Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why morons are morons are morons are morons the world over, irrespective of gender — but somehow the male of the species has a head-start. Why?

We all have to pass the time somehow (and don’t give me any of that ‘I’m to busy to worry about how to pass the time’ bullshit - show me someone who has no time to breathe, and I’ll show you the very definition of disorganisation, a liar or a stiff), and one way I wile away many a precious minute granted me by God (or my humanist principles, I can never remember which) is to add my two ha’porth to the comment section appended to almost every story in our online newspapers.

My comment sections of choice are those in the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, mainly because there’s always someone to disagree with. For your Telegraph reader I’m apparently so far to the left on a clear day you can see Vladivostok, but for most Guardian readers I’m a snivelling little Tory-supporting crypto-fascist who should have been strangled at birth if not even earlier. I, of course, like to think I am neither, but now that life is in colour and perception is everything and truth is subjective, who knows, perhaps I am both.

On both papers I find I am almost always in a minority on whatever topic is under discussion. Both papers have their share of nutters. Here are, satirised at first, then the real thing, the kind of comment you can find daily among The Chosen of both moron wings. First The Guardian: ‘That fucking bitch Thatcher, she should have been raped, then burnt, then hung. I’m GLAD SHE’S DEAD!!!’ Although I invented that, it is pretty damn close to what various idiots did come out with when Margaret Thatcher died a few years ago.

Then there’s the kind of garbage which very often appears in the Daily Telegraph comments sections (and this is pertinent to the rest of this entry and all three are direct quotes): ‘Newsflash: Why would any sane man with a life and a career want to become "involved" with a feminist. We have much better options. There doesn't exist an attractive feminist who is height/weight appropriate (not fat)’, ‘Feminists don't have boyfriends. They just have pet chimps’, and ‘Quite. What sort of man would ever want a relationship with a “feminist”? To paraphrase a feminist adage — mankind needs feminism like a fish needs a typewriter.’

At our most recent election here in Britain, I was roundly abused in the Guardian comments section for suggesting that Labour would not win an outright majority and that Ed Miliband — leader at the time of the election — would be soundly beaten in the polls, one way or another, and would no longer be leader 24 hours after the polls had closed. (When I suggested to a friend and colleague a week or two before the May 7 poll that not only would the Tories not lose, but they would, for one reason or another, gain an overall majority of about four or five seats — I used the phrase ‘grease through’ — he bet me £5 I would be proved wrong. Well, up to a point I was — the Tories greased through with an overall majority of 12, not four or five, but I still collected my £5.)

My most recent comment section spat was yesterday and today, responding, as were others, to a very silly piece in the Daily Telegraph by a women writer who admitted that although she overcame the loneliness which besieged her when she first move to London by eventually finding a boyfriend, she felt she had betrayed feminism by ‘depending’ on him for company.

Writers, unless they are ‘celebrity writers’ such as the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn who are paid fabulous sums for merely farting on paper and have final say on everything that appears under their byline, are staff writers or minor freelancers, and they have no control at ll over what headline is given to their piece.

So the writer of this very silly piece had to put up with the headline ‘Finding a boyfriend cured my crippling loneliness, but left me feeling a bad feminist’ to which was added the sub-head ‘Actress Rachel Weisz has revealed that she spent much of her twenties feeling “lonely”. Rebecca Reid applauds her for exposing the isolation that hits so many women in Britain’.

In this case I doubt whether she objected to the headline as it pretty much summed up what she saying, but often it doesn’t and a ‘good’ headline will be used, deemed ‘good’ not because it encapsulates and sums up the feature it heads succinctly, but because whoever is top of the editorial food chain either thought it up and/or thinks it is good.

