Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fuck it up: BMW shows you how. And talking of fuck ups (fucks up?), we still have no idea what is going on in Eastern Ukraine. What we do know is that the EU is getting pretty flabby about it all, now push is coming to shove. But then what do I know?

The conventional, and probably correct, wisdom is that German car makers are good on the technology, but bloody useless at design. That might sound a tad harsh – though you will not hear too many voices disagreeing – but if it isn’t wholly true, BMW aren’t doing their country many favours.

Other conventional wisdoms, now largely redudant were that the French were good at designing interesting looking cars – note ‘interesting looking’ is not exactly a ringing - endorsement, and could be quite good on the technological side, but generally were to complicated for their own good and a bugger to repair (i.e. very high garage bills). The Italians were said to have the design side sown up but generally the cars they produced were rust buckets, fine for the sunnier, dryer climate of the Med, but hopeless once they crossed the Alps.

Then there were British cars: often technologically innovative, but the Brits designed about as well as they cooked. That is their designs were a joke: so we got the ‘Dagenham Dustbin’ – usually the various Ford Cortinas, but more or less any Ford car built in Britain; the Flying Turd – the Mark I Vauxhall Astra:

more or less each and every car produced by a British company that was obliged to keep changing its name to escape prosecution, but here I’ll refer to British Leyland.

They were usually quite awful and that was when they were not simply abysmal. I, who is by no means known for my style, have owned seven of them, two Allegros, two Maestros and three Rovers. In my defence I’ll say that I don’t give a flying fuck about whether or not whatever car I am driving is cool or stylish: when I buy a car, always to replace one which is by then a short drive from the nearest scrapheap, I decide how much I intend to spend – invariably less than £800 – and then cast about for one which is still half-decent and fits my sole criterion.

That was all then, of course, and the whole industry has changed in that most car groups, especially those producing saloons for the middle market, is global. So engineers will be hired in Germany and Britain and designers in Italy. And then, of course, there is the whole range of Far Eastern cars, from Japan, Korea and Malaysia. But they are pretty irrelevant as far as this entry is concerned. This entry is purely concerned with how BMW more or less bought nothing by a name, designed a new car and, almost magically, seemed to have revived the spirit of the original. And then, almost be design, comprehensively proceeded to fuck it all up. That car was the Mini. Here is one of the very first.

It was something else technologically, although the original Fiat 500 (I might well be off on some of the names, but then I am not in the slightest what is known hereabouts as a petrolhead) was a pretty clever design, as was Citroen’s 2CV (of which I have had three, the first, for which I paid way, way, way over the odds to some shyster or other, lasted just one week). But the Mini, which took off like a rocket, was seen everywhere. It was horribly cramped and the suspension was, unless the one you were driving was brand-new, pretty awful. But it was something of an icon, which is why, I suppose, BMW kept the name after buying out British Leyland (or whatever alias it was using in 2000) and sold off everything else to whatever sucker it could find to buy it from them.

Here is one of the first BMW Minis, and the resemblance to the original is uncanny.

But enough wasn’t enough and it could not leave well alone. So then we got this

and then this in my view one of the nastiest designs I have come across. What were they thinking?

And I don’t apologise to anyone who saved up and bought one: you’re a sucker.

. . .

As usual, we don’t really have any idea what is going on except what we see on the TV news or hear on the radio. Newspapers, except perhaps – perhaps – for the ‘serious’ Press (their description, not mine). And, needless to say – although, as always when someone uses that completely redundant phrase, I shall say it, despite it being ‘needless’ – I have no better insight than you.

So, going by what you and I have heard, Russia has more or less ‘invaded’ Eastern Ukraine without appering to have done so. And that, whether you agree or not, is a pretty neat way of going about it. The free West – their description, not mine – claim that bit by bit Russian soldiers have been arriving in dribs and drabs, disguised as tourists or tradesman or something and there is now a sizeable contigent of them sitting somewhere far west of Kiev doing all the things soldiers do when they are about to fight. Russia, for its part, ‘innocent’ and ‘misunderstood’ Russia – its description, not mine – says this is all stuff and nonsense, all made up by America and if there are several of its citizens in Eastern Ukraine, well, why not: a chap needs a bit of down time, fishing or elk hunting or something. You didn’t know there were elks in Eastern Ukraine, did you? Neither did I.

ard on the heels of this revelation or complete nonsense – what you choose to believe depends very much upon whether you dress to the West or the East – comes another story: that far from presenting a united front on these matters, as the euro nerds in Brussels would so dearly love given the huge salaries they command, different EU members are blowing either hot or cold on ‘greater sanctions’. Why that should be the case, if it’s true, and I rather think it is, is the result of just how dependent different EU members are on Russian gas. The Germans, who have jettisoned all their nuclear power production because it’s now cool to be green, are a lot more dependent on it than the French, who produce more than 70pc of their energy in nuclear power plants.

That is not good news, and not just for the euro nerds who are still pushing the ‘EU: all for one and one for all’ line. The latest I have heard is that Putin is now ready for ‘negotiations’ with the government in Kiev – which, remember, is arguably pretty illegitimate given that the previously democratically elected president was more or less deposed in a coup – but that part of the substance of those negotiations will be an element of statehood for Eastern Ukraine. That sounds about right, although I am still baffled by what Putin might be aiming to achieve in the long run. Along those lines I did read – online on The Spectator website – a piece (you can read it here) that in Russian terms Putin’s nationalism, if that is what it is, is by far not the danger we think it is, but that there is a far more nationalistic element in Russia who think Vlad the Lad is a bit of a wuss in matters nationalistic. Who knows?

But I did recall a few days ago how two former British ambassadors to Moscow did opine that by his behaviour this year Putin has rather painted himself into a corner. He must now either press on and on with similar action as we saw in Crimea to keep his popularity up – which, to the universal disgust of Western liberals, is very high – or risk losing face by being more conciliatory and, dare I say, pursuing a more peaceful outcome to what is happening. I think our - the West’s – Achilles heel is our mindset which is now hooked on ever more economic growth and for whom nationalism is a dirty word and which doesn’t simply not accept that for others – many Russians, for example – nationalism can be and end in itself, but can’t even comprehend as much.

e are still stuck in the development of our varied imperialist pasts over these past 100 years or so: in the 18th and 19th centuries Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, to a lesser degree Germany, and the U.S. – yes, them, too – went around ‘conquering the world’ mainly to find more markets for their goods. That, in a way, is how we still think.

Whatever nationalism which became apparent was, as far as I am concerned, merely a fig-leaf to hide our more venal instincts. We can’t quite grasp that ‘making ever more money’ might not be quite as vital to the psyche of a nation than national pride, however lethal the national pride might find itself being expressed.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ooh Vicar! Or how I learnt to love smut and realised early in my life that Donald McGill, Max Miller, Julian Clary, Humphrey Lyttelton and the rest are our true British heroes

A woman walks into a bar and asks for a double entendre. So the barman gave her one.

If 1) You don’t understand what’s going on; or 2) You do understand what’s going and think I should be ashamed of myself this blog entry will certainly not be for you. But if 3) You do understand what’s going on and smiled, sniggered, chuckled or perhaps even laughed, read on.

NB This entry and the four soundfiles below will be of especial use to all those learning English and/or who are not British but are keen to gain a deeper understanding of the British psyche. Here are four soundfiles which together make up a recent 30-minute edition of a Radio 4 programme called Word Of Mouth. (It is split into four parts because that was the only way I could post it here).

I listen to it regularly because I find the English language and the myriad facets of it fascinating. The most recent edition is called Rude Health and was presented by the actor Arthur Bostrom who played the Captain Crabtree in ’Allo ’Allo!, a British spy in occupied France during World War II who has a very poor command of French. In it he talks about our British predilection for double entendre. Give it a whirl.

NB The soundfiles will not play in Opera, but do play in other browsers, most certainly Firefox and Safari. I would, of course, like to add that there is a serious purpose to this post, but there isn’t. Sorry.

