Thursday, October 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

Except that he is.

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

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

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

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

and here is his second listing:

Can you spot the difference?

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

Who they? Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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