Saturday, May 30, 2015

Howl! Those old hippy buffers still think they were relevant. Oh, well, but never trust folk who believe their own bullshit. And then there’s Ginsberg’s Howl: a milestone in poetry or just a long late-adolsescent rant? You decide, I’m off to watch the Cup Final

I was born in 1949 so I might legitimately be regarded as part of the ‘Sixties generation’, although for one or two reasons I was not. First of all, I was only ten in 1960 and although I was 20 by the end of the decade, the whole ‘movement’ had more or less played itself out. It was already being taken over by the sharp minds who always know how to turn pretty much everything into hard cash and who almost always thereby destroy the essence of what has caught their interest and made it notable.

A second reason as to why I was never really part of the Sixties generation was that my family lived on Berlin until the middle of 1963, and that when we moved back to Britain, I was shunted off into a boarding school where there was precious little chance to join the Sixties counterculture. I was a boarder for the first term, then a day boy until 1965, then a boarder again for the final three years. But even as a day boy I had little time for rebellion as I had school SIX days a week and the school day ran from 9am until 7pm. The reason for those unusual hours was that the the timetable was organised to suit the boarders, not us day boys, of whom at the time there were only six. Another reason, though, was that I was something of a prig and was there was not much of a countercultural spirit flowing through me.

When, at 18, I got to college - Dundee University - my ambitions were simple: to grow my hair as long as I could, smoke some of that cannabis I had heard so much about and to lose my cherry (U.S. - get bloody laid). I had little interest or time for the ostensible philosophy of the Sixties generation which I regarded then, and still do now, as largely phoney. Certainly, I can quite understand the rebellious nature of that generation: as every other young generation since the dawn of time, it was kicking against its parents’ generation.

What distinguished it was an insistence that it was in some odd way far more important and significant than other rebellious generations, a quaint view held even to today by bald old buffers in

their 70s - rarely women, you might notice, but then all that Sixties ‘liberating women’ schtick was a load of old hooey and the comparatively easier freedoms women in the West now have didn’t come until many, many years later. But back to those old buffers: I wouldn’t be surprised to hear any one of them proclaim ‘we freed the world’ and believe their own bullshit. I was reminded of all this when, earlier this morning on the radio, there was mention that today such old buffers are gathering to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Poetry Incarnation which was held at London’s Albert Hall on June 11, 1965.

What actually sparked me and this entry off was a recording, part of a documentary being made about the event, of Allen Ginsberg reading some of his poetry. And by no means for the first time was I reminded how self-delusional, self-regarding and self-important a great deal of that vaunted ‘Sixties generation’ was and just how shallow were the philosophies and ‘insights’ it trumpeted. The piece Ginsbeg read out - actually, it concluded with him shouting it out - would now not even find space in the most desperate poetry magazine seeking material. But such was the fervor of the times, such was self-delusion, that it was seen as a step forward. In a piece I came across on the web while looking up dates for this entry, I found an account of a moment from the Albert Hall event:

Big, bald and bearded, [Ginsberg] like a Jewish bear stuffed in a suit, the beat poet stands tall in the Royal Albert Hall, London’s sacred haven of the high arts, and proclaims to 7,000 fellow thinkers: 'I want God to fuck me up the ass.' In the crowd was Heathcote Williams, the future poet, playwright and artist. Williams recounts what happened next: “A man with a bowler hat, beside himself with anger, shouted out: ‘We want poetry. This is not poetry’, and Ginsberg retorted, looking up towards the gods: ‘I want you to fuck me up the ass.’

Pertinent points here are that in 1965 Ginsberg was already 39 and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as part of 'the younger generation'. Quite possibly he wasn't and, like others from the Beat generation which, one could argue, the Sixties' counterculture drew on considerably, he was seen more as a father figurehead. And Ginsberg was gay and had grown up in an America where to be gay was not, I should imagine, easy.

Yet although I can both sympathise and empathise with his frustrations and anger as a gay outsider, they might act as a catalyst for poetry but they most certainly in themselves don't even come close to
 creating anything which we might regard as 'poetry' (admittedly almost impossible to define, anyway.) But that is what we are asked to accept.

I have long realised that poetry and I are on different trains. I don't read a lot of it, but I have read some and appreciated some, and even had an inkling of what real poetry might be. But real poetry is rare, very, very rare. And 99 per cent of what I hear on the radio or come across in magazines is total shite (though I must obviously repeat how it is almost impossible to define what poetry is or even might be). As a lad at college I do remember getting hold of some Beat poetry and reading it (I thought I ought to, having my pretensions to wanting to be ‘a writer’ and attempting the occasional poem), and I was pretty underwhelmed, though at the time, being rather less confident in my intellectual and aesthetic abilities than I am now (there is always the danger, of course, of going to far in the opposite direction and suffering from overwheening overconfidence, not to say conceit) I thought I was at fault for somehow ‘not getting it'.

Yes, there is virtue, there is always virtue, in breaking free, challenging the orthodoxies, trying to establish an identity independent of your parents and their generation, finding new ways, keeping an open mind and not sinking, as sadly we all do and must into a smug pit of self-regard and self-congratulation. But none of that necessarily makes 'good poetry'. And another irony is that for all their previous avant garde zeal far, far too many of the former Sixties generation buffers have long ago sunk into that pit of self-regard and self-congratulation.

To paraphrase Göring (and, it would seem, several others who also claim to have said it first): ‘When I hear the word counterculture, I reach for the TV remote’.So let them gather today and slap each other on the back and reminisce and continue to persuade themselves that they 'changed the world'. Me? I'll be watching the FA Cup Final on the telly and hoping Aston Villa will win (so that Aresenal lose).

PS Anyone who wants to read Ginsberg’s poem Howl can read it here. . . .

After looking up Ginsberg’s Howl and adding a link here for those who feel they can’t live without it (thought they can, if only they knew), I had a few more thoughts about ‘poetry’ and ‘what is poetry’, which might also apply to ‘art’ and ‘what is art’. Rather less flippantly than might at first seem, I might well choose to observe that, as the saying is, ‘one man’s meat is another man’s’.

(NB One of my first ever journalistic puns was composed when I was a reporter on the Lincolnshire Chronicle in about 1975. It was a piece about horse-riding and horse clubs and, after a little consultation, of course, because often these matters are joint efforts, I came up with the observation that ‘one man’s meet is another man’s pussiance’. Oh, well, seemed good at the time.)

That - the reference to taste, obviously, not to horses and riding them - means, of course, that one might argue that in the real world any workable and universally acceptable definition of what ‘poetry’ and ‘art’ are just isn’t possible. Not that many folk don’t try, especially those, such as academics who are paid vast sums to come up with a definition and aren’t about to cut their own throat by turn admitting ‘well, to be honest, there isn’t one.

Other folk all too ready to lay down the law on ‘what art is’ are gallery owners and curators who in one way or another make a very good living indeed by being the ‘expert’ to whom those with less confidence in their own judgment turn. I mean, if you are about the shell out several million dollars on what to your untutored eye looks very much like a heap of old shit with pain on it, you would mo
st certainly first want to be assured that, despite appearances, it most certainly is ‘art’ and you are very lucky indeed soon to be its owner. Believe it or not, folk have parted with good cash for ‘works of art’ by a couple called Gilbert & George which consisted partly of their own shit spread on canvas. Takes all sort, I suppose.