Happy sniggering.

First part

Second part

Third part

Fourth part

Donald McGill is mentioned in the programme and here a couple of examples of his postcards. At the end is one produced by the Bamforth & Co Ltd of Leeds. They are in a similar vein but often the entendre is not very double.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My lad and his pride and joy

A few months ago, I recorded that my son had asked for a dog for his birthday, and that I had put my foot down and firmly told him ‘no way’.

I was wise enough to realise that my role in life is to pay the household bills but otherwise stay as quiet as possible and that the only local decision I am allowed to make is when and where to take a dump. And I predicted in the piece that when I returned home from London the following Wednesday from my weekly four-day stint playing my part in keeping the world free by battling for the Truth To Out as a member of Her Majesty’s Press (Puzzles and Tea rounds), there to greet me would most certainly be the puppy I had insisted would never, but never be a pat of our household. And so there was.

Russell, as my son has called him, is a Jack Russell - Russell, geddit - and is a lovely little thing. I soon realised, of course, that my wife also wanted a dog in the house (I’m obviously not enough for her on that score) so the deal was done long, long ago. I must admit I like dogs and I like cats.

My objection to us acquiring a dog is that they are not like some ten-a-penny object which can be bought, broken and tossed out on the same day, but a living thing which deserves as much care as, well, a young child. I kept insisting that a cat should be the answer if we were to have a pet. Cats are simple: after the initial house training, you feed them, and that is about all the care they need. They don’t need to be walked, look after their ‘exercise’ themselves, don’t slavishly run up to you for a bout of affection every 30 seconds and generally are the kind of pet this pragmatist prefers. But it was not to be.

So below is my son and young Russell.

He is still in the early stages of being house-trained and I for one still don’t recognise the signs he gives out when he needs a pee, but generally he has settled in well. He is not the sharpest blade in the box - what dog is except those trotted out on daytime TV who can perform some stupid trick with a box of tissues and a jug of water? - but he has real character and I have taken to him.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

It’s all happening now: Vladimir Putin confesses he’s a Kate Bush fan, some of his soldiers lose their way, Boris and Nigel are still irrelevant, despite what they might like to think, and Rotherham police and social service demonstrate that at the end of the day they don’t give a flying fuck about much, really, least of all 1,400 children who complained of being raped

Well, where does a lad start? In no particular order: Boris Johnson (aka Korky the Kat) and Nigel Farage both announce they will be standing for Parliament at our general election next May; Britain wrestles with the question of whether or not to pal up with Mr Assad of Syria to launch a joint effort to see off the thugs who dare to call themselves Muslims aka Islamic State (or whatever they like to call themselves today); assorted seasoned Russian troops apparently get lost on the Russian/Ukrainian border and find themselves in Ukraine - didn’t they have a map? Obviously not, but at least they will have had a bottle or five of vodka; a report is released detailing the rape and torture of an appalling 1,400 young and older children in just one town - Rotherham - over ten years but they claims weren’t taken seriously, possibly because the sadists who did it were largely Asian and we don’t want to be accused of racism now, do we

To cap it all Kate Bush - look up her name in the AA guide to has-been pop stars if you can’t immediately identify her - as started a month of concerts for the first time in just over 67 years. Let’s start with Kate Bush: with the exception of just one of her many songs - Babuska - I have never liked her music, find her voice thoroughly irritating and so am obviously totally out of the loop with my fellow geriatrics. She strikes me as the Lib Dems of pop music, what with vegan recipes and vegan songs.

I’m liberal enough - with a small ‘l’ I hope you realise - to acknowledge that many do like Kate and her music, but then a great many people also think the British cuisine leads the world (purely on the basis that several well-known French chefs have made Britain their home and you can now get a half-decent meal in London if you have the money). So that, I hope, puts Kate in perspective.

A similar irrational attitude comes into play when folk talk about Boris Johnson, all tousled blond hair, Latin phrases and what is regarded as a disarming charm. He has made no bones about the fact that ‘he wants to be Prime Minister’, but the Lord help us if he ever gets a sniff of the top job. It would be pertinent to ask: what does Boris stand for (and he is one of the few politicians who get instant recognition even if you only refer to him by his christian name)?

Well, I don’t know, except the greater glory of Boris Johnson. In my book he is firmly in the Total Nine-Bob Note drawer, but there is a sufficient number of folk who seem to believe his British version of ‘aw shucks, I’m just an ordinary guy’ and the mop of tousled hair plus those incomprehensible Latin quotes he comes out with are enough reason to think he might run the country less badly than recent Labour and Conservative politicians.

As for Nigel Farage, well I’ll grant that he is popular, not least with many folk who think of themselves as Labour, and seems to articulate the feelings of many as regards the EU and what is always awfully vaguely referred to as ‘immigrants’. But despite the claims that the party he leads, UKIP - the United Kingdom Independence Party - is a ‘growing force’ in British politics, he is, as far as I can tell and going on the performance of his fellow Ukippers, about the one sane man among an otherwise worryingly wacky gang of folk who don’t have a policy to pursue between them. You might gather that he won’t be getting my vote.

As for the Russian chaps who accidentally crossed the border into Ukraine, well, just how careless can you get, especially in view of all that’s going on in eastern Ukraine? I am tempted to observe that Ukraine is a country of which we know little and of which we would like to know even less, but the situation there is dire, especially as the West’s attention is now firmly elsewhere, worrying about how many more thousands Islamic State will behead, bury alive or execute in more humane ways before the UN finally gets its act together and passes a very, very, very strong resolution telling ISIS, IS or whatever it is today: ‘Look, you can’t do this sort of thing, it really isn’t done, and if you carry on, we’ll be forced to pass another very, very, very strong resolution. So watch it!’ Under the circumstances that might sound like an unbearably facetious thing to write, but it isn’t far from the truth.

The big question being asked now - and dividing the West as only the West knows how to be divided - is to we co-operate with Syria’s president Assad to try to put an end to Islamic State. From where I sit, the answer is a very reluctant, yes, of course, but not much is going to happen soon and in the meantime those pseudo-islamic thugs will get stronger and stronger, and murder more and more folk. Maybe Kate Bush should write a song about it all.

Maybe Boris knows how to sort it all out. Maybe Nigel Farage will declare that we most certainly won’t grant any of them visas when UKIP is in charge. But while the West dithers before dithering a lot more, one Vladimir Putin will quietly be beavering away thinking up more mischief.

. . .

On the question of Russia, Putin and Ukraine, what puzzles me most of all is just what exactly does Putin want? The real problem, of course, is that we judge other cultures by the standards and values of our own. That was the fatal flaw in the policy which was said to underpin the invasion of Iraq. The West - well the US and Britain - seemed to believe, arrogantly, that once we had got rid of Saddam Hussein and had shipped in several thousand ballot boxes, the grateful Iraqis would embrace democracy like a man dying of thirst will gulp down several pints of water. They did in a sense, but in another sense they were no nearer democracy. It might be more honest to say, democracy, shmerocracy, what people really want is not to be treated like shit. And being treated like shit happens all the time in even the most pristine-looking democracies. As for the Middle East, we seemed to have no conception of the Arab mind and our ignorance allied to our arrogance is doing no one any favours at all.

Well, the invasion of Iraw is water under the bridge, not to say several hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and buried because of the unbearable vanity of George Dubya and his simpering acolyte Tony Blair, but we might try to learn the lesson and try a lot harder to understand the Russian psyche. So what is it that Putin wants? What would he regard as his prize? Is it really to get back Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Russian fold? Surely he must realise that that is never going to happen and surely he must realised the risk there is of war if he pursues that objective.

