Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A daughter’s future gets slowly underway, pub food and English salad, that curious M. Hollande and did Bin Laden have a case? Discuss (or simply kill innocents, whichever comes easiest)

No self-respecting blogger, or even a blogger like me, can resist posting an up-to-date, state-of-the-art, 24/7, no-holds barred, no stone unturned and no cliché ignored entry. So that is what I shall do now. The occasion is, I admit, of no great import: I am merely killing time. About two hours ago, my daughter and I arrived at the University of the West of England (the former Frenchay polytechnic and secretarial college, but UWE is apparently wha they like to call themselves) where she is due for interview for a place in its filing and office and tearound management course.

The world has moved on since I spent several years analyising Aristotle’s, Sartre’s, Kierkegaard and Heidigger and Jasper’s bowel movement and in modern Britain you are no longer allowd to apply for any job at all unless you have a university degree. Not that it makes our superstore checkout till persons (they are no longer all women and many of them aren’t even all woman – Lord, those were the days when you could buy two pounds of sugar and a pint of milk, then hurry home and have a wank) any more educated, whatever Labour had in mind when they introduced their ‘all working people must have a degree’ laws. It just means that the range of possible degrees, which once encompassed law, engineering, medicine, languages and ‘the arts’ has over these past 20 years been hugely expanded to include a remarkable number of imaginative degrees.

Would you believe you can now get a degree in ‘toyshop management’ (at the University of Tring), in ‘seaside tourism’ (at more or less all of our landbound universities most notably at the Unversity of Consett – a Commons select committee is investigating why our seaside universities aren’t interested in offering that option) and, for those of a more practical bent, shepherding? I didn’t, either, but, as I say the world has moved on since I used to visit my local supermarket several times a day and always use Jackie’s checkout till in Kings Heath.

I dropped off my daughter (hereafter referred to ‘my daughter’ to avoid confusion) and then head for the nearest coffee bar offering wifi to scout out possible lunch eating opportunities. Infortunately, this neck of the woods, Hambrook, nestling between the M4 and the M32, is pretty much a post-seventies built-up wasteland where gastro-pubs offering haunch of pheasant lightly sauteed in Grand Marnier and served on a bed of teriyake mushrooms in a raspberry jus are thin on the ground.

So I eventually washed up at the Crown Inn, which, for what it is, is fine. I had deep-fried brie in breadcrumbs followed by strips of chicken breast fried in garlic butter and potato wedges, coleslaw and ‘salad’. (It is always worth writing the word salad in inverted commas when describing and English ‘salad’ so as not to confuse foreigners from countries where food is taken a little more seriously and might think the ‘salad’ served is rather more than a few gratings of carrot, a slice of tomato, one and a half red

onion rings, two slices of cucumber and two lettuce leaves.) But I am being unfair: it was fine for what it was and I would have chosen Eton mess as a pudding if my daughter and I weren’t planning to visit a Pizza Express later tonight on the trip home to Cornwall.

. . .

More or less every morning – OK, every morning, I do two things: I check my emails (99.9pc of which are offers, deals, opportunities and bargains to be had and never personal messages from anyone) and look at the ‘statistics’ for this blog. These, as I have remarked before, are quite informative. And for at least the past month or so, the most visited entry by far has been what I had to say about M. Francois Hollande and his various shags. But I can’t think why he still arouses such interests. These days he is notable only for the low profile he is keeping and his complete silence on the ‘crisis in Crimea’.

The last time I saw a reference to him in a newspaper was a story – more a suggestion than a story – that he had jacked in his latest squeeze and was cosying up again to Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and, if she has anything further to do with the twat, a total idiot to boot. Hollande’s silence is all the more remarkable because he has achieved the impossible: his approval ratings are in minus figures, and judging by the results of the first round of the French local and municipal elections, a great many of our cheese-eating cousins prefer Marianne Neo-Nazi of the Front National to any of the socialists and left parties.

Where the Front National stood, and they restricted themselves to only some of the cities and towns, mainly in the North, they did rather too well for the comfort of those who pride themselves on being intelligent (as in that weasel phrase ‘intelligent people like us’ – if anyone here has ever used the phrase with any degree of serious intent, you are officially banned from ever reading this blog again). Here in Britain, I think we, too, might be in for a surprise at our local elections: the usual wisdom is that at our upcoming council elections the Tories will see many of their traditional supporters desert them for UKIP (Motto: The gins are on me).