I think a possible workaround is that we accept that everything and anything - any poem, any play, any picture, any sculpture and, of course, any poem - put forward as ‘art’ (or, in the case of poems) ‘poetry’ is what it claims to be. Then we can make distinction between ‘good art’ and ‘bad art’ and ‘good poetry’ and ‘bad poetry’. Makes sense to me. A longwinded and usually thoroughly tedious and boring ‘debate’ is avoided and we can all settle in to watch the FA Cup Final on telly. Oh, and if my solution is accepted, Ginsberg’s Howl is most certainly poetry, though in my view fucking awful poetry.

One last thing: presented with a ‘poem’ - of which all too many simply seem like several hundred words of prose randomly broken into lines - our first question might be: what does this poem bring to us over and above what a piece of prose would. The answer, all too often, is ‘fuck all, dear heart’. And Howl, by Mr Ginsberg, strikes me as nothing more than a silly rant, though one with which young folk kicking over the traces (of which Mr Ginsberg was not, however, one) can ‘identify’, given that they are invariably against everything their parents stand for and support everything their parents loathe. And why not? But that still doesn’t make Howl a ‘good poem’.

(Incidentally, there really was once a time when to include the word ‘fuck’ in a piece of prose, poetry or journalism really was groundbreaking stuff, a blow for freedom. Yes, my young ones, it was. But as that was when life was still in black and white and we Brits could only get two TV channel, you are quite right to dismiss it. And a mark of just how fucking usual it now is, not to saying how fucking using the word ‘fuck’ is pretty much boring bollocks is that in this ’ere blog I use it quite a lot. Pip, pip.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Newspaper journalism a ‘vocation’? Up to a point, Lord Copper. Or: Myths I should like to bust: Part 1 in an series of I don’t know how many more.

A few years ago, before the days my criminal son initiated me in the criminal ways of criminally downloading films with uTorrtent, I used to by DVDs, though having been voted St Breward Tightarse of the Year, seven years on the trot, I always keep an eye out for a bargain. One I bought was the complete first series of Mad Men, and as is usual with such DVDs there were ‘extras’, in this case a 15-minute spoken memoir of a veteran of Fifties Madison Avenue, when the whole advertising spiel really took off and came off age, i.e. no more of the ‘Buy our washing powder, because it’s the Best!’

In it he admitted that as far as he was concerned, the most successful ad campaign of all time was this: the advertising industry selling itself to commerce, other industries and business as being utterly essential to their business; that if you didn’t invest millions in advertising you were not only a total loser and your business would crash, but your dick was incredibly short.

He was right: everyone, but everyone in business would these days considering it complete madness not to advertise. And the thinking has become so daft that advertising budgets are now stratospheric. Then there’s the saying, attributed to many – because it’s a smart quote that many wish they had said – but usually attributed to a merchant, politician and ‘religious leader (the US seems to have a lot of those) called John Wannamaker.

He is said to have been asked: ‘How much of the money you spend on advertising is well spent?’ to which he replied ‘About half of it, but the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ Like many such quips what is apparently just a throwaway line actually sums up rather well the dilemma faced by businesses: are we wasting our money on advertising? Are we wasting our money on the wrong advertising? Dare we spend less and invest in the business in other ways? Should we spend more? And if a business starts doing a lot worse than a rival, there is always the suspicion, verging on paranoia that ‘we are not spending enough on advertising’.

The other side of the coin is, though, that the ad industry, the Mad Men (‘mad’ but also from MADison Avenue) are laughing all the way to the bank, making millions – well, these days billions – in the certain knowledge that businesses of all kinds have bought into the myth that ‘they can’t do without advertising’. I wasn’t going to blether on about advertising, though, but newspaper journalism. But before that I might add that if I knew then what I know now,

I might well have gone for a job as a copywriter, knowing that copywriters move on to do a lot more than simply write copy. And as I’m on that tack – and given my utterly contrary views as to what ‘art’ is (not the hi falutin’ activity before which far too many these days insist we should genuflect and another area for examining the myths we swallow – I have no trouble at all in suggesting that more real art is produced by the advertising industry than by any number of pure artists. But you will have to wait until another blog entry for me to explain myself and my views.

Now to newspaper journalism, an industry which his so shot through with myths that Peter Jackson should seriously consider shooting a three-part blockbuster about it in New Zealand (where the air is fresher and thus the bull and sheep shit more concentrated. I should add that, I think we no exception, were any of my colleagues on newspapers, past and present, to read what I am writing, they would in one voice chorus ‘Pat’s talking shite again’. Well, I don’t think so. Where do I start?

Well, how’s about here: that working as a newspaper journalist is ‘a vocation’ to which we are somehow ‘called’ and that as ‘a vocation’ we are only too happy to work on until God knows when without thought or complaint. ‘Up,’ as Evelyn Waugh had one of his characters (as it happens a newspaper managing editor) say ‘to a point, Lord Copper’, which in the novel in which it appeared – Scoop – meant that Lord Copper, the owner of the Daily Beast (Daily Mail in real life) was talking complete ball, but that his managing editor was far too tactful to say so. (Lord Copper’s rival in the novel was Lord Zinc, who owned the Daily Brute. In real life they were Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook.)

My reason for launching into this, my latest dyspeptic pontification, is that tonight is a Wednesday evening. I work in London from Sunday noon until, nominally 6pm on Wednesday nights, at which point, given that I am then faced with a four-hour drive back home to Cornwall, I am keen to get off as sharpish as possible. Yet my attitude is looked at askance: where’s your professional dedication? that look says. The job isn’t yet done, and you should be hanging on until we think you should be able to leave. Well, balls to that.

It’s not as though I am engaged and employed at the sharp end of journalism. My daily routine is, and has been for many years, looking after the production of the quiz pages, the Answers To Correspondents page, the Letters page and, on different days one or two other pages. For these past few years I have been banned from similarly looking after the Travel page because I had several unfortunate run-ins with an otherwise very pleasant young woman who commissions them and is one of two travel editors. More of that, perhaps, another time. Related to the myth that newspaper journalism is ‘a vocation’ is the myth that it is an difficult industry in which to get a job when starting out – hence the silly saying ‘breaking into journalism’. That phrase, that ineffably silly phrase is nothing but self-aggrandising.

Yes, there are possibly fewer jobs to find in on newspapers, and ever fewer as the print industry dies, partly a victim of the internet and social media, but if you are looking for one, believe me you will find one. However, a beginner’s wage is tiny. Why? Well, newspaper owners like to stress that as the job is ‘a vocation’, you are quite prepared to work for peanuts.

An example: a friend came across a letter offering a job to a graduate. He was offered just £20,000 to live and work in London. Well, man years ago when I was still working for the South Wales Echo, a friend landed himself a job on the Daily Star at the then, for a new arrival, very handsome annual whack of £22,000. But that was in 1987. Those values today: £20,000 in 2015 is £20,000. That

£22,000 of 28 years ago would be the equivalent of, depending on whether you are looking at the ‘historic standard of living’, ‘economic wealth’ or ‘economic power’ between £55,270 and £88,440, and probably closer to the higher figure. But don’t complain: it’s a fucking ‘vocation’, see.

Then there’s a second myth: ‘be first with the story’. It’s an imperative beaten into young reporters. But where it was once true – for solidly commercial reasons, it is even more bollocks. It’s quite simple: newspapers, in their heyday of between 1850 and, say, 1980, made quite fabulous sums selling ad space. And selling ad space, despite what they myth-makers would have you believe was – for the proprietor - the papers sole raison d’etre. There was no other. And that was why circulation was and is so important: if you are selling 100,000 copies a day you can charge the advertisers a certain amount for the space they buy. If you sell 200,000, you can charge more. If, however, circulation falls, as it has been and the obvous conclusion is that fewer folk are reading your paper, the advertisers have the whip hand: the simply insist that rates should be cut.