It is now futile to cast blame, but if I were to do so, I would firmly blame the West - the US and the EU - in meddling in Ukrainian domestic politics, which is what seems to have sparked the whole shooting match. I’ve asked what Putin is actually after, but equally one might wonder exactly what the West and the EU hoped to achieve by their meddling. I can’t seem to discern any grand strategy, especially if, as it has seemed for these past 20 years trade and the necessary co-operation to ensure good trade was the name of the game.

As usual, of course, I am just another blogger pointlessly adding his two ha’porth worth. But as I now have an 18-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, I do get very angry that what strikes me as criminal incompetence is making the world far less safe, and for no good reason whatsoever.

. . .

As for the appalling sexual abuse of children in Rotherham, one horrific element is that way, in the phrase used by several reports - and you can read three here, here and here - social services and the police simply turned a blind eye to what was going on. They were fully informed, but as the majority of the perpetuators were Asian, they ‘did not want to appear racist’ and so ignored it.

As the report pointed out, the 1,400 children - 1,400! - are just those who had the courage to come forward. Just how many more were there who were too scared to come forward? And, for a moment, reflect on the hopeless bewilderment of those who might have considered coming forward but who realised it would be pointless because nothing was done about it. Then reflect upon just how many more there are in other towns up and down the country. And we still like to portray ourselves as a ‘caring’ country. Get to fuck!

Read the reports and make up your own mind.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I freeze my bollocks off and hope for warmer weather elsewhere in a few weeks, while Francois apparently hasn’t done the decent thing and it might not have been his decision anyway. As for that Vlad Putin: does he really have a plan?

Given the continuing interest of some folk in the love lives of Francois Hollande and his most recent squeeze actress Julie Gayet, and the claim that he was about to pop the question on his 60th birthday last week (August 12), these three pictures would seem to prove that if he did pop it, he didn’t pop it hard enough. For Francois has most recently been pictured on holiday – alone. And Ms Gayet has also recently been pictured on holiday – but not alone. The chap in question is said to be finance management lawyer Pierre Puybasset (so he won’t be short of a centimes or two, and if there’s one thing woman like, it’s a chap with deep pockets).

Here we have Francois getting stuck into his newspaper at (so I am informed, but it isn’t obvious from the picture0 a poolside. Well, where else would you expect to find him in mid-August?

Then there are these two snaps: in the first Julie (as we must now call her) emerges from a dip in the sea with Pierre (as we must now call him).

Here, in the second, they seem to be saying goodbye, and for what it’s worth that kiss seems more a goodbye kiss between two friends than two lovers.

The obvious question is, of course, why did Francois go on holiday alone? Is Julie getting just a little fed up with all the attention?
The real question, of course, is: what the hell does it matter (which would make my posting these pictures here just a tad irrelevant). The world seems well on its way to Hell in a handcart in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and the Ukraine, the weather here in Old Blighty is bloody awful, Miley Cyris is pretending to be grown-up again, Manchester United still haven’t won a Premier League game in this new season (they were held to a 1-1 draw by Sunderland, although the way they have been playing it might be more accurated to describe it as United holding Sunderland to a 1-1 draw. And whether or not van Gaal, the apparent deus ex machina who is proving to be nothing of the kind is capable of Ferige-style ‘hairdryer’ tirades in the dressing room which at least ensure United kept on winning is anyone’s guess).

So why are you and I wasting our time with speculating about the love life of a fat Frenchman who by 2017 will be less than a footnote in history? Because we’re stupid, that’s why.

. . .

In own life (as you ask) the next great event is a week in the depths of Valencia county or whatever it is called with my 80-year-old potter friend, Seth Cardew. I must admit I am looking forward to those seven days because it really is a question of doing fuck-all for 24 hours every day, and there are a few books I am looking forward to reading. I don’t know whether of not he will have any students for the week I am there, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m hoping that the temperature will be at least 10c warmer than it is here, which, for mid-August, is an appalling 11c. I’m told be those who take a far keener interest in these matters than I do that we even had a ground frost in Cornwall a few nights ago. Well!

(NB Just looked at the weather forecast for the week I am there, and apart from a thunderstorm – for surely t-storm means thunderstorm – on the day I arrive, it looks like sun, sun, sun all the way with temperatures around 30c. Thank the Lord!)

And there isn’t even a government department we can complain to and claim compensation from! Talk of bloody democracy! I blame the EU! Lord, knows what it’s up to! No wonder we are getting freezing temperatures in August! Makes you bloody sick! Well, what do you expect! Look at the pig’s ear they made of Ukraine! All we want to do is station a few hundreds tanks on its eastern border and have some of our fighter jets parked discreetly in some of its military airports, but look at the fuck-up they have made of that! Makes you bloody sick.

. . .

One of the better and more persuasive observations I have heard about the whole Ukraine fuck-up (and it still is being conveniently overlooked that this new chap Peroshenko is about as legitimate as nine-bob note given how his predecessor was ousted in a coup) is that Vlad the Lad Putin has rather miscalculated: no one denies that his popularity rating is soaring in Russia, but he seems to have painted himself into a corner: the crowd want ever more of this Mother Russia triumphalist shite and so to keep them happy he is obliged to supply it.

Yet the only way out of this must be negotiations, a route he might suspect he can’t take for fear of looking weak. That, at least, is the view of two former British ambassadors to Moscow, pronounced independently. And one of them opined that Putin is at heart rather a cautious man and is not the master strategist many would think him to be (perhaps even Vladimir himself) after the easy, easy way he annexed Crimea.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Snaps, snaps, pictures, and snaps / just for a laugh, just for the craic

When I was younger and still idealistic, I developed an interest in photography. It began with trying to take pictures with whatever crap camera was around, and in those days they were crap, with folk even making do with 110mm format film, which for quality was even worse than the old box Brownie. But because the pictures most folk took in those heady days of holidays on the Spanish costas - horribly posed group shots of folk gurning as though their life depended on it just to prove what a good time they were having, or pictures of beautiful sunsets which turned into underexposed photos of nothing - were crap anyway, it really didn’t matter if the resolution was appalling.

My pictures were the same, but I was disappointed again and again and wanted to create the pictures I had intended, which I never did, and bit by bit got deeper into photography, inch by sorry inch. I was, however, a slow learner, though I did eventually teach myself developing and printing, which meant I wasn’t spending an arm and a leg getting some lab to develop my films and I could now reproduce the pictures on 10 x 8 paper.

I finally decided I wanted to ‘become a photographer’ in the dangerous time in every man’s life when they decide to throw over the traces and do what they think they were put on this earth to do. It happens when they have turned 30; I have no idea what similar existential crisis women face. Perhaps it is that they finally decide they want to have babies (if, of course, they don’t already have them.) Some think it is to ‘write my novel', others fuck off and open an antiques shop somewhere, others still decide to re-invent the wheel. So I threw over my job as a sub-editor and enrolled on a photography course at West Bromwich College. (As for ‘writing my novel’, I must pass on Peter Cook’s story. At a party of some kind he met some guy and asked him what he was doing. ‘I'm writing my novel,’ the man told him. ‘No, neither am I,’ said Peter Cook, who was nothing if not honest. Well, at least I’ve done it. It might be complete shite, but at least I’ve done it.)

I lasted just two terms because ran out of money, but my interest continued. I had, anyway, learnt quite a lot in the two terms of a two-year course I managed, particularly on the theory side of photography, most of which, of course, I have since forgotten. I also found a job working in an advertising photographic studio for three months, and although I picked up a bit more there (and dropped one particular howler twice when I and another assistant were allowed to use the studio after hours to do the girlfriend of a friend a favour).

After being unemployed for 11 months, I found another job, again as a sub, but I carried on with photography. This was all in the days before Photoshop and digital cameras (which don’t seem that long ago to me, but are probably ancient history to you), and I used to buy B&W film by the 30m can and load my own 35mm canisters. I also used to develop my own film and, naturally, print my own pictures.