I suspect, based on chit-chat here and there, most recently last night in the Brewers Arms in South Petherton where I stop off on my way home, that many who have usually opted for voting Labour might well give UKIP a chance. Not that UKIP can, on the face of it, be directly compared to the Front National, but I do think that it has become a quiet refuge for some who could see themselves supporting our own British National Party if they didn’t think their neighbours would stop talking to them.

Me, I think, to use that Cameron quote (which he has since regretted, but which I still thinks holds true) that UKIP are largely ‘fruitcakes and looneys’. Or, to quote myself in my resignation letter of several years ago when I informed the vice-president of the North Cornwall Conservative Association that I would not be renewing my membership, as far as I am concerned the vast majority of UKIP supporters are just British National Party sympathisers in clean underwear. One of UKIP’s main gripes is ‘the number of immigrants coming to Britain: ironically, as the Economist established a few years ago in a survey, ‘concern’ about the number of immigrants is inexplicably higher where the proportion of immigrants is lowest. Odd that.
. . .

OK, I’ll come clean: my daughter is not vying for a much-coveted place on a course teaching file and tearound management, but wants to become a primary school teacher. I didn’t know this until I was dragooned into ferrying her around the country to various open days, that these days our universities don’t all offer a full range of courses, but choose to speicalise. And UWE, the University of South Wales, Oxford Brookes, Plymouth University and ‘Marjon’ in Plymouth, all to which she applied, heve departments specialising in teacher training.

Like me, my daughter likes children. Trouble is that what with all the paedophile scum who are now being flushed out of every cranny imaginable, you have to be very careful making such an admission. But I’ll make it any: I like children and think each and every one of them is a treasure to which nothing else comes close, and that they should be cherished and protected more than our own lives. And I would like to see far, far tougher penalties on what are colloquially known as ‘kiddy fiddlers’. Rant over.

. . .

Anyone reading his or her newspaper in these past few days, one which gives less prominence to what Kim Kardashian had for lunch yesterday and more to what is happening in the world, might have come across the astounding, though not at all unsurprising news under the circumstances, that 529 Egyptians, all supporters of the ousted Egyptian president Morsi, have been sentenced to death, all for the murder of ONE policeman.

Heard anything from your local democracy friendly Western government in condemnation and protest about it? No, nor have I. The mystery of why one Osama Bin Laden and many others came to hate the US and the West over the years and why their cause continues to gather support becomes less and less of a mystery as the years go by. There, I’ve said it.

A few nights ago I watched a very, very silly film called Zero Dark Thirty which portrayed – in a highly fictionalised form – the hunt for Bin Laden and his subsequent cold-blooded murder and that of members of his family
(I think ‘cold-blooded murder’ is a pretty good description).  I became so angry that I almost turned the film off after just a few minutes, but knowing I was going to write about it, watched it all. Quite apart from the fact that the film was facile in the nth degree, it seemed to accept the notion that torture is unacceptable as a rule, but acceptable if it is done in a ‘good cause’.

Actually, I shall save my outrage for another blog entry because I am already getting angry and that will only make what I write incoherent. A happy Rule Of Law to all my readers in the West.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A plague on all sides in this pointless, futile, utterly daft latest bout of East and West willy waving

Naturally I worked today – of course I did, they don’t pay me to sit around doing nothing - but I also found a time to read and contribute to the comments on the respective Daily Telegraph and Guardian news stories about the referendum in the Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis in general. And, unusually, if you read either website blind, you would be hard-pushed to know which was the Telegraph site and which the Guardian.

Even more unusually, contributors to both seem pretty much split down the middle either in support or against what Russia has done in the Crimea, it being an accepted truth that Russia is more or less pulling the strings. (Reading through the different sites, it would in time become a little more obvious that you are reading the Telegraph site rather than the Guardian’s because every so often some stupid herbert manages to take what is being discussed and bringing it around to the issue of whether or not Britain should leave the EU, ending is contribution – rant would sometimes be a better word – with an exhortation to all to Vote UKIP!!!.

But gin-soaked little Englanders notwithstanding, opinion is evenly divided on who is the Great Satan: Putin and Russia or Obama, the US and the EU. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Me, firmly believe a plague on both their houses. Taking sides on this one is a mug’s game, but our esteemed leaders, who are never above doing the stupid thing, have, of course, and in the interests of ‘democracy’, the ‘rule of law’ and the rest of the phoney hooey they are apt to trot out on such occasions plumped firmly on the side of – in my view – a gang of snarks and thugs no less unsavoury than the gang they were opposing in Maidan Square a few weeks ago.