My reaction and the substance of my first comment was to berate Reid and her piece for implicitly suggesting they should, at best, keep their feelings to themselves and, at worst, in the interests of feminism and the sisterhood utterly deny that they are lonely.  But — an important ‘but’ — I went

on to point out that such an obtuse attitude was only symptomatic of the whackier (and usually Western) feminists and that they did their cause of promoting greater gender equality a bad disservice by saying such silly things. Here is my first entry in full:

‘ “Initially I was irked by Weisz’s confession. How could she say that she wasn’t a full and complete person before she was in a relationship? (She’s now married to Daniel Craig). What message does that send to independent young women?” In a nutshell, the writer manages to sum up the insidious seam of corruption which runs through our feminist commentariat.

The subtext is: 'Even if you are feeling dogshit and utterly bereft, lie through your teeth and deny any such feelings because we want young women to be empowered'. OK, Ms Reid, goes on to say she moved away from that position, but it still doesn't mask the feminist rulebook which is blighting the lives of so many women, young and old, who feel they are somehow 'letting their sisters down' by feeling - for God's sake! - vulnerable and weak.

Well, quite apart from the fact that every man reading this will - if he is honest - admit that at some point in his life and perhaps quite often, have felt 'vulnerable, lonely and weak' - I know I have especially when I was younger - every woman is entitled to feel whatever she feels without some feminist stasi breathing down her neck and reminding her she should feel 'empowered'. I am a regularly listener to Woman's Hour (it can be very interesting and informative) but there is a consistent pseudo-feminist theme running through many items which lays down the law on what women can and should feel or else they are letting down their gender. But honesty, unadulterated honesty should be at the heart of every belief, and that is all-too-often absent in some - I stress only some - “feminist” preaching.’

My comment apparently seemed to sum an broadside against feminism in general, and I was applauded by ‘Misandry’ who replied: ‘Hardly “some’... As you said, it's pretty much consistent no matter what flavour of feminism you listen to.’ (NB You might be familiar with the word ‘misandry’, but I wasn’t and had to look it up and discovered it meant — in some dictionaries

— ‘man-hating’, in others ‘dislike of, contempt for or ingrained prejudice against men’, the implication being that ‘feminists’ are wholesale ‘man-haters’.) It was then I realised that my views of ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’s who are campaigning for a far better deal for women had been and were being wholly misinterpreted.

So I replied: No, I shall stick with ‘some’, because as far as I am concerned a rebalancing of the relationship between the genders is long overdue. Get a little further away from the comfort zone we call The West i.e. Africa and Asia, and the lot of a great number of women is appalling. Don’t think me a wuss when I mention female genital mutilation, the SOLE purpose of which is to ensure women do not enjoy sexual intercourse.

Here in the West, of course, in Britain and other European countries women are still paid less for doing an identical job to their male workmates, and I can think of no rational explanation for that. So there is a great deal of scope for “feminism” at [sic] there are a great many of feminist activists who have my whole-hearted support and best wishes.

Their task is, however, made a great deal harder, not least because of the male antagonism they often elicit, [by a kind] of feminist lite, one which has all the trappings of ‘the struggle’ but is essential vacuous, the kind I describe in my first post. It lays down the law on women, chastises them if they don't follow the feminist rules, and - ironically - in many of its demands seems to want to transform women into some kind of alternative guy.’

That was when it — the shitstorm (© Angela Merkel, Germany’s Federal Chancellor, Bundeskanzler) — all started and I found myself in a minority of one, valiantly trying to defend my position against what seemed like a horde — though in the event there were no more than four or five — berating me for supporting what they viewed as a ‘vile doctrine’ and described me as a ‘mangina’ and ‘neckbeard virgin’ (that’s another one I had to look up).

One in particular, his moniker was ‘Dogglebird’, told me as part of his university teaching he instructed a ‘critical discourse analysis (CDA)’ and went ‘It’s not my main specialism, but it covers such as poststructuralist feminist Julia Kristeva, as well as some other contemporary feminist writers. From that, I have had to read quite a bit of feminist writing as background to teaching CDA and supervising extended essays and MA dissertations.’