I didn’t stick to B&W because I preferred it - and still prefer B&W pictures - but it was also a damn sight cheaper. I did do a little bit of colour printing at college and your more or less have to work in the dark, although your eyes do get used to the almost complete absence of light sooner than you might believe. I can’t say I am much good, but I do know enough to spot when a photographer does know what he is doing. There again the definition of ‘good’ is so flexible that as near as dammit a conversation about what is a ‘good’ picture and what isn’t is neigh-on pointless.

Yesterday my cousin showed me some of his pictures he has posted on a blog, and I thought that as I still have several knocking around, I would do the same. So here are some, although one picture in particular has mysteriously gone missing. I shan’t give much detail or any explanation. I am hugely sceptical of those photographic exhibitions of so-so pictures which are really nothing special, but which are acommpanied by an A4 sheet of explication, explanation and I don’t know what else justifying what is otherwise a pretty ordinary picture, usually about poverty in the Gambia, Aids in Rwanda, deprivation among the Australian aboriginals (can’t for the moment think of the PC phrase, sorry), inebriation among the Inuit (know that one, won’t catch me writing Eskimo) etc.

Of the following, all were taken between 1982 and 1990. How’s that for keeping up to date?

Here are some:

In a pub in Balsall Heath, Birmingham


My guitar, since stolen, in my house in the Maypole, Kings Heath, Birmingham


My neighbour in Kings Heath with her newborn. I like this picture because it is not just a picture of a mother and her child - one and a bit - but with the baby staring straight into the lens, it is a picture of two people


Somewhere in France, Bordeaux area I think. I used to take a look of natural light phtotography using fast film but balancing the different elements when printing up was a real bugger


Somewhere in Birmingham, at night (Never!)


My niece (now recently married and 31) feeding the ducks in a park in Cologne. She is the one who doesn't look like a fairy-tale witch


Very proud, very fat motorcycle cop in New York, June 1989. I think obesity was in in that year, at least a great many of the Yanks I saw were following that trend


North coast of Germany


North coast of Germany (I think)


St David's Hall, Cardiff. I snapped three rolls of film - 105 exposures - and got only three even halfway decent shots. I now have a great deal of respect for the sports photographers of the early part of the 20th century who used plate cameras and had about eight plates with them


My cousin from Hamburg, taken when I went to stay with her


New York, June 1989


North coast of Germany


Although all these pictures are monochrome, they all seem to have a slight brown tinge. That, I think, is because they have been tucked away in folders for these past 20 or 25 years. Just for the craic, here are two pictures taken more recently.

BMW in London (a city in the United Kingdom)

A  door in France with a can of Heiniken


Mind, does this look better. I must admit I prefer it, but as I am one of a dying breed who grew up in black and white, that’s not too surprising.

Same door without the colour. It's what we call 'desaturated on those rare occasions when there is someone around we would like to impress with big - well, bigger - words

. . .

 It’s not just the Daily Mail which has the obsession with ‘being middle-class’. It is shared by the Daily Telegraph. Take a look at this in the ‘middle-class’ Telegraph (motto: No Barrel To Deep To Be Scraped). Mind, given the most recent circulation figures, one does wonder exactly who the Telegraph is aiming this story at: according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, the Telegraph is now down to a pitiful circulation of just 514,592 copies in June 2014. This is down from 950,105 in 12 years, but to put it into even better context, not so many years earlier it was selling almost 1.5 million. That’s some plummet by anyone’s standards.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It’s not ‘what’ any more, but ‘how’

I am one of those poor saps who is remarkably slow on the uptake. That’s an honest admission. But however slow on the uptake I am, I find it immensely useful. not to say remarkably helpful, to listen to folk - the conventional term used is ‘experts’ - who know what they are talking about and from whom I might pick up this and that.

A few months ago I watched an interesting three part-series on TV called High Art Of The Low Countries in which a chap - an expert (he said in that faux dog-in-the-manger way he has adopted to feign humility while trying to disguise abject ignorance - I am the very original cultural scavenger) - called Andrew Graham-Dixon trotted through the art of what several centuries ago were known as the Low Countries. These days we know them as Belgium and Holland (aka The Netherlands i.e. the Low Countries).

He began in the 15 century, but I, for the purposes of this entry, shall draw your attention to just one painter a Dutchman called Piet Mondrian, who was born in 1872 and who died 72 years later in 1944.

If, as I contentiously suggest, there is a spectrum of the arts ranging from pure sound - music - at the one end through to pure line, shape and colour - painting - a the other, and if, travelling from the one - contentious extreme to the other - we pass from music, to poetry, writing, theatre, cinema and then onto the graphic, plastic arts - sculpture and ‘pure art’ - I am more inclined to music and words (their sound, meaning and ‘import’) rather than painting. I like going to exhibitions of this, that and t’other, and do so quite often (so to speak), but I feel closer to sound than I do to line, shape and colour. So that is why I enjoy listening, invariably on TV, to people like Graham-Dixon who know a lot more about it than I do and can illuminate it for me.

For the purposes of this entry, though, I shall concentrate on just one thing: the artistic progression, or if you like the development, of an artist, in this case Piet Mondrian. Below are five paintings by him, in reverse order - I believe - of creation.

Mondrian, a Dutchman, was originally (so Graham-Dixon tells me, I should not like to give the impression I know more than I do) a rather conventional painter, but took off on his own unique trajectory after visiting an exhibition of work by his fellow Dutchman van Gogh.

I have reproduced the five works in reverse order to try to make a point. Here is the first:

What, you might ask yourself is so ‘special’ about this? Before I watched the TV progamme by Graham-Dixon, I had seen it (or more probably works like it) before and thought ‘hmm, nice enough, but not in my book outstanding in as far as it looks like any number of works produced by any number of art students’, though consider that when it and its kind were first presented it would have looked rather more unusual. I cannot, in all honesty, stress - and admittedly to my very untutored eye - how ordinary this looks compared with, say, any number of pieces of what one might call ‘corporate art’, pictures bought by the yard by firms for the foyer of their headquarters to persuade you that simply making money is not - honest injun! - all they are interested in, despite your gut feeling.

Nevertheless . . .

What I didn’t know, and what Graham-Dixon informed me, was that it was a development from this:

You can see how it might have developed from one to the next. Mondrian, we were told, spent the war on the coast of Holland and noticed a number of wooden posts which had at one point supported a, now non-existent, pier. That is what is was trying to show. But even that was a development from this:

which was itself a development from this:

And that was a development from this painting, inspired - quite obviously - by van Gogh’s work.

So what has all this got to do with the title of this entry, It’s Not What Any More, But How?

It’s actually quiet straightforward: just how many more times do we have to be told that horrible parents can fuck up their children? That man’s inhumanity to man is beyond comprehension? That there’s nowt as queer as folk? That the lot of those at the bottom of the pile is shit times ten?

What Mondrian is doing above is replicating an aspect of the world in different ways. And as for writing, to put it ostensibly very obscurely but actually very directly: it’s not the joke, it’s the way you tell it.

So my contention is that ‘the story’ is now quite possibly a thing of the past. In fact, it always was: it’s the ‘how’ we tell the different stories, the ‘how’ we manipulate language, it is perhaps, pace the very first Mondrian image reproduced here, the language itself, its use and the manipulation thereof which must now take centre stage given, as I suggest, there’s really not that much new under the sun. And ironically, it has always been that way, not just for the past 20 or 40 years, but almost forever.

The problem is, of course, that all of us are so familiar with language and its myriad usages that it is too immediate. We cannot, or can rarely, stand back and try to view a particular usage in what might be a new way. Paint is different: apart from painters none of us is familiar with paint. So when we are confronted with paint being used in a new, novel way, we are quite possibly alert to that new usage.