As for ‘the other side’, I’m less inclined to pour scorn on them although, Putin, too, is not above playing fast and loose with the truth. It’s a bit rich of Vlad the Lad to complain that neo-nazis and fascists have taken over the government in Kiev, but Russia is no slouch in producing its own neo-nazi and fascist thugs and, it has to be said, in some numbers (as does Poland and Hungary, both members of the EU, which might well be a problem in the making. But here is not the time to discuss it).

I don’t doubt that Russians in the Crimea are overjoyed to be part of the motherland again, figures produced overnight showing that on a 123pc of voter turnout, 109pc who voted in the referendum plumped for re-unification should be enough to silence any mealy-mouthed gainsayers. It will also have been a comfort to the Crimean parliament which organised the referendum that as the two options the voters faced – ‘Do you want immediate re-unification with the Russian motherland?’ and ‘Do you want to wait until next week for reunification with the Russian motherland?’ – didn’t give any Ukrainian spoilsport the chance to say ‘Well, as it happens, no I don’t want Crimea reunified with the Russian motherland’ and spoil Putin’s parade. Loudmouths and wiseacres on the Telegraph and Guardian sites, of which naturally I was one, saying exactly what I am saying here, could all cite apparently overwhelming reasons why they were right and the others wrong (and in the case of the Telegraph why we should Vote UKIP!!!).

There were Russians staunchly defending reunification with the motherland, Ukrainians staunchly condemning it and one or two folk such as me staunchly advising caution, don’t get involved and don’t blame me if it all goes tits up. Will it go tits up? Does Putin now have his sights on taking over all of the Ukraine and then heading for the Baltic states before turning south and making for Czechoslovakia as some are seriously

suggesting? Will the West (for which, of course, read the US, some in the EU and the UK – voices from France, Italy, Spain, Ireland and the rest have been so quiet you could hear a pin drop) really risk damaging their exports by imposing real sanctions? Or will be see a blanket ban on the import of Russian nesting dolls and serious cuts on the import of Caspian Sea caviar, but little else? We’ve already had stern words and I fear they could yet get sterner – that should learn the Ruskies: never trust a man in a fur hat carrying a bottle of vodka.

As always, then, it’s all as clear as mud. If you want ‘international law’, you can have ‘international law’ until it is coming out of your arse. If you want ‘the people’s will’, ‘kinship’, ‘natural ties’, ‘democratic standards’, ‘serious reprisals’, ‘consequences’ and the rest, you can have those, too. For free. I’m one of those sneaky types that the West is on pretty shaky ground when it lectures other nations about the ‘international law’ and the rest: where, please tell me, were these hi’falutin notions when the US and the tagalong UK introduced ‘shock and awe’ to Iraq – around 136,000 innocents killed since 2003? Where in ‘international law’ is it laid down just how many drones you can send across the world to kill whoever you please as well as several hundred you didn’t actually meant to kill but, hey, these things happen?

All this might sound as though I am taking sides. I’m not. A plague on both their houses, I say. But it so happens I live in the West and whatever stupid ideas the leaders of ‘my side’ come up with might well have an impact on my life and, more importantly, my children’s lives. So a plague on both your houses is my position, admittedly not a useful one but at least, I hope and honest one.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Farewell Tony Benn: did you know that you had me leading a mob for about 15 minutes? I didn’t like it one little bit.

So requiem in pace Anthony Wedgwood Benn, aka Tony Benn, everyone’s all-round good guy, pipe smoker, vegetarian, teetotaller and born-again lefty. Actually, that last might be a tad unfair, but he did seem to drift further to the left as his career progressed.

To be honest I thought he had a tendency to waffle a bit, but in the list of political sins, that comes in at a lowly 192nd and in comparison with the other sins is eminently forgivable. I can boast two slightly tenuous connections.

The second was in 1980 or 1981 when I was working as a sub-editor on the Birmingham Evening Mail. When someone left, usually heading for what was then known as Fleet Street because all the national papers still
had their offices there or nearby, he or she would have a ‘leaving do’ and when one such leaving do was announced, I thought it would be a good idea to invite the Queen, the then prime minister and Tony Benn along. So I sent all three an invitation.

I didn’t, of course, expect any other them to accept, but I reckoned it would be a good wheeze to read out their apologies for not being able to attend at the do, as in ‘the Queen is sorry to say she can’t attend tonight, but wishes you all the best in your future career’.

After sending the invitations I received, in due course and as I hoped, letters thanking me for the invitation but, regretfully, turning it down from Buckingham Palace (‘Her Majesty the Queen has commanded me to thank you for ...’) and from some flunkey at No 10 Downing St.

