of HP Sauce, usual price £19.99, for just £1, ditto a jar of Hellman’s Mayonnaise and, joy of joys, three pairs of reading glasses, again at just £1 each. I thought I’d share that with you.