Sounds grand, though when you put it together with some of the other bollocks he was coming out with, you have to wonder. For the record, I would never describe myself as ‘a feministç or a ‘new man’, though only because I think labels are pretty counter-productive, are essentially meaningless and are apt to derail most discussions. (‘Well, it depends what you mean by “feminist” ’, someone might respond, but once any discussion is sidetracked into establishing definitions, we are already heading up a blind alley.) What I would and shall confess to is my horror at some of the lives many — it will be many millions — of people are forced to live merely because they were born as women.

What muddies the ‘feminist’ debate considerably is that the iniquities some women still suffer in the ‘civilised’ West — being paid less for doing exactly the same job as a male colleague, being ‘touched up’ by male strangers, being, as a matter of course, expected to do all housework as a ‘duty’ almost pale into insignificance with the horrors other women face: being denied schooling in Taliban Afghanistan and having no social life outside the home unless accompanied by their husband or a close male relative, risking gang rape in India where the authorities, always male, choose to turn a blind eye because the victim was ‘just a woman’ or rape victims being stoned to death for ‘adultery’.

I pointed out such examples in my many entries and responses to other posters commenting on Ms Reid’s story, and in reward got ever more abuse. And I was given example after example of supposedly ‘feminist’ whackiness: it really doesn’t help the feminist cause one iota when ‘radical feminist’ come out with such claims as ‘all men are rapists’. Or, as quoted by Dogglebird, ‘I feel that

“man-hating” is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them’ and attributed by him to Robin Morgan, editor of Ms. Magazine.

Then there’s this, again quoted by Dogglebird, this time from a Valerie Solanas: ‘To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.’ (Valerie Solanas, as I’m sure you all know, but I didn’t, is or rather was an American radical feminist writer who is best known for the SCUM Manifesto as well as the attempted murder of artist Andy Warhol (Wikipedia’s entry).

That last, the fact that she tried to bump of Warhol rather dates her and, more to the point, means Mr Dogglebird is rather scrabbling around for examples to discredit feminism, i.e. he strikes me as a tad desperate for ‘evidence’ to substantiate his outlandish prejudices (yet he claims he teaches ‘aspects of feminism’. I wonder just how even-keeled is the information he passes on to his eager students.) From where I sit, women the world over are fighting an uphill battle to get a rather better deal out of life after many, many centuries, if not millennia of eating shit.

Yes, I’m sure if you disagree, you could come up with chapter and verse about why the current dispensation is as it should be and all is well in the world. But if that’s the case, don’t bother me with your views unless you can come up with a copper-bottomed case. Which I doubt you can because I doubt to the point of complete conviction that anyone can.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I hate to say this, but this is nothing but a 1,104-word whinge, so unless you have nothing better to do, best ignore it

Oh, to go on holiday again, and soon. I’ve only been back from my nine/ten days in Mallorca, but I can already feel the yearn for a certain kind of freedom which only a holiday brings. (I say nine/ten days because it was nominally a ten-day break - and ten nights at the hotel), but because I didn’t fly out until the Thursday evening and didn’t arrive at the hotel until gone 1am, that was one ‘day’ already out of the window. I shan’t make that mistake again.)

The first thing I noticed when I got back about three weeks ago was just how silly our British weather essentially is. Since then we have had one or two ‘fine’ days, but even though the weather in Port d’Alcudia, Mallorca, wasn’t hot, at least it was consistently warmer.

Here in Britain it is pretty much hit or miss, and the TV forecaster warning, even in June, of the threat of a slight ground frost on higher ground is rather too often for my liking. The other thing I miss is a lack what I mean by freedom, and when using that word I am very conscious that a great many folk around the world would envy me my apparent ‘lack of freedom’.