But I now sense I am on very shaky ground. So perhaps I should come to an end here and not risk making an even bigger tit of myself by blathering on yet again. As always, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. And I also sense that the few ports I have been drinking while writing this entry might well mean it needs another entry to clarify it all a tad.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Busy, busy, busy? And I bet you thought you had really achieved something this week. So why not sit down and reflect instead? And for the hell of it, a bonus musical track right at the end to help you get rid of all that activity (except, perhaps, the one sort we all know and love)

Quite some time ago, and I don’t know why, I seemed to come to understand a certain and rather important distinction; it was the essential difference between ‘action’ and ‘activity’. And all too often activity is taken for action. Indeed, all too often activity, in our private as well as in public life, is presented as action.

To give an example from the public sphere: most governments, when presented with a problem, resort to a useful ploy. They set up a committee to investigate it. Doing so is useful in two distinct ways: it gives the impression of action, that the problem is being taken seriously and that the government has now set about tackling it; and it does the complete opposite, it manages to sideline the problem and, in a sense, gets rid of it.
The problem is by no means solved, but if called to account, the government can honestly claim that it is tackling it: ‘Look,’ it can in say with apparent honesty and admirable candour, ‘we, of course, are well aware there is a problem and are certainly resolved to do something about it and so we have set up a committee to investigate what can be done, which will, in due course, report’. Until that report is ready, of course, other, perhaps far more pressing problems will present themselves, and the particular problem in hand will more or less be forgotten, relegated somewhere where mention of it and the lack of a government solution to it is out of harm’s way. Job done: a great deal of activity but precious little action.

That is in the public sphere.

But we - or at least I, though I suggest that given that even though I make up just one nine-billionth of the world’s population but am essentially no different to the
other 8.9999 billion folk with whom I share this world, my ‘I’ might well stand for the more universal ‘we’ - also resort to engaging in serious and frenetic, although ultimately self-deceiving, activity which we persuade ourselves means we are actually ‘doing something’. It is not something which has recently occurred to me, but it again occurred to me 20 or 30 minutes ago. Let me explain.

The house is empty. My daughter and son have taken themselves off to toil at their part-time jobs at the Red Lion in St Kew Highway, she serving behind bar (and doing so officially now, as she turned 18 two weeks ago) and waitressing; he, still 15, relegated to washing dishes (although he proudly tells me he has been bumped up to helping ‘prep’ food which as far as I can tell involves taking the steaks out of the fridge and grinding pepper all over them, before they are cooked).

My wife has also taken off, to help a friend engaged in providing one of the stages in a ‘safari’ of some kind, where folk move from household to household for the different courses of a meal - ‘starters’ here, ‘mains’ there, and finally ‘dessert’ somewhere else. Pertinently, as is, unfortunately her wont, she simply walked out the door without bothering to give a farewell, and although that is pretty much what has been her habit these past 18 years, it still, to this day, quietly upsets me. But I shan’t go into that here, if ever, except to record that her wordless departure pitched me into a somewhat reflective mood.

So I took myself out into the garden, to finish off a bottle of cheap Rioja and enjoy a cigar or two. (NB I am not some rich bugger: as I pointed out in a previous entry, if we cigar smokers here in Britain buy our smokes online from Holland or Germany, they come down in price substantially. My La Paz Wilde Cigarros - which I can recommend as being a mild, but satisfying smoke, would cost £11 for just five if I bought them here in Britain. But purchased online from abroad they come down to a far more realistic, not to say far less wallet-denting €28 for 50. And as the cost of postage is the same whether you buy 50 or 100 - or, for that matter 1,000 - I have taken to buying 100 each time.)

Until now, when sitting outside for a drink and a smoke while the weather allows me to do so, I have taken with me a laptop on which I set about surfing the net busily - ‘activity’ again - looking at this news website, eBay, Digital Spy, The Economist, check my emails in case someone has emailed me in the past five minutes since I last checked, taking a look at Facebook, look at eBay again, do everything, in fact, to keep busy. But tonight I didn’t.

Tonight all I had with me was little Russell, the Jack Russell our household has recently acquired who busied himself gnawing incessantly at a ‘bone’ of cow hide. And there I sat trying very hard to think of nothing. But thinking of nothing - often rather more grandiloquently and in admittedly other circumstances, described as ‘meditating’ - is by no means easy.

So there I sat, failing to think, but my mind whirling around like a toy windmill on a windy day. And that is another example of ‘activity masquerading as action’. No action was, of course, needed. There was no need for ‘activity’ to masquerade as any ‘action’. There was nothing I had to do, no action of any kind was necessary. I was, after all, obliged to do absolutely nothing whatsoever except every so often take another sip from my tumbler of wine and, a little more often, take another drag on my cigar. Yet there was still a great deal of completely unnecessary activity.

My mind, as most certainly does yours, would not keep still but flitted here, there and everywhere and settled nowhere, considering this, pondering that, but moving on incessantly and busily, forgetting the last ‘thought’ as the next arrived to crowd it out, rather as a pompous bore continually interrupts conversation so that eventually nothing is discussed though a great deal has been said. So that’s how I came, on again, to reflect on how so easily we deceive ourselves and convince ourselves that if we are eternally busy, busy, busy, even if that business consists only of shapeless, inconsequential and ultimately utterly shallow thinking’, we are somehow usefully engaged.

. . .

I did have something to think about, though, and it was something I have been trying to think about or several days, and it wasn’t the pitiful, barren state of my marriage. With my retirement coming up ever sooner, I have fully resolved finally to put my money where my mouth has been these past 50 years: to put in the sheer effort, the thought and the hard work involved in ‘writing’.

It is no consolation that, quietly and very privately, I have been castigating myself - for the past 50 years - for being just another wannabe. (That’s another, related, facet of ‘activity masquerading as action’: we fully believe that a full confession, readily and pitifully made, grants a full absolution. So when I - and, of course, you in your own way - prostate myself and weep, weep, weep that ‘I am not worthy’, we think that does the trick and that we are not longer guilty. Job done. Well, as the great man said, ‘up to a point, Lord Copper’.) I want to prove, if to no one else, that I am more than just that, just another bloody wannabe. (There is the story of Peter Cook meeting some chap or other at a cocktail party and asking him what he did. ‘I’m writing a novel,’ Cooke was informed’. ‘No, neither am I,’ said Cook, who spotted cant a mile off.)

I can, I thank the Lord, reflect that I have in the past done just that, put in the effort, thought and hard work, and if I did it once, I can do so again. It’s just that when I did so before - and was not married and didn’t have a family - I did so for six or seven hours at a time, and I can’t be doing with 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there.

You have to be brutal with yourself, which, of course, means with others, too. I also know, given that I find writing which is for me just the same as chatting inconsequentially, that the ‘thought’ is not just the hardest part of ‘writing’ but the essential part of ‘writing’. I don’t find it at all difficult to put words to paper (so to speak). But those words - or rather the mass of them which constitute whatever is being constituted - and the thought they reflect - and much, much more - need to be shaped and ordered. That’s the bit I’ve got to learn.

I have recently started a short story (which might well become a rather longer ‘short story’) and I know exactly what I want to do with it. But it needs a great deal of thought. And I am not yet in the habit of thinking. I have banged on before about my novel (the third of three, but the first two were less than crap, though I am proud of the third in which, even though I say so myself, I achieved exactly what I set out to achieve), and it irks me - but just a little because it is futile to be irked for too long and far more sensible just to take it on the chin and move on - that no one, but no one - of the 12/15 people who have read it, has cottoned on to what I was trying to do.

It’s not as though what I was trying to do was ‘difficult’. From where I sit it was, in fact, insanely simple, though admittedly really not what might have been expected. The trouble is that what I am now planning, the story I have just started and which I am trying to ‘think about’, will be equally oblique. Basically because that’s where the fun is. In a sense, what you get is most certainly not what you see. (Yes, I know I have reversed the phrase, but it sums up very well what I tried, and still want, to do).

The irony is, of course, that blathering on here is a prime example of ‘activity being a substitute for action’. But I can live with that. As I recorded in the last post, I find I sharpen my ideas more in discussion and debate and in getting words down on paper than in any numbers of hours spent cogitating.