Until the slow decline of newspapers began after World War II, each city had at least two and often three rival papers, all vying to sell as many copies as possible and thus be in a position to up their ad rates. So in order to attract the reader – to news of the latest murder in Whitechapel, the election or football results, the latest gossip – you simply had to be first with the news. The paper that was first with the news sold out. If its rivals were on the street later than you, they sold fewer. QED. So reporters and their poor cousins, the sub-editors (copy editors) were urged to work faster, faster, faster to hit print deadlines to get that bloody paper out.

Now, of course, no evening papers have a rival, and the morning papers have such a well-defined constituency that they are not really rivals at all. But the myth carried on: work fast, get the news, and get it out – bugger how little (in the provinces) you were being paid.

How about this myth: ‘the public’s right to know’? Well, dear reader, that’s another piece of 24 carat bullshit. Take a look at the contents of your paper: diets, gossip, fashion, more gossip, a bit of stale news, ‘opinion’ – does the public really have ‘a right to know’ that? Is it really vital that the reader should know exactly where bloody Kim Kardashian had lunch yesterday, with whom and what she was wearing? Or that Taylor Swift is now higher up the ‘power list’ the the Queen of England. You decide. I know what I think.

Certainly the public has ‘the right to know’ what its government is decided on its behalf, what its local authority plans to spend local taxes on. The trouble is that, as a rule, the public isn’t in the least bit interested. Or rather the public is only interested in hearing that political news which reinforced its prejudices. Don’t believe me? Do you think that if the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun suddenly started suggesting that ‘immigrants’ – in truth such a vague word as to be almost meaningless – were not, after all, the scrounging fuckwits its readers like to believe them to be, it would carry one selling the number of copies is does? Do you? I don’t.

One of the first rules of a certain kind of journalism is: establish what your readers ill-informed prejudices are, then pander to them until you retire or until your dying day, whichever comes first. It is all a little more complex than that. In some parts of the world, in authoritarian states, for example, there really are some print journalists for whom their profession is a vocation, and of whom many lose their lives for embracing that vocation. But hey, don’t let a couple of facts ruin a good story, now.

If, however, you are interested, take a look at the latest figures of hacks, good men and women, who have lost their lives because of their job. Then, of course, retreat into your own prejudices, whatever they might be.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

But I’ll be back (©Schwarzenegger et al). And a little more on Somerset Maugham, a rather better man and nicer chap (and better writer) than many

I’m sitting here in the right-on-the-sea restaurant on my very last day, with just just hours to do before I head back to Palma airport, via the hotel where I’ll pick up someone for a lift to the airport. I was right about making it a little longer than just a week, though by just a few days. And I’m glad I did. I’m also glad I pushed out the boat and hired a car for all that time. I’m not really one for hanging about in bars getting rat-arsed (which isn’t to say I never was), and got to see a bit of Mallorca. I shall certainly come back, though possibly later in the year when it is a tad warmer.

The weather has certainly been better than the crap I understand folk in Old Blighty have suffered, but three/four/five degrees hotter wouldn’t have gone amiss. I shall also try to find somewhere inexpensive to stay here in Colonia de Sant Pere, where I am sitting at the moment. Inexpensive because all you need is a clean bed and hot water. Everything else is optional. OK, it’s not ‘exciting’ for a late teen, early twenties style dickhead or dickheadess, but as I am not of that age (whether or not I am a dickhead is for you to decide – I don’t think so, but I’m liberal enough to hear alternative views), but for what I want from a holiday it hits the spot.

As it is, I’m off to the Fatherland for four days in July for my brother-in-law’s 60th birthday party, then, most probably, off to Bordeaux in late July to accompany my stepmother’s sister to a series of concerts as well as enjoying them myself. Then later this year it is off to Seth Cardew’s in wherever 70 miles north of Valencia (see below, where the small brown block is) for a week (or a few more days perhaps). As this is my first
week off from work, I probably have enough paid holidays left, but also as I past the magic 65 last November (ignore all previous jokes about being just 32 – I bullshit quite a lot, you do realise that, don’t you?) and income naturally notwithstanding, my time is now more my own than it ever has been.

In theory, I can tell my bosses to fuck off now, given that if the shit hits the fan, I am, at least guaranteed my £113 a week (tax-deductible, of course) and although I most certainly shan’t do that – for one thing I like them and the paper I work for – it’s a good feeling that, again in theory, I am no longer a wage slave. I have now been promoted to pension slave.

Just for the craic, I’m listening to Lisa Ekdahl as I write, who is a great and interesting singer. Great, well, just listen; interesting because as far as I know she started out as a Swedish pop star – she’s Swedish – but also sings in English with a great ‘backing band’, pianist, bass guitarist and drums and both a great voice and a feel for the kind of jazz she sings in English. That’s just by the by. I’ll post a track or two at some point in the future. You can find out more about her here. If you like jazz singing, but don’t like all that rather silly forced rhyming of the 1950s and 1960s, give her a whirl. (If, of course, you don’t, don’t bother. QED.)

Don’t really know what else to write. It’s curious: I love writing. The real problem is I don’t have much to write about and, more to the point, I still haven’t tried my hand at fiction (or hardly, to be fair). Why? Well, I’m scared of failing, of others thinking what I write is 24-carat bollocks and why, but why, does he bother? Who’s he kidding but himself?

I’ve already thought of several stories while I’ve been here. I find my imagination comes alive when I am away from home/my routine. Before I married, I went off to Sicily by myself for two weeks and at the time warned Celie, my wife to beat the times, that I would always want to travel. Well, I still do, though naturally the main, only, consideration will be money – being able to pay the household bills and council tax, plus some for Celie and my son while I am away, but paying for somewhere to stay. In that respect I am glad I’m not demanding. A clean bed and hot water really is enough for me, and I don’t eat a lot. But all that is then, so see what happens.

As for writing, well, I’ve been reading a biography of William Somerset Maugham, and a more fascinating and, in some ways more admirable, figure I think it might be hard to find. What is interesting is that while in his later life he was thought – and was – a predatory homosexual and not particularly much more, he was also when he was younger and until well into his forties something of a predatory heterosexual. He swung both ways, and quite possibly a lot further than many of us, certainly further than me, although I have yet to bat for my own side, mainly because I’ve not yet felt the inclination.

What I like most about Maugham – of what I know, that is – was his self-discipline: wherever he was – in London leading the social high life once he had the money to do so as an moneyed Edwardian, serving as a volunteer - I stress volunteer - Red Cross orderly in the First World War (called by some the ‘Great War’, why exactly, except that it had been bigger than man a war beforehand), on Capri, in France, in the Far East – he sat down for several hours in the morning, whether he had anything to write or not, and wrote.

The first and only principle any would-be writer should possess: Get It Done! Maugham knew that, and stuck to it all his life. He described himself as in the first rank of the second rate, but that is just his usual self-deprecatory pose: he can write better than many, but there is none, but none, of the showing off, the self-indulgent ‘I must be an artist’ bollocks about him.

He was often described as ‘cynical’. No, he wasn’t, he was merely – ‘merely, what a description, damn already! – honest with himself and down-to-earth. He had, or from my reading seems to have had, very few illusions about himself or the world. And I’ll drink to that. If that makes me cynical, too, well, so be it and fuck you. It’s your problem, bro’ not mine.

. . .

One story that has occurred to me was sparked by Maugham. He live until he was into his 90s, and had as a ‘companion’ one Alan Searle who, we are told, inveigled Maugham to disinherit his daughter Liza in favour of him, Alan Searle. Well, who knows?