I don’t mean to come across as some bleeding heart liberal, but I as I get older, the more I am conscious of how bloody lucky we are in the ‘civilised world’ and just how much we take for granted - food, the ability to speak our minds however critical we are, within limits more or less doing what we like irrespective of gender or religion. Try being a woman in Saudi Arabia who still isn’t allowed to
drive a car. Consider being gay, of either sex, in Iran where it can all too often result in enforce ‘gender reassignment’ - a sex change to you and me - as a ‘solution’ to the fact you were born gay.

But that wasn’t the tack I was going to go on, so having made my point, I shall move on. The one thing I enjoy about being away alone is the lack of obligation: I can do as I please. I don’t indulge myself in any particular way, it’s just that here at home or going away and staying with someone, there is still some kind of timetable to be adhered to. It irks me, and it was feeling that irksomeness just a few minutes ago which brought be back to a laptop and the posting of another blog entry.

I work from Sundays to Wednesdays and I am then nominally ‘off’ on Thursdays to Saturdays. I never really quite relax on the Saturday as know the following day I have to be up early and off on a four-hour drive from Cornwall to London.

Once at work, there’s the usual routine and Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays each have their own routine. Back home in Cornwall, after another four-hour drive on the Wednesday night - the routine being getting away as soon as possible after my nominal shift end at 6pm to get the bloody journey over and done with, with a two-hour stop off at the Brewers Arms in South Petherton for two pints of cider and a few La Pax cigars - I wake early, cos my wife wakes at 6.30 and although she is not in the slightest bit noisy or disruptive, and once awake I am one of those who might try to get back to sleep again, but can’t. So it is up and about.

On Thursdays I call in on my stepmother just down the road who is more or less housebound after her stroke eight years ago to pick up her shopping list to do her shopping. After the shopping it is back to do ‘the puzzles’, drop in on her again to drop off the shopping and sit with her for a while, and then it is just counting down till bedtime because after my commute home and late night - I don’t get in till 1am on the Thursday morning and stay away surfing the net or listening to the radio till gone 2 - I am knackered.

Fridays are given over to doing very little but it is one of those days when I am conscious I could - and should - be using my time far more constructively, for example getting on with the two radio plays I have started writing and reading. I do a little, but feeling constrained by some kind of harness - the week’s routine feels like that - I don’t do a great deal at all. Then it’s Saturday again.

On holiday, though, and I am talking about being away somewhere all on my own I find I do write, quite substantially, and do read. Oh well, whinge over. Time I should remind myself that despite it all I am a comparatively bloody lucky guy. I do have time off planned, though.

On July 9, I am off to Germany for three days for my brother-in-laws 60th birthday party - and as the Germans are a sociable bunch it should be an enjoyable time. Then, on July 23, I am off to Bordeaux for a week’s worth of classical concerts, the same routine I have followed for the past four years. My aunt, with whom I stay is having quite a serious ‘woman’s’ operation and as she is now over 80, I have offered to do all the donkey work in the kitchen which she would normally do.

Then, on September 3, it is off to see my potter friend in the back of beyond north of Valencia for a week. That, too, should be enjoyable. So don’t pity me too much, but I do look forward to getting away on my own again. As I turned 65 last November, I can ‘retire’ at any time I like, but I have decided to carry on working for a while to build up my pension a little more. What with one child in her second year of university and a son starting uni in two years time, money might still be a little tight.

For the second time, whinge over.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Seems like the Greeks will soon be making that drachma out of a crisis - finally. But hold onto your seat belts, it could be a very bumpy ride

You might well have heard the anecdote about a visitor to Ireland asking his way to somewhere. ‘Well,’ declares the Irishman he consults, ‘first of all, I wouldn’t have started here.’ Chortles all round and quasi-racist reflections on the ‘thick Mick’. Er, not quite.