Two links: the first is to Amazon where you can buy, for a comparative pittance, my blood novel (Lord, this is embarrassing).

Then there is an earlier post about ‘writing’.

. . .

And now - sorry but it doesn’t play in the Opera browser - for the bonus musical track for young lovers of all ages (great shagging music):


Party Wit Me - Brownstone

And if you are after some of those cigar at less than rip-off prices, try here or here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Here’s one for you, Phil and Eric, in which I fess up and then some (though you’ll have to come back for Part II - The Confession if you want some real candour)

This is by way of a letter to two friends I had many years ago at Dundee University, PW and EC. I shan’t give their full names, but they will know who they are (hint: Phil and Eric, and two finer names I really cannot imagine).

This particular entry comes about as a result of several comments I have posted in response to posts they - PW and EC - have made to Facebook, specifically in relation to the ongoing conflict - the current five-day truce notwithstanding - between Hamas and Israel. (I should like to reiterate my view that I don’t think there are two protagonists in this matter, but three: Hamas, Israel and the Palestinians living in Gaza, with the latter more or less condemned to the role of playing ‘piggy in the middle’ (an unfortunate phrase given that they are Muslims, but I hope readers will accept that no offence is at all intended and that I am just using a standard English phrase which seems to sum up their pitiful fate very well. If I could, off-hand, think of another, less insensitive, phrase, I would gladly use it.)

This entry has, however, a broader purpose.

I am one of those folk who suffers from something akin to a butterfly mind. Over the years I have managed to find ways to get the upper hand on it somewhat, but I still find it far easier and far more effective to crystalise my views, opinions and convictions on most matters when I am engaged in debate and when I write. If, on the other hand, I try to consider a matter quietly - in solitude, so to speak - and try to analyse my own views, I seem to get nowhere, go around in circles, lose track of my own thought and, within just a few minutes, will pick up my guitar and pick out those same damn chords and playing those same damn riffs I seem to have been picking out and playing for the past 90 years. At that point all ‘thought’ goes right out of the window.

When, on the other hand, you are - I am - debating a matter (and I find it insufferably dull to be part of a conversation where all parties agree wholeheartedly), I am obliged to use a little more intellectual rigour and to keep track of my argument. That is, in my view, far more worthwhile, not to say, far more productive, and it is also the case when, as here, write and have to marshal my thoughts a little more. And I suspect that is true of most of us.

Writing, however, has both an advantage and a disadvantage: the advantage is that you can go back over what you have written and hone it, edit it, get rid of the flab, sharpen your argument, ensure the thread of your argument flows well and doesn’t take a jump somewhere which comprehensively leaves your reader behind. (Incidentally, years ago I realised that what is written does not have to be ‘perfect’ straight off. Every writer, composing whatever it is she or he is composing, whether fiction or not, has as many opportunities as she or he wants to shape what is being written before it is ‘made public’. Unfortunately, all too often I don’t follow my own advice, but that doesn’t detract from the efficacy of editing what you have written before ‘publication’. I use the word in the broadest possible sense.)

The disadvantage is the same as is present when you are sitting alone ‘thinking’: there is not other party or party to hand to point out the obvious crap you are coming up with. In theory, of course, the remedy is in the process of revision I have outlined above. In practice . . . And there is also the unintentional, often unnoticed, digression, which means you think you were talking of one thing, but end up talking of quite another, while, meanwhile the reader asks: is it me? What the fuck is going on? Is it me?

There is also the problem - from which I’m sure I, too, suffer - that all too many of us have a distinct tendency to ‘have an opinion’, then cast about for whatever respectable argument we can scavenge to bolster that opinion, to justify and substantiate it, to give it a veneer of intellectual respectability. Such opinions, furthermore, are essentially not intellectual views but emotions and feelings. There is nothing wrong with emotions and feelings, but they do not function on the same plane as intellectual reflection and debate and one should never confuse the one for the other, although in practice it is almost always a one-way street.

So, for example, to go back to the Gaza conflict I touched upon above, a great many folk have seen the TV pictures of death, injury and destruction wrought in Gaza and, whether consciously or not, more or less sided with Hamas. That is the, wholly understandable, emotional response. And Hamas knows that, and that is why Hamas has been winning the public relations war by almost a knockout.

What those TV pictures, however, don’t touch upon is the outright evil cynicism of Hamas to sacrifice totally innocent men, women and children to the greater good of their overall aims by - and I understand the UN has confirmed that they have done this - launching their missiles from schools and hospitals. Perhaps they have taken to heart what that arch-fraud Tony Blair was accustomed to recite: ‘Look, you know, you’ve got to, you know, look at the, you know, bigger picture’. The bigger picture, in my example, is: Hamas = the saints, Israel = the sinners. Or to put it another way, on the world stage: Hamas 1, Israel 0. (At this point I am so tempted to say it, that I shall most certainly say it: now ignore the ‘bigger picture’ and pay a little more attention to the details.)

But I have already committed the sin associated with writing which I mentioned above: I have digressed, and digressed so far, I am in danger of losing track entirely of what this post is intended to be about. And that is my politics.

. . .

Given postings I have read from PW’s Facebook posts (and, by the way, hi there, in an obscure way this post is purely for your and EC’s benefit), he is or would seem to be what would conventionally be described as ‘left of centre’. Where EC rests on that particular political spectrum is, from his Facebook posts, a little harder to discern. Most pertinently, I would not blame them if they had decided, given my comments on their posts, that I am now decidedly ‘right of centre’. But I really am not, not by a long chalk.

First off, that left/centre/right spectrum is more or less hopeless. It is nothing more than the tool of lazy journalists and media historians with an eye on making a splash on TV. It means absolutely nothing. Certainly it allows those who like to garner their opinions from the rag of their choice a spurious range of easy comments - so and so can be dismissed out of hand because he is ‘a lefty’ and so and so can be castigated out of hand because he is ‘right-wing’. But when push comes to shove they tell us as much about the individual concerned - and specifically the nuances of her or his thinking - as knowing that Elvis lived in Graceland which was in a town called Memphis tells you about Elvis and his music. That is, fuck all.

I knew both PW and EC at Dundee University. EC was a little older than me, but in my year, and PW was in the year above us. I can’t remember either being overtly political, although as this was the Sixties I expect both were far more in tune with the ‘progressive’ Zeitgeist than I ever was. To put it bluntly, in the five years he spent at Dundee, this young chap, the product of a Roman Catholic primary school (on a fine day, Miss O’Malley would say things like ‘there’s enough blue in the sky to make a cloak for Our Lady’ and where I learnt to nod my head every time I said the word ‘Jesus’), who progressed to a Jesuit college in Berlin, before being dunked, as it seemed to me at the time, head first into a sewer of sexual repression that was a RC public school, didn’t know - to use a phrase is about as descriptive as they get - shit from sausages.

Admittedly, most of my friends were ‘lefties’ (though they are so no longer, natch, despite what they like to think, earning too much money, they are now, to be bothering with all that except to pay lip service ‘left thought’) but that was only because it was the ‘lefties’ who smoked dope. And boy was I fond of dope. Oh, and the lefties were usually far funnier than the rest, and to this day I do like to laugh.

Ironically, given the company I kept, the public school crowd who tried to make me one of their own for a month or two at the beginning of my time at Dundee, put me down as a ‘lefty’, and the ‘lefties’ all put me down as a dilettante, or so I like to think. (Incidentally, I do fondly recall the sheer earnestness of the ‘lefties’, though I now admire their idealism, of which I had less than none. There were two

Some of my friends at Dundee. Lord was I glad they were on the case

groups: Solidarity and International Socialism. And, if I recall well, they loathed each other with a venom which you could almost bottle and sell for £10 a pint. Where is that earnestness now? These days everyone is far, far too intent on sucking the government's dick and ‘joining the workforce’ and/or (delete as applicable) ‘building a career’.