Undoubtedly, Maugham, as I say well into his 90s was slowly losing it and had, for example, lost a lot of sympathy - in the 1960s, for Christ sake, a more hypocritical age it is hard to imagine - by writing a rather vicious memoir of his marriage to Syrie Wellcome, who, as far as I can gather, was something of a nightmare – mare, for you young folk.

My story is simply a long letter to a daughter or even son, by someone like Maugham, ensconced – imprisoned at 90 one might conjecture – in somewhere like, well here, Colonia de Sant Pere, trying to describe, honestly, his relationship with her mother, someone like Syrie, while a snake in the grass, someone like Alan Searle, perhaps,  is wafting around with very much his own agenda, of which the main character is at times aware, at times not.

There would have to be a topping and tailing device for the letter – discovered in the archives of his publisher’s perhaps, though for many years ignored because the writer, though rich and once famous and bankable, was no longer dans la vent (‘in the wind’ – please keep up!). It could well be made ‘modern’ for ‘modern’ tastes, with a little clever, clever tooing and froing in time and perspective blah, blah – you can always pay off self-appointed moderns if you try hard enough – but would have to be well-written enough to be worth the effort for the reader. And that, dear friends, is what I shall do.

I have before tried extremely hard, some might even claim excessively hard, to plug my ‘first novel’, which, though I say so myself is not half bad, and better than some, but so far with no luck. None. Zilch. Philistines, the lot of you. Ashamed? You don’t know the meaning of the word. If – if, a huge fucking ‘if’ anyone is interested, you can still find it here. But I’m not holding my breath. Pip, pip. Philistines.

Pearls before swine. Ever really understood what that means? No, thought not! Think William ‘Willie’ Somerset Maugham (portrayed, I understand by a writer friend as ‘Gilbert Hereford Vaughan’) is cynical? Give me a break. He merely informed the world that, do you know what, shit stinks, while everyone else for a variety of reasons pretended it didn’t, especially when crapped by royalty, nobility and money. Thank you, Mr Maugham. I’m your fan, if now no one else is . Oh, and I have read some of your stories recently, and you can write, very well. For those unconvinced try P&O, a touching account of a woman who finds a kind of peace, though an unexpected kind.

So, that’s the world sorted: Somerset Mauagham wasn’t quite the cunt the modern world – quote marks for ‘modern’ cos, face it, nothing really changes – and Lisa Ekdahl is a fucking good jazz singer.

PS 1,606 words: if I could write this much crap every day for one month and 15 days, then find a publisher, fortune, respect, fame and the acquaintance of any number of art-fags of both sexes would be mine. Though, dear friends, gays need not trust in any success. Better make that clear, before there are tears before bedtime.

Christ, this is a nice spot. Colonia de Sant Pere (Colinia St Pere for some), though if you tell anyone, I'll kill you, if you do! What is best: no cunt there except me (more or less).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Just a couple of piccies while I get my thoughts together

Eix Hotel Alcudia, Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca – Last full day

Went off in search of Capdepera castle yesterday, but got sidetracked by the idea of sitting in a quiet café right on the sea when I spotted a side road heading down to somewhere called Son Serra de Marino, and Christ what a godforsaken place. It was nothing but a small grid conurbation of small holiday villas and was deserted, like something out of a 1970s arthouse film about a Brit crim who pays people he doesn’t know to find him somewhere to lay low in Spain for a few months and they do it all on the cheap, wanting to keep the substantial sum he pays them for themselves.

I didn’t spot any tumbleweed rolling down a hill, but I should have done. I went town to the sea’s edge to see if there was a café, but there was nothing at. Then I spotted a chap in his Transit sitting watching the sea and asked him – he seemed very vary of me – what the community I could see down the coast was called. Colonia de Sant Pere, he told me, so it was about turn and back to the main road in search of the turn-off to Colonia de Sant Pere. And, Lord, what a pleasant tranquil peaceful place.

I was there for the best part of four hours, sitting in my by-the-sea café doing nothing but enjoying the lager and a few Wilde Cigarros. That is where the first three pictures were taken and I didn’t move from my seat – the mark of a true artist, forget all that suffering for your art bollocks. If a photographer has to move one inch from where he is to take pictures, he should knock it on the head and find a real occupation, driving a bus, teaching shorthand, book-keeping or something.

Untitled (i.e. I can’t think of anything remotely facetious)

One bollock too few

Also untitled. Similar dilemma

These four below were taken at the castle in Capdepera I had set off to investigate, and I managed it today. Sadly, and why I really don’t know, I didn’t get to sleep till 4am this morning and then woke at 8am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I was – and am – quite knackered.

So here I am back in Port d’Whatever. And glad I have got fuck-all to do till I can turn in for an early night, though not too early as experience has taught me I’ll just wake at 5am and stay awake. Which would be a bad thing, as I am flying back home tomorrow and am not due in till midnight, so that will be another long night. Come up with your own titles.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Know an Irish gay? Wish him or her luck

Eix Hotel Alcudia, Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca – Day eight/nine?

It’s ‘let our gays get married’ day tomorrow in Ireland, so I thought I might add my two ha’porth worth. At my age, newish ideas are difficult to get used to (I’m still struggling to get my head around income tax and still do a mental double-take when a woman speaks of her wife or a guy speaks of his husband), but I must say - and Britain went through the same process a year or two ago - I have yet to hear one single good and persuasive argument as to why gays shouldn’t get married.

Most of the arguments I have heard strike me as phoney and threadbare, and as for all those who insist gays ‘can’t get married because marriage is all about the procreation of children’, I suggest they spend a few minutes acquainting themselves with the history of marriage – in Britain children, because of the high child mortality rate, weren’t valued very much and didn’t figure very much in people’s lives at all until they got to the age of eight or nine and could be put to work or, if you were noble or had pretentions, married off (to consolidate whatever wealth you had).

As for procreating children, I suspect it was the initial procreation of having children Aelfraed and Haranfot were by far more interested in. And before the church muscled in, couples simply used to pledge themselves to each other in public before disappearing behind a bush for a little more procreation. There was none of this ‘in the eyes of God/Allah/Jehovah/Ron L Hubbard/’ which became part of the muscling in.

As far as I know the notion ‘marrying the one you love’ and fixing him a steak was invented by Hollywood to plug their Judy Garland and Rita Hayworth extravaganzas which I suspect is behind all this ‘we want to get married’ schtick from gays. (Oooh, isn’t she homophobic!) Doesn’t actually explain why lesbians also insist they should be able to marry, but give me time, and I’ll try to come up with another joke in extremely poor taste to cover them. On a slight down note, there have been reports that domestic violence is statistically a little higher in same-sex relationships (try here – the Beeb tends to be objective in such matters).

. . .

Back on more mundane matters, headed back for the hills yesterday, and I would advise anyone coming to Mallorca who wants to explore the island to ignore the plains and head for the hills. I consulted a map before I set off and settled on visiting a small community called Fornaluxt, which is just a mile or two up the hill from Soller, and very glad I am, too. Plenty of tourists, of course, and it is especially tidy and well-maintained for that reason, but not too many at all. Today, I thought I might explore a ruined castle at a place called Capdepera, which is off to the south-east. But the sun has now come out rather nicely and I am in two minds. Hmm.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Another day in paradise (of a kind, well, not really, too many f*cking tourists) in which I manage the impossible: go around in circles in squares – read on, read on! – and am obliged to be fatherly and strict with my daughter

Eix Hotel Alcudia, Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca – Day six? Seven?