Like many such stories, the boot is, actually, very much on the other foot, and the joke isn’t on the ‘Oirishman’, but on the visitor. Furthermore, there is a great deal more sense in that reply than in much of the WASP logic it might seem to offend. Similarly, 40 years ago a friend and colleague of my father’s who was working in Northern Ireland and had taken a weekend off to visit Galway, stopped at a local newsagent’s to buy his copy of the English Daily Telegraph, only to find that all they had on sale was the edition from the previous day. ‘Do you have today’s Telegraph?’ he asked politely. Sorry, sir, he was told, if you want today’s edition, you’ll have to come back tomorrow. Again there were chortles all round when he told the story and when it was repeated - in those days chortles from me, too, and repeat tellings of the tale by me.

But hold on: there is a seam of impeccable logic in that supposedly quaint ‘Oirishman’s’ response. If, as in those pre-internet, pre-motorway and more or less pre-anything else days, it took more than a day for a consignment of the ‘London papers’ (which many an Englishman could not do without, it would seem) there was no earthly way any newsagent in Galway would be able to stock and sell today’s papers today.

If, as quite possibly the newsagent assumed, my father’s friend was keen, for whatever reason, on having that particular day’s paper, he was best advised to return the following day to pick one up once it had arrived. I am no longer chortling; it makes perfect sense to me. The advice to the visitor seeking directions is similarly sage: well, if that’s your destination (it says), you have made the task even harder for yourself by starting from this point.

The two stories - the second after the first - occur to me regularly when I hear the latest news about ‘possible Grexit’, ‘the Greek government defaulting on its debts’, the ever-growing likelihood of Greece

eventually leaving or being pushed out of the eurozone (and, today, even the suggestion from one Greek minister, that Greece might even eventually leave the European Union). There was another meeting of EU finance ministers today and it is scheduled to carry on tomorrow if needs be, but, dear readers, it is now obvious to all and everyone except a deaf, dumb and blind sow, that it will all end in tears one way or another. The Greeks can’t stand down and what is fancifully and rather heroically called ‘the Troika’ can’t do so, either. Both sides have their - very good reasons for standing their ground, but crucially both sets of reasons are in no way congruent. In other words: if you want to end up with a solution which is equitable for, and acceptable to, both sides, the situation as it stands now is no where to start from.

There are of course, at least on the side of the Troika, many brave declarations that a solution can still be found, but who are they kidding? And it’s not the money they - the IMF and the European Central Bank, as well as assorted ‘investors’ - will lose if the debt is written off, which irks them, it is the precedent: if Greece can be cut that much slack other countries will ask who weren’t cut so much slack and buckled down - notably Ireland which has come out of its own financial crisis smelling or roses and which can hold its head high - we weren’t we? We were we made to bow and scrape and beg and made to look like vassal states to the EU?

Another, equally as serious, danger is that those sitting on piles of cash who are in the business of lending to governments will think not twice or three but a great many more times about who they lend to. That means that those countries who most need loans are the least liable to get them. Perhaps a brief resume of the whole farcical situation is useful (this one courtesy, as always, of course, ’cos I really am no sage in these matters, from the several radio, TV and newspaper reports that have come my way): the present argy-bargy - the Troika demanding that pensions must be cut even more, that public assets must be privatised and the rest if Greece is to get any more money - is itself quite farcical. That money, if the Greeks get it, will only be used to pay off previous loans, which themselves were only granted to pay off even earlier loans.

The essential problem, a great debt of gigantic proportions, one I hear which now stands at almost double - 180pc - of Greece’s total annual income, still remains untouched and is in no danger of being reduced. So if you’re looking for a route to reach a happy and peaceful resolution to the present crisis - ouzo, schnapps, grappa and cognacs all round to celebrate a job well done - here is most certainly not the spot you want to start from.

. . .

All that makes it sound as thought the EU, the ECB, the Toika and the rest of that sorry bunch are on the back foot. Nonsense. The Greek government is also between a rock and a hard place: it cannot and dare not give in. The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who leads the ‘left-wing’ Syriza party is buggered, snookered, up shit creek and then some.