But I didn’t hear from Tony Benn, not at least for several months. I then received a handwritten note along the lines of ‘Dear Patrick, thank you so much for your kind invitation and please forgive me for taking so long to reply. By now the event will have passed, but I hope you all had a good time and your colleague was given a good send-off’. The note was signed ‘Cheers, Tony’. I was rather impressed that he could be bothered to write a personal note.

A lot has been said in his praise since he popped his clogs a day or two ago and I should like to add that he was mercifully a lot less phoney than some politicians. But now to my first tenuous connection.

. . .

Tony Benn began life as the 2nd Viscount Stansgate, but I should swiftly explain that he wasn’t from some ancient noble family as readers of this blog in Arkansas and San Diego might assume. His father, also an MP, was created the 1st Viscount Stansgate by the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee because it was short of peers for the House of Lords (Britain’s second chamber) and in those days so-called ‘life peers’ weren’t yet created. So Benn’s dad received a hereditary title and Benn inherited it when his father died. He was by this time also an MP, but as ‘nobles’ couldn’t sit in the House of Commons, he resigned his seat. There then followed a legal battle in which he finally won the right to relinquish his title and as Anthony Wedgwood Benn - no hyphen - he was re-elected to the Commons.

At the time Labour were in power with Harold Wilson as prime minister and as well as doing some good things, establishing a lot more universities being one, they were also making a pig’s ear of other matters and weren’t universally popular. This was also the era of Sixties student politics when being ‘working class’ became very trendy (after several decades of everyone trying to emulate ‘their betters’ and sound ‘posh’, they now tried to do the opposite) and Labour were thought not to be left-wing enough.

One particular gripe was that the government was trying to get rid of the ‘pirate radio’ ships in the English channel - Radio Caroline and, I think, Radio London were two - which did a very good job in making the BBC sound fusty and ante-deluvian - and the then Anthony Wedgwood Benn, as Postmaster General, was the minister in charge of dealing with them. So he wasn’t very popular with young folk and most certainly didn’t have the lefty appeal of his later years.

I was studying at Dundee University and at one point, it was 1970 I think, Benn was due to come to the university and give a speech. This was due to be held in the big lecture hall of the newly built Department of Social Sciences and Letters (‘social sciences’ were the new thing then). And for whatever reason I suggested to my friends that we should hold a demo during his speech. The odd thing was that I was not in the slightest bit political, had nothing against Benn and merely thought it would be a great way to have a laugh.

So about 20 of us went along and sat in the row right at the back looking down on Benn at the podium and began chanting Give Peace A Chance. The Vietnam War was at its height and although Labour and Harold Wilson had very wisely indeed turned down the US’s invitation to get involved, they were still, somehow, thought to be responsible and culpable. I seem to remember that our chanting and demo caused such a racket that Benn had to abandon his speech, but I really wouldn’t swear to it.

What is more pertinent is that our gang of demonstrators of which I was the acknowledged ring leader then retired to the students’ union, and this is where it all got very odd indeed. For the initial group of 20 or so had by
now swelled as word got around of what we had done and what was until then just group of good-natured young men who were just having a laugh quickly - surprisingly quickly - changed into a mob baying for trouble and blood.

It was utterly bizarre. It was as though the mob, because it was most certainly a mob by this time, had taken on a personality of its own, and a very frightening personality is was. What can we do now, they were asking each other, and they didn’t need a cause or reason to do anything, all they wanted to do was cause trouble and disruption. And, dear reader, I who had initially set the ball rolling, wanted nothing to do with it, so I made my excuses, as we say, and left.

As it turned out the mob did nothing because whereas until then they had someone taking charge - me - they now had no one and (as I have learnt since in other ways, such as organising a weekly five-a-side football match) without a leader of some kind almost all folk are curiously helpless if not dealing with their own private affairs and very quickly revert to being the sheep they are 99pc of the time.

So there you have it: I was once a rabble-rouser, although I stress that I was a very reluctant one. Not that Tony Benn, who later sent me that polite note, knew.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Welcome, Katie, whoever you are. And as I am writing, some advice I wish someone had given me long, long, long before my teeth fell out

A year or two ago I started parallel blog on Wordpress which was more or less a carbon copy of this. I can’t now remember why, although I’m sure I had a good reason at the time, but I have not paid it much attention. So I was surprised to get an email from Wordpress informing me that ‘Katie’ was now following me. I have no idea why, or what post on it - there are very few - attracted her attention. But I was gratified - no one enjoys spending several minutes laying bare their soul in a blog only for the world not to pay the blindest bit of attention - and wrote an entry on the Wordpress blog welcoming Katie, but inviting her to read this one instead as it is my main blog. Below is that entry, tailored for Blogspot.