In some ways yesterday was a bit of a washout, although no rain was involved (or hardly, but by then I was back in the car returning to my hotel here in Port d’Alcudia). I was keen to see more of the island and less of the tourists, tat shops, cheap booze shops (see piccy) and the rest of the detritus which makes most low and middle market seaside towns the world over such a delight for
some. So as I was assured a few days ago by one of the ladies on the desk that there are hardly any tourists in the centre of the island, I looked at a map of Mallorca for the smallest community I could find in the centre of the island and decided to head off there, reasoning that I would surely pass through and by several other sights worth investigating on the way.

The town/village/community – you can’t really tell from the map – I chose was Sant Joan. Well, I didn’t really. I’ve discovered that not only is Port d’Alcudia bigger than Port de Pollencia down the road, but it is rather bigger than I thought. I was admittedly driving down the coast and the built-up area is something of a conurbation and is not all Port d’Alcudia, but it took about 15 minutes before I got away from the villas, supermarket, even more tat shops, restaurants, pizza parlours and, for God’s sake, even a bloody Lidl (‘No country safe from our planned world domination’, they are vying with Starbucks for being the most intrusive retail outfit on the planet. Guess what you will find when you take your first steps through the Peraly Gates? But at least you’ll be able to get Black Forest smoked ham and all number of the cheap and practical gadgets which make a trip to Lidl’s, Bodmin, a must every Thursday).

After that and following my satnav I was able to head inland in search of Sant Joan. The countryside is undoubtedly Spanish (well, generic Mediterranean) and you wouldn’t mistake it for Northamptonshire, but it was equally as bland and uninteresting, and what I saw of Mallorca on my trip into the hills was far more satisfying. At one point the satnav, as satnavs often do, took me through a small town of that boring grid pattern sort where all the streets are at right angles and look identical and you soon lose your bearings, and having just once taken a wrong turning and deviating from the route Mr Satnav insisted I should take, I then spent at least ten minutes driving around – is ‘around’ the right word if all you can do is keep turning sharp right or sharp left? – trying to get back on track. I did eventually and after another few miles reached Sant Joan.

It was, in the event, sadly one of the world’s more boring settlements, with no sight of a café terrace where I might, wifi access permitting, have settled down and generally wiled away several hours with lager and cigars and posting all kinds of inconsequential shite on Facebook. (If you’re interested take a look, but don’t hold your breath). So the decision to abandon Sant Joan to the attention of other, probably lost, tourists was easily made and I took another look at the map to see where to go to next.

A nearby town called Petra attracted me, so after inputting the name I my satnav I took off. As satnavs demand an street name and number, and I didn’t know any, I simply plumped for ‘Aires’ from the list I was offered. Ten minutes and about six miles later I discovered that ‘Aires’ is Spanish for ‘motorway service station’ and that is where I was taken, still three miles from Petra proper. So off I went again, across country, one what seemed an interminable three miles, but only because the road was so winding, until I arrived at Petra. And that’s when I discovered the name of the town where earlier I had spent ten ever-more frustrating minutes going round in the equivalent of square circles: Petra. I had gone in full circles.

Quite apart from being boringly symmetrical – well, that what it seemed like – Petra is another staging post for the hordes of cyclists who descend on Mallorca in the cooler months, and there must have been about 50 in the town square I came across, that served by about nine café/restaurant/bars. I settled into one – with wifi access, no modern man or woman can do without wifi access, if folk all start to realise that neither Heaven nor Hell has wifi access, they will all refuse to die until the situation has improved.

. . .

This is when I was contacted by my daughter (courtesy of wifi access) for help to fill out a form confirming that she wanted to change her course. I did my bit, but the solution wasn’t quite what she had hoped for then demonstrated an aspect of her character which I have tried to pretend doesn’t exist but which, in truth, does irritate me. She can sometimes be markedly offhand and, though I hate to say this, I have sometimes suspected that she might occasionally be the sort who is only interested in you if you can be of use to her.

These things are rarely, if ever, apparent when our children are young or in their early teens and when they are in their late teens they might well be put down to adolescent solipsism. And that, I hope, is what it is in my daughter – she’s still only 18, 19 at the beginning of August. But given the time I have put in over these past few weeks when she has contacted me down I the dumps and dithering about this, that and t’other, I did rather lose patience and in two long texts read her the riot act (fairly, I think I can say, or at least I hope I can say). And don’t anyone reading this think that I am wholly the genial sort for whom you would eagerly and gladly like to buy a drink or three and chat for hours: I have my rabid side, which, in conjunction with a overly sharp tongue, I am now at pains to rein in for fear the damage I might do. So my texts to my daugher, dear reader, were considered and restrained, but I didn’t pull any punches.

While all this was going on, an overcast day with not a hint of sun, became a markedly windy, not to say chilly, day, and there were even spits of rain. So overall yesterday gets a 2/10 Today is also overcast, but I shall head out again. I shall, in a minute and once I have posted this entry, consult the internet about ‘castle ruins in Mallorca’ and seek some out.

. . .

Tonight, if I can be bothered it’s Arsenal against Sunderland on Sky Sports, but even if I don’t watch the game, I shall lay a bet: Sunderland, who might well be safe from relegation if they beat Arsenal tonight, are only 10/1 to win, so that makes a five – or even a tenner – worthwhile, especially as it is only money I have previously won, so I shan’t be out of pocket if, as I imagine, Arsenal take them. But then they might not. Who knows? There are still several mysteries left, you know, though most aren’t quite as mundane as that one. Pip, pip!

There’s no sun! Who do we sue!

There’s no sun! Who do we sue!

[For those born before 1960]

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day Something or Other in Alcudia, in which news of my cars makes a surprise reprise, my knowledge of cycling and its quirks is expanded drastically (from nothing to a little more than just nothing) and I discover a smaller, pleasant resort just down the calla.

Eix Hotel Alcudia, Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca – Day whatever (five, I think).

I managed to shake of the lure of O’Malley’s yesterday – no football until last night – and saddled up old Trumpet for a trip into the Mallorcan hills. (Strange name for a horse, I know, be he does oddly resemble my neighbour’s father’s second wife, who has a loud voice and an even louder laugh and goes by the name of Horne. Tenuous, I know, but we must make the effort). Trumpet lasted less then half a mile, before he stopped and refused to budge any further, so I had to return to pick up the car Mr Hertz of Palma Airport had so kindly lent me.

It is when I drive a car as young as this one, a Hundai with about 4,000km on the clock, that I fully realise quite what a heap of shit my V reg 1600cc Rover 45 is. Forget for a minute the loose wings, front and back, one the result of driving into the back of another car at no more than 2mph while my attention was fully engaged on getting Radio 4 on my iPhone, the second time reversing at a slightly higher speed into one of the few low walls we have in Cornwall – i.e. had it been higher, I would have bloody seen it – it is, as Alan, of Atlantic Garage who MoTs it and applies other surgery, ‘getting tired’. (Atlantic Garages in Camelford were recommended to me a a little pricey, but good. They are, but do the job immediately and well. There's no hanging round for often two or three weeks as there was with Rob Gibbons up in Davidstow. He's a nice guy, but Alan now gets my vote and custom.

That was the first time I had ever heard that word used to describe a car, but he is spot on. I bought her with 80,000-odd on the clock, and she has since done another 120,000. Not bad going. But I keep her on, patching this and patching that because I am often in a dilemma: about a year ago, I had work her MoTed and little bits and bobs done for about £500 (I should tell you that she only cost £800 when I bought her about eight years), when, bugger me, the undoubtedly rather tired cooling fan went up the swannee while I has stuck in a two-mile jam outside London where the M4 narrows from three lanes to two (which explains the jam).