(NB I leave ‘left-wing’ in quotes not because I suspect Tsipras is nothing of the kind, but because calling someone or a party ‘left-wing’ is usually intended as an insult and it is an insult I don’t want to deliver. So quoting ‘left-wing’ has allowed me to make that point clear.)

Tsipras and his party were elected because they vowed to stand up for Greece and her people, unlike previous governments who seem to have allowed themselves to bend over and be fucked as often as it suited the Troika, on the understanding that their personal circumstances remained unaffected - I doubt whether many of the previous government are yet going hungry, but unfortunately it seems an increasing number of the poorer Greeks are.

Europe’s pollyanas are decrying the doom merchants roundly. Greek can default, they declare, re-introduce the drachma, boost their economy, holidays would be cheap for the rest of us, it might not end all that badly at all, and why, who knows, pigs might indeed fly. To which I can only add that if they do, it will be for the very first time in recorded history

According to the bod whose report I heard on Radio 4’s PM news programme an hour or two ago, defaulting on the repayment due to the IMF is not quite the real danger. Many countries, Zambia, Cuba and Cyprus to name just three, have done so and the seven horsemen still failed to turn up. What would really do damage all round is if Greece, a month later, also defaulted on a repayment due to the European Central Bank.

As part of its statutes, it seems, that action would mean it would simply have to close down Greece, with no more cash from ATMS and the rest. And that would spell real trouble. It wouldn’t mean that Tsipras would no longer be welcomed at the chancelleries of EU member states. He could live with that. The real danger is that Greece might descend into civil unrest and then civil war. And the country has a history of political instability.

Quite apart from the rule by a military junta from 1967, when it seized power in a coup, until 1974, there was also what we understated Brits call a ‘spot of bother’ in 1935 when there was another attempted coup. It wasn’t successful, but eventually led to what many regard as a thoroughly rigged referendum to reinstate the monarchy.

There’s no suggestion that history will repeat itself. For one thing the world has changed. But in recent years we seem to have heard very little of those nasty thugs from Golden Dawn who, unlike our Northern European crypto-fascists, publicly admire and hanker after the kind of fascism which took over Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy in the 1930s. It is not too fanciful to suggest that in a country bearing its unfair share of taking care of people fleeing Ethiopia, Libya and Syria (as is Italy), Golden Dawn might well find a great deal of popular support among a poor Greek population at its wits end. Could there be civil war? Who knows? But it is not at all unikely.

Into this mix add the murky ambitions of Recep Erdogan, Turkey’s far from democratically-minded president who is still smarting from humiliation in recent elections when his party lost a substantial number of seats in parliament (and the Kurds gained a great many more) and who might not be averse to stirring matters a little in the affairs of Turkey’s arch foe Greece. And then, of course, there is Putin. Ah, Putin, what a transparent man he is.

It is fashionable to insist that Putin hasn’t the resources, least of all the spare moolah, to help the Greeks out of a hole. But that is beside the point. In saying that, those who insist Putin is no real factor in this whole stupid situation are making the classic mistake of applying their very own standards to a man and country who dance to their own tune. Russia has already a rather useful foothold in Cyprus, acquired by a loan here and there, and the developing crisis in Greece, especially if it did experience civil unrest, might well strike Putin as an opportunity to do whatever might embarrass the EU most. Well, I would, too. Wouldn’t you?

All that - I have added thoughts of my own to what the Radio 4 bod was explaining - is still in the future. It would seem the real test will come when Greece is due to pay back what it is due to pay back to the ECB. Will they default on the IMF loan due more or less now to have more of the readies to pay back the ECB? That’s possible. But it still goes nowhere near tackling the real problem of is core debt. Not for the first time I am obliged to resort to what is now a cliche, the old Chinese curse on someone that they might ‘live in interesting times’. Times are certainly interesting and a likely to become even more interesting.

. . .