As I am writing here, however, I thought I might post another entry which is something which occurs to me from time to time and which consists simply of pieces of advice I might give my children (at present 14 - 15 on May 25 - and 17 - 18 on August 7). None of them is in any way profound and I like to think that most of them are pretty obvious to most people with half a brain. It’s just that as I seem to have operated with even less than half a brain for most of my life, they might be worth recording for those who are doing likewise.
Here are some:

1 In the winter, don’t ever bother with cotton socks - if at all possible wear woollen socks. Yes, I know cotton socks are ten times cheaper and that finding woollen socks at a reasonable price is harder than finding hens’ teeth, but that piece of advice is still true. Woollen socks will keep your feet warm. Cotton socks will not. And few things will make you more miserable in cold weather than cold feet.

2 Along the same lines, if you want to keep warm in cold weather, wear a hat. Just a hat and a poor coat will keep you warmer than no hat with a good coat. Counter-intuitive but true.

3 Here’s a piece of advice I would give my daughter but have so far not done so, mainly because it is quite personal and she is not a necessarily streetwise 17-year-old: young men, not so young men and boys over the age of puberty tend almost always to think with their dicks. Sad, but true. It doesn’t make them bad people, and if they are bad people, it’s not the
reason they are bad people. But hormones being hormones, that’s what happens. I don’t doubt that young women, not so young women and girls over the age of puberty think in a similar woman-related way, but as I am not a woman, I can’t even guess what it might be.

4 A piece of advice I came across years ago for my son: on a first date, don’t ever spend a lot of money on this new love of your life in the hope you will impress her and make her yours. If she’s worth it, it will become obvious over time and then, if you like, start spending a lot of money on her. But not until then. And if you don’t spend a lot of money on her on that first date and she is not impressed, she most certainly isn’t worth it.

5 Don’t fall for what I can only describe as ‘first shag love’. I can’t be the first to have fallen for that and I most certainly won’t be the last. But if, like we all once were, you are  virgin and finally lose your cherry, there’s a chance you might be so desperate to hang onto that shag and make it regular by persuading yourself you have fallen in love. No, you haven’t.

6 When you are thinking of marrying, don’t let‘love’ be your sole guide. Try to stand back and ask yourself whether you actually get on with the love our your life. It might not be the end of the world to you and her (him) if you don’t, but if and when you have children together, it is important that they grow up in a peaceful and the most stable environment possible. Children imitate their atmosphere.

At one, two or three they accept what’s happening around them as the norm and if arguing, shouting, unhappiness, lying, dishonesty and even violence is what they see and take to be what‘normal’ life is, it is no surprise that when they grow up, they perpetuate that misery. A happy household makes for happy children makes for happy adults. Or happier adults. The only real treasure there is in this world is our children. Nothing else even comes close.

7 This is perhaps the silliest piece of advice I could give but it is nevertheless good advice. It is, however, only possible because I shall not see 60 again and have had a heart attack. After my heart attack I changed in a subtle way (and discovered today that my sister, six years younger, changed in the same way: I can be even less bothered with bullshit and, oddly, began to worry a lot less.‘Not worrying’ is difficult for someone 40 years younger than me, but it is worth trying: try not to worry so much. For one thing everyone your age, if you only knew it, is far, far, far more concerned with their selves than they are with you, so the chances are they won’t even notice anyway.

Remember: when we are young, we are ALL king or queen or our worlds and everyone else comes a distance second. As we get older - and I mean in our late 40s, not our late 20s - it slowly dawns on us that the rest of the world is not half as interested in us as we thought they were and that all that worrying was utterly in vain.

8 Only spend money you have. Don’t ever bother with credit. Or, at least, only with credit in the form of a mortgage. If you want something now, tough: don’t borrow money to buy it. If you save for it, then buy it, you’ll find that you appreciate it that much more.

9 Don’t go for a job because‘the money’s good’. Go for a job - if you are one of those lucky souls who can pick and choose - because you would like to do that job. And remember - ALWAYS - that there are several billion people in this world who have to take any work they can get. I know it’s a cliche but Count Your Blessings. And once you’ve counted them, count them again three more times.

10 This piece of advice is difficult to get across because it seems, at first to be contradictory, but I’ll try: keep and open mind BUT don’t believe every piece of bullshit that comes your way. Like all the best, most worthwhile things there’s a balance involved and like most worthwhile things, it isn’t easy to find that balance. But bloody try.