The subsequent overheating wrecked the head gasket, so what was I to do: kiss goodbye to the £500 I had just spent or spend more to keep the bloody thing on the road? On that and on other similar occasions I choose to cough up and keep her on the road. There is another very good reason for keeping her on the road and I should add a rather important point: the car is not exactly mine. She is in the name of my brother who lives in London, so that he could apply for a parking permit for the borough in which he stays. Useful, especially as until we came to that arrangement,

I had parked the car unofficially in the Daily Mail building car park, where the Mail pays thousands a year for parking spots for its ad reps and others – but not for the likes of me. All went well for many years till I was rumbled by some bloody anally-retentive jobsworth who will have had to have spent hours comparing the reg numbers of all the cars parked there at one particular time against a list of legitimate reg numbers before establishing I was a foreigner. (I have had a run-in with him since – he is one of life’s paid-up pains in the arse.) But rather than break one of my moral principles – ‘don’t push your luck’ – I had to come to some other parking arrangement.

. . .

I took off, heading for a small community called Caimari, intending when I got there to find some quite bar terrace and spend the next few hours there. But when I got to Caimari, I wasn’t particularly inspired – in my experience, due to the summer heat, very few Spanish villages or smaller towns in the country are particularly inspiring and usually pretty dead. You hardly see anyone except the odd man or woman shuffling along. So I carried on up the hill, climbing ever higher, just following my nose. And it was then that I started passing an inordinately large number of cyclists.

It is no exaggeration to say I must have, in the course of my drive passed, individually and in groups of two or three, more than 100 cyclists. At first I thought the Spanish obviously share the French passion for cycling, except in France you rarely see a lone cyclist and they speed along in one great pack. It was when I finally found my café (after turning down the chance to spend €4.50 to park in the back of beyond in a dead-end place call Lluc) that I found out what was going on. Mallorca, it seems is something of a Mecca for cyclists, and visited in the thousands every year by amateurs. The professionals move here in the colder months to practice and I was assured by the chap who told me all this that Bradley Wiggins lived just down the road in Pollenca.

The café at which I stopped was some kind of staging point, and when I arrived there must have been about 40 lycra-clad stalwarts, both women and mean, filling themselves with carbs or whatever it is they do for the return trek. Here is a picture of Donna, from Louth, in Lincolnshire,

and her putative son-in-law Stuart, from Market Rasen. They arrived long after the general horde had left and by the time they got to the café it was gone 3pm and the proprietor had shut for lunch (below).

On my way home, I took at detour and dropped in on Port de Pollenca to have a mooch, and discovered it to be rather pleasant, far smaller the Port d’Alcudia where I am staying and thus not quite as attractive to those who’s holiday heaven is lager and lime and Sky Sports (which might

seem to included me, I must admit, though I’m now too old to qualify as a tearaway). There is another pleasant marina, but here the hotels and villas are right on the beach. I heard folk from all over Europe, but it seemed especially popular with couples with babies, toddlers and young children. Today, I’m off again. Yesterday is was the hills on the western side of the island, today I think I’ll head into the central plain and see what I can’t dig up. Cyclists, probably.

. . .

I was late home and missed the beginning of the match between West Bromwich and Chelsea. Following my winning bets on Crystal Palace against Liverpool, I was going to lay a fiver on West Brom, calculating that the odds would be good, but in the event, by the time I got to the match and was able to lay a bet, they had already scored and were 1-0 up, with the odds shortening to a pitiful 1/2 (which does no one any favours).

So I decided to do nought and was glad I hadn’t backed West Brom because they soon went two up. At that point I got clever, which is always a mistake: ah ha! I thought, Chelsea being the best side in the Premier League this year are bound to bounce back and make it 2-3. I looked at the odds which were impressive: 28/1, so I put a fiver on Chelsea to bounce back. They lost 3-0. Bastards.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day Three: A day and a half spent in a fake Irish pub watching football. Well, why not?

Eix Hotel Alcudia, Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca – Day three.

No overcast sky today, just bright sunshine from the off, although there is still quite a breeze. As usual I am still in the initials stages of ‘going on holiday’, which is marked by a ongoing drive ‘to do something’. And ‘doing something’ is, as far as I am concerned, the essence of a non-holiday, especially if it is backed up by that drive. But it’s early days yet, just day three.

As it was I did nothing yesterday, just spent many hours in a pub called O’Malleys watching the football on Sky Sports 1, and won myself £67 with three bets on Crystal Palace getting the better of Liverpool. For scousers, their defeat was even more heartbreaking because it was Steven Gerrard’s last-ever home game for Liverpool, and there is little else scousers like than a sentimental ending. To use a current cliché, sentimentality is ‘in their DNA’, which is one reason, quite possibly the only reason, why in the centuries old Liverpool (the city) v Manchester (the city) why I am firmly in the Manchester camp. As far as scousers are concerned, the ending they wanted was Liverpool coming out top, with Gerrard not only scoring, but preferably scoring the winning goal.

Well, he didn’t, so boo sucks to all you scousers. I did try to sunbathe today, but not only have I not yet shaken off that ‘drive to do something’, but I burn easily and have been badly sunburnt in the past, so 15/20 minutes is all I shall allow myself. And if I go home with a body a rather paler shade of whipped cream, tough. So it is back in O’Malleys, after a glass of Rioja and a bit of tapas across the road (O’Malleys with its Sky Sports is almost exclusively patronised by Brits and the odd Scandanavians wisely stick to egg and chips, sausage and chips, bacon, egg and chips and baguettes every kind, of which chip baguette, I’m assured, is by far the best-seller.)

At the moment, while I write, it is half-time between Swansea and Manchester City. After the first few minutes, when the odds became worth it, I put a fiver on Swansea to win, so, of course, Manchester City were 2-0 up within minutes. But all is not lost: Swansea pulled one back on the brink of halftime and the way the are playing could well go on to take the match. If it hadn’t been for two great saves by Hart, it might already be 3-2 to Swansea.

The next match is The One: Manchester City v Arsenal, with United fourth in the table and Arsenal third. No bets on this one, I’ll just lose, but anyway the odds don’t really make it worthwhile. I spent some of yesterday tracking down some remote parts of Mallorca, and if the weather is more overcast than not, I shall take off and do some exploring.

. . .


The hotel I’m staying in is fine. Not exorbitant luxury, but then I wouldn’t want that, three floors close to the seaside in Port d’Alcudia. I was going to go to Alcudia old town the other day to have a mooch around, but being stupid, I set off just before lunch and the traffic was awful. So in stead I set off for the centre of the island, changed my mind after a few minutes and drove several miles down a rural road to Pollenca. The guests are mainly British and German, with a few French and Swedes (I think, could be Norwegian and Danish) as well as some Spanish. Oddly, the Brits all seem to be about 20 to 30 years older than the others. Why, I could not even start to speculate.

Port d’Alcudia obviously started life as a small port serving Alcudia, but is now pretty much built-up and if you have been to any seaside resort, you’ll know what it looks like – tat shops, supermarkets which seem to sell spirits by the acre (and that’s no much of an exaggeration. When I am out tomorrow, I’ll take a piccy of one of them), bars, bars, cafes, tapas restaurants and a marina with hundreds of yachts, bit and small. It is quite busy, but I’m told not half as bad – by which I mean busy – as other resorts. Nor does there seem to be a ‘get pissed at all costs’ element roaming the streets.

I haven’t been out at night, but I would most certainly hear any yobs from Cardiff, Derby, London, Driffield, Lincoln if there were. But it’s now only May, perhaps they turn up later in the summer. I’ve looked at a map and jotted down the names of small towns and villages in the centre of the island, and shall take off when the mood takes me – rule No 1 for my holidays, plan nothing. The weather started well today and stayed that way, but might be a little cloudier tomorrow and Tuesday, so if it is, and my mood is taking me, that’s when I shall head off.