I’m sorry that none of this here is in the slightest bit original, and I apologise for that. I have no better sources of information than you who is reading this. I run this blog for many reasons, by no
means the least of which is that I enjoy writing, and so far this is the only writing I do despite my high-flown pretensions. I am, however, trying to write not one but two radio plays, so maybe the time will come where I finally do put my money where my mouth is. There’s a great Texan phrase - I think it’s Texan, perhaps it’s from Arizona - which does describe a certain kind of person. That person is said to be ‘all hat and no cattle’. Well, so far, dear reader, I have an enviable collection of metaphorical hats, but so far not one metaphorical cattle. None. Wish me luck.

There is, of course, ‘my novel’, but despite several naked appeals to you all to buy a copy, read it and admire it, no one has yet done me the honour. (I would know because I would get notice of a sale from Amazon). So let me repeat it: you can find out more about it and buy it if you are so inclined here. And it really is not at all bad. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 6. Modest enough for you? Oh, and if you do check it out, I do urge you to remember the very good advice ‘never to judge a book by its cover’. Speaking of which, here is the cover (above left).

Pip, pip.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Q: When is a loan shark not a loan shark? A: Never. They are always scum even when they come in a suit and expensive aftershave and don’t carry a stilletto. And that is what Greece now knows: you want credit? We’ve got credit — but it will cost ya

We must all know that feeling, especially when we are younger and have less experience of life (by which I mean we have so far been in fewer scrapes, not that oldies are in some way wiser) that ‘things are just awful and there is no way out. None’. As it turns out, there is a way out, though quite often not the one we want.

Many years ago my bank talked me into - although it didn’t take much talking, they know a sucker when they see one - opening a kind of ‘credit account’, much like a credit card is now. There was no card, and I simply wrote cheques, but either way I maxed out my £3,000 limit within months, buying up all kinds of photographic gear mainly but also helping to pay the fees for a college photographic course I started.

To clarify a little, that £3,000 would today be worth between £9,000 and £18,000, depending upon which measure you are using. Stupid or what? Of course, bloody stupid, but the bank didn’t care - they knew they would get their money - the principal - back one way or another, but they also knew they would get more - the vig as gangsters like to call it - and probably far more, in interest over the years as I and others similarly suckered into borrowing the money paid back.

At times that £3,000 - actually, I’ve since discovered a relatively small sum compared to what others have owed and others still owe in credit card debt - seemed overwhelming and life was shitty. I ran out of money after two terms of my course and had to leave, and I was then unemployed for the following ten months.

The bank ‘kindly’ agreed that I could leave off paying off my debt while I was unemployed, although it would ‘of course’ continue to attract interest. And so the debt grew and grew. When I finally found a job, I began to pay it off, at £30 a week. And boy was that frustrating: we were paid weekly in cash in those days (I was working as a sub-editor on the South Wales Echo in Cardiff) and as soon as that small brown envelope was handed to me, it was down to the nearest branch of Lloyds, about three minutes away from Thomson House, near the rail station to pay in that week’s £30.

Every months I received my statement and would almost literally howl with fury: of the £120 I had paid in over the past four weeks, around £80 would go to pay of the interest, the vig. Jesus, I hated those guys, and ever since then I spit on banks and money men generally. Yes, we need them, but we most certainly don’t have to respect them or like them.

I was determined to pay off that debt, and I did. Over the years - it took about seven years - the principal came down and so did the vig, and boy was it a sense of achievement to pay it off and be
done with it. (I was by then living in London, but made a special trip to Birmingham to pay off that final £100 to the manager personally and to tell him exactly what I thought of banks and their invidious practice of inveigling customers to borrow ever more money. I was polite, but I didn’t hold back. But did he care? Did he fuck. I was just another schmuck and although I was now out of the bank’s debt and clutches, he knew there would - and will - more schmucks. I have no way of working out exactly how much Lloyds made out of me and my debt while it was still outstanding, but a rough guess would be about the same as I owed. You might say, of course, that ‘Patrick, me old mucker, you didn’t have to borrow the £3,000 in the first place. So, Patrick, old fruit, it was your own bloody fault’. And I can’t disagree with that. Of course, I didn’t have to borrow it, and no one, but no one forced me to fritter it away.