11 Here’s a cliche: easy come, easy go. And, unfortunately, like most cliches there’s more than a degree of truth in that. The worthwhile things take a while to achieve as a rule. Related to that is this (another lieu common, but which tends to elude most of us): if it’s too good to be true, it is. There are no‘sure things’. Ever.

Well, that’s enough homespun The Waltons’ style downhome fireside philosophy for one night, but there could be more. Welcome, Katie, and I would be curious to know which Wordpress blog entry brought you here in the first place.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What’s cooking - Pt XXCVII: Chicken in white wine and caper sauce, followed by apple tarte Tatin

Cooking a meal today, yippee. I like cooking, but so rarely get the chance to, mainly, I think, because my wife is jealous of her influence in the kitchen and, possibly, because she knows I cook tastier things than her. She has, on rare occasions, attempted something, usually involving salmon, but almost always it is something starkly British, such as shepherd’s pie and boiled vegetables.

There’s nothing wrong with shepherd’s pie (or its first cousin, cottage pie - I never know which is which), but like most dishes they can be made so
they are appealing, appetising and attractive, or they can resemble something found in a pretty mediocre works canteen. I’m sorry to say my wife’s cooking belongs in that latter category. (I’m not being very nice, am I? But I am being honest, in the certain knowledge that she doesn’t read this blog. In fact, the number of times she has used the internet could, without exaggeration be counted on the fingers of one hand, bearing in mind that the thumb doesn’t count as a finger.)

My sister is coming across to Britain to visit our stepmother and will be arriving in the later afternoon, and as I like cooking, I have made it my excuse for cooking something. After the above, some might claim smug, introduction, I am perhaps riding for a fall when I reveal what I plan to prepare. However. . .

I’ve shall be cooking chicken breast in white wine and caper sauce, with new potatoes (which I might, purely for the hell of it, roast) with flash-fried leeks (i.e. so that they are still a tad crunchy) served with a little lemon juice. Pudding will be an apple tarte Tatin with cream, tarte Tatin being one of the simplest puddings to create, although admittedly I shall be using ready-made puff pastry. I started it off yesterday to save
time: melt 50g of butter in a cast-iron pan (because it will later go into the oven and so a wooden or plastic handle - or plastic anywhere - would be a no-no), a very little water and sugar. Peel and slice, in generous slices, several cooking apples and layer them in the pan. Add a few more knobs of butter and a sprinkling of sugar, then cook briefly on a low heat, then let it cool.

That was all yesterday. Today I shall cover it all with the pastry, then bake it. I really don’t think a pudding could be any simpler, except, perhaps, fruit salad, which is another of my favourites. (I do dislike dishes which demand a lot of fannying around in the kitchen.) I have bought a bottle of Gewürzgtraminer and a second, cheaper, bottle of some other white wine (I can’t remember which) for the chicken dish. Bon appetit.

Where does Putin, the Crimea and the Ukraine come into all this? They don’t, except that I’d be surprised if Putin can cook. He’s more one for wrestling with bears and posing for pictures with a bare torso. Not a lot of call for posing for piccies when you are in the kitchen (except, perhaps, if you are modelling for some truly recherché porn magazine).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Paperclips at dawn? Don’t worry, Vlad lad, this lady will probably just give you a good talking to. As for van Rompuy, all that’s missing is a 99 Flake

A British prime minister of the 1930s, Stanley Baldwin, was no friend of the press and said they had ‘power without responsibility’ which, he added, was ‘the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’. When I looked up the news this morning and saw Herman van Rompuy swanning around with the Ukrainian interim prime minister Arseniy
Yatseniuk, promising the good Ukrainian folk several billions of our money and generally behaving as though we should take him seriously, I thought that is pretty much also true of the EU: it has asquired all the trappings of a state and very much plays the part of a state, but at the end of the day it is of less consequence than a fart in the wind.

The trouble is the EU seems to believe its own bullshit. It was EU meddling in the first place, assisted no doubt by a little extra meddling from Uncle Sam, which helped create this crisis, though Putin found himself unable to say no when he was handed a golden opportunity to advance Russian interests. Van Rompuy, who to be honest I find impossible to take seriously - he looks to me as though he has yet to have his first sexual experience involving someone else - and his sidekick Baroness Ashton will love all the statesman-like swanning around, but they are living proof that there ain’t no delusion quite like self-delusion.