. . .

The biography of Somerset Maugham is a great read. I wish other writers could write with the same straightforward fluency as Selina Hastings (aka daughter of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon – for all the snobs who are reading this who might like to know). I have previously read her biography of Evelyn Waugh, although I can’t remember much about her book – as opposed to Waugh’s life (I’ve read several biographies of the man), but that, too, was immensely readable.

Actually, in some circles ‘immensely readable’ might be something of a putdown, but I don’t mean it like that at all. I knew very little about Maugham until I heard this biography serialised a few years ago as Radio 4’s Book of the Week, but since then I have read several of his short stories (and have many more to go – in a fit of enthusiasm I bought all four volumes of his collected short stories, a novel, The Magician, and his A Writer’s Notebook).

So far I find him rather likeable. But as I am only 86 pages into a 549-page book, perhaps that will change, although from what I remember of the serialisation, I don’t believe it will. I have written about Maugham before in this blog, but one of the main things I remember from the broadcasts was just what an industrious man he was, how disciplined he was, sitting down to write every day, and how despite his more recent reputation for being a nasty, cruel piece of work, he was probably more sinned against than sinning. But enough of that here. I might write more later.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Day One, drizzle (or almost), but hey, I'm Mr Relaxed and anyway I can still get Sky Sports

Eix Hotel Alcudia, Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca – Day one.

Shame about the weather. Arrived at Palma airport just after midnight and after the standard hire car ‘do you want to take out extra insurance for just €98, which we strongly advise?’, ‘no’, ‘but we really do advise it, sir, because…’, ‘no,’ ‘but sir, if you have any accident of any kind whatsoever…’, ‘I took out extra insurance in England,’ ‘well, that’s as maybe, sir, but there are several things which aren’t…’, ‘no, thanks, really,’ ‘but, sir, under Spanish law, you could well end up in jail for several years even if a fly even shits on the car, but with our extra cover…’, ‘no, I’ll risk, it’, ‘but are you sure, sir, because we do strongly advise it, sir, and figures show, sir, that almost 90pc of renters who don’t take out our extra cover…’, ‘no, now can I have the keys?’, ‘of course, sir, immediately, but can I urge you to think again, because?’, ‘no, thanks, really,’ (cont P92). Shame about the weather.

. . .

But actually, I don’t care, not one bit. I am on holiday, and if you start getting pissed off because the ashtray in your room rattles if you get up quickly and go into the bathroom and is there any chance they might supply you with a different one? you might as well stay at home and watch archive programmes of The One Show. Me, I’m relaxed. So it’s overcast and there is just a hintette of drizzle in the air, and it’s not quite the 26c promised on Accuweather, closer to 18c, but what the hell. The wifi works perfectly in my room if you stand on a chair and hold it your phone up to the corner just above your window, and a lukewarm shower is far, far better for you in the Mediterranean climate so ignore all those Brit whingers who ‘didn’t pay top dollar for a four-star hotel just to spend ten minutes running around in a shower just to get wet! Wait till I tell Tripadvisor!’ Holidays are for relaxing, going with the flow, taking one day at a time, being honest with yourself, keeping in touch with your sponsor – sorry, wrong blog.

. . .

The really good news is that not only is the wifi fine, except in my room where it can be a tad flaky, but then I didn’t fly 1,500 miles to Spain just to sit in my room surfing the net, but the magic browser extension recommended to me which fools your laptop into thinking you are still in Old Blighty means tonight I shall be able to watch the second leg of Brentford v Middlesbrough on Sky Sports. But it gets better, far, far better: on Sunday I can watch live the match between Manchester United and Arsenal. Yes sirree, and here’s hoping United don’t fuck it up as they did a couple of weeks ago against West Brom. (Technical note: you can’t watch Sky Sports or BBC iPlayer on a laptop or tablet if you are abroad. Name of magic extension on application.)

. . .

I asked my friend on reception where to go for a little more peace and quiet and she says the centre of Mallorca is the place for that, the tourists don’t bother. But first it’s off for the mandatory trip to the local hypermarket (©Mark Powell) to find some cheap trainers. My open-toed, Greek athlete

A pair of open-toed, Greek style sandals very much like the pair which might not be quite so good to wear if the weather does take a turn for the worse. In fact, the open-toed Greek athlete style sandals I am wearing (though I took them off to take the picure, naturally, Doh!)

style, brown leather sandals are fine, but I forgot to bring the trainers I bought especially for this trip (at Sports Direct online, £79.99, reduced to £24.99 – yeah, right) and just in case – just in case, I’m really not expecting the worst – it does start drizzling, trainers might be better than sandals (though nothing as uncool as ‘sandals’, mind, these are those far more acceptable Greek athlete style brown leather ones. (Oh, and note to self: as my daughter keeps telling me, socks and sandals are something of a no-no, the kind of thing male librarians with OCD wear). Right, that’s it. I’m off.

. . .


Well, after my pessimistic description of the weather, admittedly larded rather a lot with hyperbole, in the event it turned out rather nice. Took off in the centre of Mallorca where, I was assured it isn’t quite as touristy as the coast, but just a few miles down the road, decided I was too knackered for a longer drive, and instead headed back to a town called Pollenca (no, not Pollenta, keep up at the back there) which on its outskirts is more or less Anywheresville, Mediterranea, what with half-built blocks which look like a health and safety nightmare until they are eventually covered in plaster and paint, by which time they look half-decent but are still a health and safety nightmare, but the town itself is medieval, so there’s the relief. Populated by British and German tourists, of whom the Krauts are all, oddly, at least 20 years younger than the Brits.

On the main square there are any number of eating places, almost identikit, with terrace, but it was crowed when I arrived and walked through, and even more so when I walked back. Not what I wanted. I finally found a pleasant place with an inside terrace where I and a couple on the other side of the terrace were the only patrons (only because the mob were happy to put up with sitting cheek by jowl with other members of their mob. Do I sound snobbish? Hope so). There I had a smoked ham and goat’s cheese bruschetta with a couple of glasses of lager and, courtesy of my magic browser extension which kids the world on I am still in Old Blighty.

Tonight, now, in fact, again courtesy of the magic extension (which surely by now deserves caps – Magic Extension) it’s Middlesbrough v Brentford playing for the Championship third promotion spot final. I’m with Brentford, who ‘have a mountain to climb’ (©Gary Commentator), but only because Chris and Richard at work are diehard supporters.

Incidentally, I’m glad I blew another £2,000 on hiring a car, because although the hotel and facitilities are fine, the area is another bit of Anywheresville, Mediterranea, with added Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants. Who on earth comes to Spain, only to stuff themselves on Thai, Chinese and Indian food beats me. Would you go to Bangkok and demand tapas? No, nor would I. Pip, pip.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Just a little more of our British election bollocks, then rather unexpectedly I talk about myself and sex - yes sex, the one topic no one can resist

Well, it’s all over bar the shouting, as they say, by which we mean, of course, the interminable analysis. Yes, I listen to it, and yes it is halfway interesting, but what is the point? Only Labour and, I suppose, the Lib Dems will benefit from analysing just how they managed to fuck things up so comprehensively, but for the rest of us it is back to football and gossip.

Given that one or two folk abroad read this blog, I should add the Britain, the United Kingdom, call it what you will (and mere good manners stop me from adopting some of the choice language used by one Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the EU parish council, uses when he is in his cups) has just suffered another of its general elections, but I should imagine that there is not great interest abroad in our political comings and goings.