That was all - I hate to say it - 42 years ago, and my sole consolation is that it was also 42 years ago for PW and EC. The irony is that as I have grown older, but especially, over these past 14 years or so, I have found myself drifting irrevocably ‘to the left’ (except that ‘to the left’ is still a nonsensical notion) but that might well come as something of a surprise to PW and EC, especially given my comments on the conflict in Gaza.

. . .

This is where I must admit that I do miss debate. It is no bullshit: these days I love debate, although I say that with the proviso that I can’t be bothered getting into a pseudo debate which in practice is nothing more than trading prejudices, and - probably supremely arrogantly - I refuse outright to discuss anything with anyone who I feel hasn’t actually thought for her or himself but is just parroting what they read - and probably thoroughly misunderstood - in the Guardian, Telegraph or Twitter earlier in the day. As for folk who like to quote the Daily Mail, forget it. I love my colleagues dearly, but . . . (Those fucking migrants, eh, come over here, do all our work . . . )

. . .

But the two half-litre cans of Kronenburg 1664 I had earlier on at my stepmum’s (and the two La Paz Wilde Cigarros cigars I smoked while drinking them - sorry lads, but in mitigation I must tell you that I buy them online from Holland where they cost just €0.56 (45p) each which compares very favourably with the £11 the shysters in this country charge you for five of exactly the same cigar) and the three 333ml cans of Jack Daniesl and cola (just £1.85 at all good branches of Asda) are beginning to tell. And 1) I am beginning to ramble, but 2) I really can’t be arsed to follow my own advice and edit this before posting it, so I had better get to it and the point of this post. Which might just have to follow in a subsequent post.

March them up to the top of the hill and all that. Magic!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The bleak truth: summer here in Britain is over. It might drag on for a week or two but… Meanwhile, Hamas 1 - Israel 0, but what about the Isis psychos?

I left work this evening and realised that today, August 11, summer here in Britain is already over. Although this is not at all unusual – in some years we don’t even have a summer, but this year there have been some remarkably hot weeks – but still it is disappointing. I like autumn, in fact it’s my favourite season, but I don’t really want it beginning before August is not even half over. There are no particular signs that summer has now been concluded in Old Blighty, but it is, to me at least, unmistakable. I went to the basement to get my car, drove onto Young Street and stopped outside the Nat West branch at the junction with Kensington High Street and a wind was blowing fiercely. And it was not a warm wind, but the chilly kind we get towards the end of September. Yet today is August 11.

Certainly, winds blow in June and July, and certainly we have, every year, days which, if not exactly chilly, are most definitely not warm. But there was more to it, that indefinable something you can’t ignore even if you want to. It is nothing physical, but a sensation. Without being too fanciful it is akin to ‘regret’.

 Most of you reading this will have experienced something similar when days, weeks, months, even years before a relationship reaches a sorry end, you know it has ended. You know it and can’t ignore it. Well, that’s what I felt – and feel, sitting here in the smoking area outside the Prince of Wales on the border of Kensington and Fulham. Shame really, but there you go.

As a rule we Brits are all pretty much ‘glass half full’ people when it comes to the weather. We always look on the bright side, we value the bright sunny days because for us they are comparatively rare compared to folk living in the South of France or Italy or Spain. And because we are almost pathologically positive and upbeat about what the weather might be like ‘tomorrow’ even though ‘today’ has been something of a washout, any Brits reading this might well tell themselves ‘he’s talking out of his arse. Summer ended? Before August is even halfway over? Nonsense. It’s just a bad day’.

Well, they are wrong and I am right. At least, fingers crossed and all that, there might be a longer summer next year. And if there isn’t, well, the year after then. Or the year after that. Who knows? But the Brits are still in shorts, despite the so-so weather. It’s a point of pride.
. . .

I wasn’t in London yesterday, but I gather there was a demonstration of several million people expressing their outrage over ‘Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza’. Well, you have your views on the conflict in and around Gaza and I have mine.

I have made mine clear in previous entries, but I shall add again that the one war which Hamas is winning hands-down is the public relations war. Irrespective of the cynicism with which they ensured there had to be Palestinian deaths by launching their missiles into Israel from schools and hospitals (the UN confirmed that weeks ago) and that every dead Palestinian woman and child is a winner as far as they are concerned in the conflict the are fighting, and irrespective of the dismay of ordinary Palestinians who would like to be shot of Hamas and their brutal methods, their opponents, Israel are the demons in the popular view and they are seen as the plucky freedom fighters battling bravely against the assumed brutality of the Israeli state maching. Oh, if only things were that simple.

This occurred to me – again – when I read the news that 500 Yazidis have been executed by the psychos who make up ‘the Islamic State’ (formerly Isis) and that many more men, women and children were buried alive for refusing to convert to Islam. And where is the demo here in London by all those with a conscience urging the British government and the Weset in general to do something about it? And where is the action from neighbouring Islamic states, outraged that innocents should be butchered, to get something, anything, done to try to put and early end to it all?

The whole Isis business (I’ll stick to that name for the sake of convenience) has brought together some odd, very, very odd alliances. The US, Iraq (run by that arch-crook al-Maliki whose policies of shutting the Sunnis out of government were part of the cause of the rise of Isis), Iran and its clients Hizbollah are all strangely ‘united’ in opposition to Isis. And with the Assad also – to put it mildly – dead against Isis, it gets stranger by the hour. But I’m sure the UN will come up with some resolution or other. They are always very good at coming up with resolutions. But where is the expression of popular anger against Isis we have seen expressed as it was against ‘those brutal Jews’.

Don’t hold your breath.

. . .

And just for the craic . . .

Friday, August 8, 2014

READ ALL ABOUT IT! Idealist in Cumbria bids to solve newspaper TRUTH CRISIS by BUYING The Times and The Sunday Times! Full details pages 5 to 9. PLUS what to wear if you are carted off to the funny farm, a cheat’s guide to toasting bread, AND does Kate eat? We reveal all!

I’ve come across a rather touching, though wholly naive, attempt to ‘solve’ that ongoing crisis in British print journalism, the ‘phone hacking scandal’.

I say ‘ongoing’, but in fact it’s all gone rather quiet what with more recent news stories such as Boris Johnson’s revelation that despite the impression he might once have given that he was all for a quiet life and could well be retiring to Mid-Wales to open an arts and crafts shop in Brecon, he is, in fact, quite keen to re-enter the House of Commons with a view eventually to accepting the Crown of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, (although, to be fair, he described that as an ‘aspiration’ rather than a plan).

Then there’s Vladimir Putin’s quiet, but determined and very brave drive to extend the boundaries of Russia to Hounslow (which has caused quite some consternation in the Civic Centre, Lampton Road, because staff there are concerned Russia will renege on the promised moratorium on canteen price rises). The ‘onging phone hacking crisis’ was, however, top of the ‘news agenda’ for several years until recently. (‘Agenda’ does add a certain gravitas to whatever other word or phrase it’s attached to, so when I speak of my nightly ‘drinking agenda’, it does seem to soften the impression that I am, in fact, no more than a raging alky who’s well on his way to Hell in a handcart.)

Everyone living in Britain over these past three or four years will have been very much aware at the public’s sheer fury with Her Majesty’s print journalists over their practice of listening to the messages left on the mobile phones (‘cellphones’, ‘handys’) of ‘celebrities’ with a view to coming up with more ‘stories’. Outrageous or what?

Describing it as ‘hacking’ does rather over-egg the pudding a little in as far as the ‘hacking’ merely consisted of the hack who was ‘hacking’ (yes, I know it gets a little confusing, which is why they had to launch a public inquiry into it all) merely ringing the phone, and once he or, I suppose, she had reached the mailbox, he or she would merely input the relevant pin to access the messages. And as almost all of us (but especially our ‘celebrities’) couldn’t be arsed to come up with a more secure pin only they knew, the pin was usually, 12345 or 000000. So not much coding or programming expertise needed there, then.