Here’s a picture of van Rompuy with another of his pals. I bring it to you at great personal danger because this photo is now officially banned by
Brussels and was never taken. All, or almost, all copies were tracked down and destroyed. So how have I got one? Well, all I’ll say is that writing this ’ere blog is a serious business and a sacred task I most 
certainly don’t take lightly. The truth will out (or something - Subs please check). Then there’s this pic (left, couresy of the EU press office) of Herman relaxing on one of his rare days off.

Another candidate for the Who The Hell Does She Think She Is Kidding Award 2014 is one Baroness Ashton (or Baroness Who? as she was known for several decades after being appointed the EU’s ‘‪High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy‬’. As a general rule, the longer the title, the more meaningless the job, and Ashton’s title is a good case in point).

A run-through of Ashdown’s working history will demonstrate just how supremely qualified she is to negotiate with canny operators such as Vladimir Putin. ‘Cathy’ Ashton, as she is known by assorted political luvvies, cut her political teeth as an asministrator for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and ended up as CND’s national treasurer and vice-chairs. In 1983 she began working for something called the Central Countil for Education and Training in Social Work and from that year until 1989 she was a director of something called Business in the Community. (Adding the word ‘community’ to your organisation or group’s name is usually a useful way of sounding responsible and garnering government support for whatever you’re doing as these days even the Tories like to be percieved as ‘progressive’.)

During the 1990s (when, I assume, her children were young and she chose to cut back a little on work to take care of them) she was a ‘freelance policy adviser’ and, no, I can’t imagine what such an animal does, either. But whatever it was, it was sufficient to get her appointed a life peer by Tony Blair (the chap who spent several years and several hundred thousands of lives looking for the end of the rainbow in Iraq and later Afghanistan).

Appointing someone as a life peer is useful political ploy here in Britain to bring someone into government without going through the bother - and in most case having to run the risk - of having them stand for election and perhaps not impressing too many voters.

After a spell of chairing - chairing, not running - the Hertfordshire Health Authority and then gaining some much-needed political nous by becoming vice-president of that viper’s nest of backstabbing and double-dealing, the National Council for One-Parent Families (which will most certainly have Vlad the Lad quaking in his boots), she eventually landed her first government job when she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Education and Skills. For those unaware of that British government department none of its responsibilities overlap with those of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and historically never has done.

Two years later - which means she was either pretty hopeless or so good at her job that her talents might be better employed elsewhere, Cathy washed up as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Here, apparently, she was responsible for looking after the National Archives and the ‘Public Guardianship Office’ (and suggestions as to what that might be on the usual postcard please and sent to me forthwith).

Two years after that appointment which was made a Privy Councillor and a year later when the Ministry of Justice was set up to take over from the Wig and Pen, Cheapside, as the HQ of our brightest and best legal minds, Cathy became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State there. At no point, you’ll notice if you haven’t fallen asleep wading through the above, did Cathy stand for election or in any way gain a popular mandate. But there again making sure the pencils stay sharpened in the Kew offices of the National Archives isn’t too onerous a job. In October 2008 which was appointed the UK’s European Commissioner and took over responsibility for trade negotiations between the EU and who ever wanted to negotiate trade with the EU.

If you have read the above, you might have noted that our Cathy has absolutely no trade or commercial experience at all - not a jot. And just how effective she was in that job might be gauged from the fact that the didn’t have it for long - barely 13 months later she was appointed the EU’s ‘‪High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy‬’, grandly described at the time as the EU’s Foreign Secretary (US: Secretary of State, Germ: Auslandsminister, Fr: etc, etc i.e. I have no idea and can’t be arsed looking it up). That appointment was something of a stitch-up - fluke wouldn’t be too strong a word - and it was greeted with derision.

Apparently, Tony Blair was angling to become the EU President, but for once our European cousins (who can obviously spot a nine euro note when they see one, having enough of their own) saw sense and as one turned him down. So our then prime minister, Gordon Brown agreed to withdraw. Blair as a candidate on the condition that a Brit was appointed ‪High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy‬. Bizarre - very, very bizarre - but sadly true.

So Cathy, who might be very nice for all I know, has plenty of experience running offices is pitched against Vlad the Lad, a former KGB colonel and that most extraordinary of Russians, a fucking teetotaller. And if that last fact doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you - a Russian who doesn’t drink vodka to excess and then some - you are probably no longer breathing.

Here’s the question everyone is asking: does she carry a gun? Answer: No, she doesn’t. Damn!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why can’t I feel more outrage? Perhaps because neither side is as kitchen-clean as it likes to show itself. But looking at leading folk on both sides, we should be very careful to get involved. (Beware the US moral high ground)

I feel awful. I have a strong suspicion that I ought to be outraged by the actions of the Russians of marching into Crimea but for some reason I am finding it rather difficult working myself into a lather of indignation. And I don’t know why.