But that isn’t quite the point: lenders, from ‘respectable’ banks to loan sharks with a scar from ear to ear and a stiletto up their sleeve, know full well that they don’t have to force anyone to borrow money (except, of course, when they suggest we borrow a little more to pay off our interest, something my ‘respectable’ Lloyds manager in Birmingham suggested. I turned him down and instead embarked seven-year schlepp to pay off my debt). They know that to a man and woman we are pig-stupid enough to borrow what is on offer. And boy are they keen - for the very obvious reasons outlined above - to lend us money.

. . .

In the scheme of things, mine is a tiny, tiny story with a belated happy ending, and I am aware that there are far worse stories, many of which do not and will not have a happy ending (and please believe me that I am not feeling smug or complacent, just relieved that I managed  to emerge 
unscathed). But in a sense my story demonstrates what has happened to Greece, and there will decidedly not be a happy ending to this one. It is often commented that the Greeks didn’t have to borrow the sums they did to build their better roads and the rest.

It is often remarked that if successive governments had been far more diligent in collecting the taxes owed to the state, they might not have ended up in the utterly miserable situation they now find themselves in. Furthermore, we are told, Greece has a thriving tradition of corruption and bribery. But all three points miss the point by a country mile and do so wilfully.

Essentially, it is the same story with Greece and its lenders as it was with me and the ‘respectable’ bank manager of Lloyds’s Colmore Circus branch: they are not in the slightest bit concerned whether Greece or I should borrow to such an extent, because they know full well, one way or the other, that they will get their money back and make an additional healthy packet on top. Were Greece and I being irresponsible? Their attitude is: whatever. Because we don’t give a fuck. If the schmuck stupid enough to borrow from a loan shark announces he can’t pay up this week, he gets a severe beating to teach him a lesson. Make no mistake: Greece is also being given a severe beating and is being taught a lesson.

Oh, it might be couched in the oh-so-respectable terms and assurances that ‘we feel your pain’, but that is pantomime stuff. And ironically, it is no longer the Greeks who are now paying the vig but more or less the German taxpayer. The lenders don’t care, of course, they don’t care two hoots who

coughs up as long as they get their lucre. Yes, of course, it is more complex than that, but in a sense it is no more complex at all: Greece was and is just another schmuck who has been taken for a ride by the moneylenders.

Certainly, there are other dimensions to this problem: if Greece is let off the hook, the moneylenders say, it would ‘send the wrong message’ to the other eurozone members - Spain, Ireland and Portugal - who have been ‘financially imprudent’. Well, that’s what loan sharks always say: you’ll never catch a fully-qualified loan shark letting any of his clients off the hook - slitting his own throat would be a quicker way to get to where such an action would take him.

. . .

I started writing this entry after reading a good piece in the The Guardian by one Seamus Milne. It is not directly about the Greek austerity and euro crisis, but about the need for reform in the EU, but I recommend it. One of his main suggestions is that bit by bit the EU is being hijacked by the corporate world and used for its own means.

What with that alarming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being steamrollered through by the EU and the US (here’s another good piece, admittedly pretty anti-TTIP, but then I can’t see anything good about it) it does seem that the EU, which might even have seemed an old idealistic hippy dream when it was first established, is slowly but inexorably being turned into quite a different animal, and one in which ‘democracy’, by which I simply understand your and my right to stipulate how we are governed and by whom has little place, if any.

The irony of what I have just written is that it might make me sound like some unreconstructed Lefty, when, in fact, I am anything but that. But you don’t need to be a Lefty to use your nose and announce that something stinks if you sincerely think it stinks.