For the record while all the pundits – who like to pass themselves off as experts – predicted a very close-run race, with the Conservatives being neck and neck with Labour (i.e. Tweedledum being neck and neck with Tweedledee – or is it the other way around?), and neither would be in a position to command a majority in the House of Commons and would have to strike all kinds of sordid deals with a motley crew of wacky Greens, wacky little Englanders, and, in Labour’s case, rather frightening Scottish nationalists to do so, the outcome was a true surprise. Not only did the Conservatives (the True Patriots/Complete Bastards depending on your political prejudice) manage to get rather more seats than expected, they even managed to get enough seats to gain an overall majority in the Commons.

Well, from me just two cheers, and only because having reached the ripe old age of 97 and sooner or later having to depend on my pension, I trust the blue set of bastard deadbeats to be just a little more competent running the economy than the red set of bastard deadbeats (my brief 14-month flirtation of several years ago as a signed up member of the local Conservative Association notwithstanding).

Once the celebrations are over and the Conservative leader and once again our Prime Minister David Cameron wakes up to the day job, it will not be a bed of roses. For one thing he has promised us good people a referendum, after a period of negotiating with Mr Juncker as to changing the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU, a vote on whether we want to remain a member of that by now rather threadbare organisation. His position, and mine, is that the EU must be reformed and that many arrangement, not least the totally free movement of labour, should be amended as part of reform, but that EU membership – under newer arrangements – is a good thing rather than not.

But that will be a hard sell, and I’m not yet too convinced that David Cameron has the necessary political skills to pull it off. He’s good at some things, winning elections perhaps now being added to his skill set, but not quite as good at others. But more than a fair amount of political nous will be necessary to satisfy both wings of his party, those who want to stay in the EU at all costs, and those who want to leave and bugger the costs. Being contrary, I subscribe to neither view.

The EU is a great idea on paper, but in practice is going wronger and wronger. But here and now are not the place and time for me to outline why I think that is the case. The big sell for Labour was ‘far less austerity’: the Tories, faced with a huge hole in their bank account have taken to the ‘welfare budget’ with gusto, cutting this and chopping that. You might argue, as the Tories, of course, to, that the figures, the falling employment figures to name but one set, bear them out. Their opponents, Labour but now far more seriously the Scottish Nationalists who have – this is no exaggeration – destroyed Labour in Scotland, argue that the cuts the Tories have made in the welfare budget have lead to a great deal of misery among some.

The problem for Labour was, though, that they did not lead to a great deal of misery for a sufficiently large number to persuade them to ditch the Tories and vote them into power. For many, who took stock of their lives and financial position, it came down to the simple question: austerity? What austerity? If you like it came down to the fact that more folk than not were able to proclaim ‘I’m all right, Jack’. I’m well aware how callous that attitude sounds and can be, but the majority were persuaded by the argument that if the books aren’t in order and if we are spending more than we are bringing in, you ain’t going to do very much good very anyone for very long.

So it’s another five years of Heaven On Earth/Tory Misrule. All of which will be of little to no interest to the good folk who flatter me by visiting and reading my blog living in Russia, China, Germany, France, South America and the United States. The U.S. has its own bunfight coming up, anyway, but I should imagine it will in essence be very like the rather tedious hell we her in Old Blighty have been through.

. . .

I am off to Spain in five days though it won’t be what has become my annual pilgrimage to visit Senor Seth Cardew in Alabdos (which will come later in the year). This time I just want a bit of time to be all on my own. And this time I am making it ten days rather than the usual seven, because I find you don’t really begin to chill until five or six days and usually by then you are on your way back home.

I am off to a place called Port d’Alcudia in the north of Mallorca, the north of the island, I’m assured being rather quieter than the south – Palma and Magaluf – and which experiences rather less volatile puking in the streets by adolescent Brits between the ages of 18 and 40. No, I hope, ‘all-day English breakfasts, no pubs run by retired crims showing football on Sky, and, I hope, quiet and peace. OK, I am no longer 40, 50 or 60, and all I want to do for the first few days is fuck all. Nothing. Get up, have a shower, have a light breakfast, them find a sunny corner somewhere and do fuck all.

I am taking with me Selina Hastings’s biography of Somerset Maugham and having now read several of his stories quite apart from reading up on him, I am intrigued by the man. He described himself as something like ‘foremost in the second rank of English writers’, but I don’t know whether that is quite true. As a rule we English tend to a certain insincere modesty, hoping though that others will disagree with our judgment and insist we are not doing ourselves justice. I know I do it.

Maugham’s writing style is straightforward and simple, and as far as I am concerned there is nothing wrong with that. It is far better than many I have read, though I must confess – and I am not being insincerely modest here, simply honest, that I really haven’t read enough, especially not enough of ‘modern’ writers to be in a position to make that call. And also bear in mind that I was, so to speak, brought up in journalism, particularly on the sub-editing side of it, so my judgment might well be limited by that.

I have previously read Selina Hastings’s biography of Evelyn Waugh, another who can write the pants off most, and know that she hits the right balance between being dryly academic – not for my, m’lud, I’m sorry – and superficially sensationalist. Yes, I want the dirt – and I understand there is a great deal of that in Maugham’s life, living as he did as predominantly homosexual man all his life at a time when all homosexual acts would most certainly result in imprisonment if you pissed off enough of your friends to warrant them denouncing you.

I am not homosexual, but I suspect that if I were, I would have been very, very unhappy to life in such an era. I can’t speak for what is it like these days to be gay, but I’m sure many more men and women who prefer to shag their own sex rather than the opposition are rather happier and more content. And amen to that.

. . .

Speaking of sex here might well be the occasion to mention that my sex life is probably well and truly over. Maugham and others might well have been able to carry on shagging well into their seventies and eighties, but age and a heart attack nine years ago, have all rather put paid to that, I’m sorry to say. I last had sex a month or two after my second child was conceived and he will be 16 on May 25. Work it out for yourselves.

I once, more as an exercise than anything else, counted up the number of women I had ‘known’. I most certainly couldn’t remember all their names, but at the time I could remember the occasion or where I was. That was in the mid-1980s and I am grateful that I was able to add to that tall in the years that followed. But at the time – and I shan’t give the number I arrived at – and hearing what number of lovers other men claimed to have had, I was rather surprised that is was higher. I was surprised because I didn’t and don’t’ regard myself as a swordsman of any kind. I suspect that in the bedroom I was rather more vanilla than some, but on the other hand I simply can’t get my head around that some men and women, for example, like to beat each other senseless before they feel their sex instinct has been gratified.

. . .

As I am speaking, rarely for this blog, rather personally, I should add that I have never got off on pure sex, a quick shag, that kind of thing. I really do – well, did – like to make a night of it, and that night would include, apart from the sex, of course, conversation and laughter. I like – make that liked – to make a personal connection, and the idea of going to a brothel or even picking up a prostitute had no appeal to me at all. So I never did it.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t shagged, then realised that the act once concluded I simply wanted to get away, that is, the woman was of very little other interest to me, but what once came as a surprise to me is that many women feel and felt exactly the same. For example, I can recall one woman I slept with a few times who, it quickly became apparent, thought of me as nothing more than a shag where not other was available. And I didn’t much like it, though I couldn’t deny it was true.

Enough of that here, but having finally admitted all that, I might revisit the topic in some future blog. I can’t even think why and how I have reached this point. Perhaps it was some primeval suspicion that all politicians want to do is shag the voter and leave it at that. But, of course, that isn’t true, either. Cynicism is easy, far, far too easy. What is far more difficult and thus far, far more worthwhile is trust and trusting someone.

But I am sitting outside in the garden writing this, it is almost 8.30 on an English May evening, it is getting rather chilly – it is almost 8.30 on an English May evening – and the laptop is running out of battery power, so I shall have to stop. Pip, pip.