My first principle is Don’t Take Sides, especially in a business as murky as this. And while I’m not taking sides, I shall merely record a little of what has been going through my mind. So Yanukovich was corrupt and pocketed large sums of moolah. Yes, he should have been gotten rid of and the people of the Ukraine would have had their opportunity to do so at the election which was due in May.

The Russians insist his removal was a coup and, you know, I really can’t see it any other way, either. And if you accept that it was a coup – you might not, of course – then the chap is still the legitimate president of the Ukraine. It is a bit thick when, as in Egypt, a coup is only a coup when the good folk in the West decide. I like to be a little more straightforward on these matters. You can, perhaps, argue that some coups are legitimate and that this one was, but you are already on sticky ground if you do that. It has been pretty obvious over these past few years that the West (for which read the EU and the US) have been wooing the Ukraine into its camp.

And one thing we can be certain of is that it wasn’t for the greater glory and universal benefit of the people of the Ukraine. It was just another move in the longstanding diplomatic game which has been going on for centuries of gaining influence. Certainly, the people of the Ukraine would probably be economically better off if their country were part of the West than part of the East, but the improving the economic well-being of the Ukrainians was never a motive. A few nights ago, as part of its coverage of

what was happening in Kiev – and before Putin sent in troops to Crimea – Newsnight, not a programme given to sensationalism – had a report of far-right and ne0-Nazi elements among the anti-government protesters. Several were interviewed.

It seems also to have been the case that gangs of these neo-Nazis had taken to patrolling the streets of Kiev carrying batons in the absence of the city’s police. Then tonight I heard suggestions that these neo-Nazis were, in fact, Russian agents provocateur sent in to justify Putin’s claim that the new government in Kiev if riddled with neo-Nazi nationalist. True or not? Who knows? How can we know the truth? Well, we can’t at this stage.

There’s also the rather inconvenient fact that we, the Good Guys, aren’t above invasion ourselves, in Iraq and Afghanistan (and to this day I cannot think of a single good reason why the US and Britain invaded Iraq. It made no sense at all, none whatsoever). So it is awfully difficult to take the moral high ground on this one, although that is what we seem to be doing. And here is my final thought: the EU is once again proving as if further proof were necessary that when push comes to shove it couldn’t organise a tearound in anger, let alone a coherent, rational and intelligent response to the crisis in the Ukraine and Crimea.

The only thing I am certain of at this point is that I dearly and sincerely hope no one gets killed on either side.
. . .

This below was written a day later than the above, but I have decided to make it an addendum rather than start a new entry.

Anyone wanting a few facts about the situation in Ukraine and that the choice between one side and the other in this confrontation might care to visit this page from the Guardian. It is a rundown of some of the folk who make up the provisional government in Kiev and it doesn’t make encouraging reading. Incidentally, it is unclear who has been appointing them.

Let’s highlight the Olexander Turchynov, the ‘interim president’. According to the Guardian he is the deputy leader of Fatherland, and was previously the head of Ukraine’s domestic security service and has close ties to Yulia Tymoshenko. Fatherland is regarded as pretty much right of centre, if not right-wing and is suspected of being anti-semitic.

Then there is Oleksandr Sych, the deputy prime minister who is not exactly right-of-centre but proudly a far-right nationalist. His profile in the Guardian states that he ‘once publicly suggested that women should “lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including refraining from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company”.’ He belongs to the Svoboda (Freedom) party and is against abortion.

Rather further to the right is Dimity Yarosh who is now deputy leader of the department responsible of national security. He is head of the militant

Dimitry Yarosh makes a speech, flanked by two of
his bodyguards. The chap on the right most certainly
did not much like the look of the photographer

ultra-right-wing Praiyiy Sektor and is thought to be behind much of the violence during the recent protests.

These are the chaps the West is championing. Having said that, I should prefer to remain even-handed and state quite clearly that I would turn down the chance to break a lance for Vladimir Putin. On the face of it the situation in the Ukraine could be likened to the choice of suffering a fatal heart attack or a fatal stroke. It will need all the diplomatic skills of those in the West we trust with our security to ensure we come out of it unscathed. But I’m not holding my breath. As I remarked above it’s a wonder the EU can organise a tearound.

PS Incidentally, here’s an interesting site I came across. The usual caveat applies: don’t believe everything from the off, but investigate it, keep your feet on the ground, and evaluate what you come across with extreme diligence. But always keep an open mind.