Still, it was an outrageous invasion of privacy - far, far more outrageous, for example, than the new power recently granted to Her Majesty Revenue and Customs (‘the taxman’) to dip into our bank accounts if they felt like it and take money they felt we owed them - and the hacks got to hear all kind of dirty secrets the celebrities would rather have kept quiet.

With an immense stroke of luck the ‘scandal’ exploded just after our British MPs, or, at least, a great many of them, had been exposed as a gang of fiddling crooks who were manipulating the House of Commons expenses system to feather their nest very nicely indeed. (Incidentally, our MPs are in no danger of imminently starving to death: last December they voted themselves - that’s right, voted themselves - an 11pc pay rise, while the rest of us poor saps were obliged - in view of the ‘ongoing financial crisis’ - to settle for a .5pc rise or even just a sweet letter from management informing us that there was still no money in the kitty for a pay rise, but that we were all doing a smashing job which was much appreciated.)

So at a stroke the MPs were able to take their revenge rather sooner then they will have expected by launching what the British nation, with its customary irreverent wit, has come to call the ‘Leveson Inquiry’ with a view to fucking up the print press industry and stalwart souls who work in it in whatever way possible as often as possible and whenever possible.

Unsurprisingly, every last scam the MPs got up to was gleefully recorded by the newspapers, who know all about fiddling expenses — for several years when working in the South Wales Valleys, I made more on my expenses and ‘lineage’ (re-writing court and council stories I had done for my paper at greater length for an assoicated weekly paper than I took home every week in my regular pay) — but at least it isn’t public money.

One MP claimed for a ‘duck house’ on expenses, while a great many more managed to manipulate their housing allowances to — i.e. stipulating whether their London address or their constituency address was their ‘main home’ — to ensure their mortgage was paid off on expenses, then after some more fancy footwork, the house would be sold off at great profit and a new round of screw the taxpayer could begin. There are around 625 MPs and not all were up to it by any means, but a rather dishearening number were. Only two have been jailed, which compares rather badly with the number of fold regularly banged up for fiddling their benefits, but then, of course, such saps aren’t nearly as important as our MPs.

Being lumped together with redtop hacks has, of course, upset the hacks employed at the ‘serious’ end of print journalism, such as those on the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and something called ‘The Independent’, who insist they were far too moral to do anything as scruffy as listening to someone’s private phone messages, and so why should the get their nuts kicked in as well? To which the obvious answer is that if they weren’t doing any hacking, well, they missed a trick, didn’t they and only have themselves to blame. And that’s why they, too must also be scragged. Simple, really.

I have no idea what punitive measures Brian Leveson (pictured, who is, incidentally a Scouser, though whether he supports Liverpool of Everton I don’t know) has come up with, but you can read an account of his inquiry and his conclusions here (if that’s your bag).

As far as I know it’s a stalemate at the moment, a stand-off between Parliament, i.e. the MPs who were caught with their hands in the till, who want every last word newspapers intend to publish to be submitted to them for scrutiny at least a week in advance of publication, and newspaper circulations to be restricted to just 1,000 copies a day and only to be read by nobility and ‘persons of, or pertaining to, or by birth assumed to be, or intended for a position of prominence in the Shires of Her Majesty’s realm at home and overseas (as defined in the Land Belonging to The Queen Acts 1907, 1912 and 1971)’.

You won’t be surprised that the newspapers, who relish a fight if it boosts circulation, want none of that, no sir! They admit that their methods have, on occasion, you know once or twice perhaps been a little over-zealous and that once or twice rogue reports and executives (who have since been dealt with) overstepped the mark, but that Britain is a democracy with an enviably free press and should be proud of its free press and that quite apart from curtailing the freedoms the press enjoys in the public’s interest, they should be extended even further.

So for their part they propose that by law everyone in Britain over the age of 18 should be obliged to buy two papers a day (a ‘serious’ one and a ‘not-so-serious one’), although they will not necessarily be required to read them; that all all those employed by them in an editorial capacity should be exempt from parking charges of any kind while in pursuit of their professional activities; and that monies invested by the industry in industry-related enterprises should no longer attract Vat. We await the outcome of this particular tussle with interest.

You’d assume, given the fact that I have served before the mast in the newspaper industry man and boy since June 4, 1974, that my loyalties would be with the Lords Copper and Zinc of this world, but, unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward as I have plans (coming along quite nicely as it happens) to become a ‘person of prominence’ here in Cornwall, which does rather complicate matters.

. . .

But what about the rather touching, though wholly naive, attempt to ‘solve’ that ongoing crisis in British print journalism? Well, it is a novel, though from where I sit, quite daft solution: a group which calls itself Let’s Own The News has launched an attempt to raise enough cash from the public to buy The Times and The Sunday Times. Think I’m joking? Well, take a look. It all has to do with the latest fad known as ‘crowd sourcing’ or ‘crowd funding’. I don’t know whether they are just

two different words for the same new and exciting activity, although I gather that etiquette is demanding that only gays call it ‘crowd sourcing’ and the rest of us must call it ‘crowd funding’ (or the other way round - if are interested in following that up, you’ll have to do your own research. Sorry.)

The enterprise is so charmingly naive and ludicrous and as close to a spoof as you might get (though I am pretty certain it isn’t one) that I am finding it difficult even to say something facetious about it. So I shan’t. In brief, the group behind this particular wacky proposal is fired up by the idea that if loads and loads and loads of folk have a small financial stake in The Times and The Sunday Times (and, in their tiny minds, I should imagine bit by bloody bit the rest of the stable of papers which make up Her Majesty’s Press) rather than, as they claim, Britain’s newspapers being owned by just five families, the ‘voters can control the source of information we rely on for our votes’. Fancy! And I’m still finding it almost extremely difficult to come up with anything facetious.

So far (as of now, 9.45am on August 8, 2104) 655 folk have ‘pledged’ a total of £212,569.50. The ‘pledged’ implies that they haven’t - thank God - parted with any moolah yet. The site goes on to suggest that buying the papers is achievable because News Corp might well be willing to sell to the group if it can come up with the money as it has been willing to sell before and both papers are making a loss. It then outlines why buying the papers - despite the losses they are making - is ‘an attractive investment’: ‘[the papers are] already close to profitability. The Times and The Sunday Times are already close to profitability with a £6m loss last year on £348m of revenue. The loss is down from £72m in 2009’.

Explaining why the group would make a financial success of the papers where News Corp has so far failed (although by its own admission losses have been reduced from £72m in 2009 to just £6m last year), it says that Murdoch had previously promised not to merge the two papers, but once the group had its hands on them, that promise need no longer be kept, the papers could be merged, savings could be made and Bob’s your uncle! Easy really. Look, I think I’ve got to find a dark room and lie down. Take a look at the site, have a laugh, then go and do something more useful. But I shall book mark the website and keep an eye on it.

Incidentally, it is ‘backed’ by The Young Foundation whose mission is to ‘... harness the power of social innovation to a tackle the root cause of inequality’. Well, I’m all for people not being treated like shit (and as I grow older feel more and more and more inclined to drift to the left), but when I read vacuous, woolly statements such as the above I have even more reason to find that dark room and lie down for a few hours. NB Actually, on reflection that last jibe might be a little harsh but I do find many such groups do tend to waffle rather too much. It’s as though if you’ve got the jargon down and can spout it when and wherever, you feel you have done something, rather as activity is all too often mistaken for action.

It does occur to me that I might look into crowd funding as a way of lightening the financial burden of my nightly drinking agenda. You never know.

. . .
Finally, a picture I took yesterday because it was so nice and sunny of Wenfordbridge just down the road from where I live and where the potter

Michael Cardew used to have his workshop, which was then taken over by his son Seth. That cottage us now up for sale. I don’t think the workshop and kiln were kept up, though I might be wrong. So if you got £750,000 handy ...

Pip, pip.