Thursday, December 31, 2015

In which I risk, at best, ostracism, and, at worst, death when I proclaim: The Beatles were great for about four years. After that the went badly off the boil, not least after three of the four of them began believing their own bullshit

NB At the end of this post are three soundfiles. Just click start to hear any of them. If you are using a Windows machine, they work (on Windows 7) on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Opera. If you are on a Mac, they work on Safari, Chrome and Firefox (and also on some obscure browser I have for some reason installed called Stainless), but they don't work on Opera.

Well, hallelujah (or not). Forget Syria, the EU migration crisis, China building new islands in its latest move to dominate the world, Dame Harriet Harman about to be declared a saint by the RC mafia in the Vatican and Manchester United quite overjoyed that they have finally not lost a match (they were 0-0 against Chelsea, who were also over the Moon that they didn’t lose - who’s to say there isn’t a God in Heaven, eh?).

Yes, forget all that rubbish. Forget even the flooding of most of the North of England, a disaster for folk living there, one only partly ameliorated by the Government’s decision to rent all those affected scuba diving gear and, in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas festive season, postpone any payment for four weeks. No, the Really Big News is that The Beatles - well, the two Beatles who are not yet six foot under, Paul and Ringo - have finally consented to make their ‘oeuvre’ available on iTunes and Spotify. Well! Who says God never listens to our prayers!

I must confess that I was a Beatles fan as a kid and can even remember getting physically excited at the imminent release of their soon to be latest album Revolver (and we still called them ‘LPs’, which were preferably CDs because it was easier to roll a spliff on an LP cover. Try doing that on a CD case.) I didn’t get in a ground level because they hit the big time when I was still living in Berlin and I didn’t get to hear them much. I do once remember hearing She Loves You on BFN (British Forces Radio, the rather paler version of AFN, American Forces Radio), but I can’t say they registered. In fact, I can’t really remember when I got hooked although I was most certainly hooked by the age of 16 when I bought my first Beatles LP (though their sixth) Rubber Soul.

By then the so-called Swinging Sixties was well into its stride, the Beatles were growing hair long (before it had simply been longer, to the disgust of ex-World War II soldiers throughout the land who thought if a short-back-and-sides was good enough for them, it was good enough your you, sonny-me-lad!) I soon had the first five albums though, and great they were too, although the very first did have some weak tracks.

After that came Revolver and, in its time, it did sound different, as even more so did Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. We played that one to death at school, and I tried to learn some of the chord sequences (and failed). And although the songs were catchy - of course, they were catchy - I didn’t quite warm to them as I had warmed to the short three-minute gems on, particularly, a Hard Day’s Night and Help. Sgt Pepper created a huge hoo-ha and the Beatles were lauded to high heaven, but I suspect it was also the point where they began to take ‘their art’ and, crucially, themselves more seriously, verging on a little too seriously. And that is never a good thing.
Ringo, the drummer, who was always the down-to-earth one, must be cited as the honourable exception. When he was asked on his return from the ashram in India of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (after just ten days. McCartney lasted a month, Lennon and Harrison two months before they, too, sussed him out as just another godwhacker on the make) what it was like, he replied: ‘Just like Butlins’. Ringo calls a spade a spade and has always struck me as having his feet firmly on the ground. He was also a good drummer.

They seem somehow to have lost it when Brian Epstein died. I don’t think Epstein was the greatest or smartest manager, but he was a crucial part of their world until then, one in which they were really just another ‘pop group’, although a hugely successful one. When he killed himself, I think the parts all fell apart. And that was noticeable in their new LP, the so-called White Album. I remember looking forward to that and being distinctly underwhelmed. Distinctly.

One warning should have been that it included 30 tracks, a great many of which were very ordinary indeed. Yet my feelings weren’t those of the mainstream and everyone seemed to join in and reinforce the Beatles belief that they were pretty much the world’s most talented folk and that whatever they turned their hand to was touched with genius. Well, it wasn’t.

Before that had been their Magical Mystery Tour TV programme and its attendant songs, none of which grabbed me, although I didn’t like to admit it to myself for some reason. But then does anyone below the age of 40 relish admitting to himself that his hero or heroes have feet of clay like the rest of us?

Then came the last two LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be. Again these were played to death, not at school this time but in the flat I shared in Castle Street, Dundee, and, yes, of course, they were catchy, but by now the magic really had gone. I actively began to dislike many of McCarney’s songs, far too many of which I thought and still think were horribly twee. Let It Be - ugh! The Long And Winding Road - ugh! And earlier Fool On The Hill - ugh!

Bearing these in mind, the writing was obviously on the wall with She’s Leaving Home on Sgt Pepper and earlier still I’ll Follow The Sun on Beatles For sale. And ever since heart by almost everything he has since done, Paul McCartney has demonstrated, to me, at least, that he is a twee shite at heart. Lennon last a little longer in my affections, but not much longer. His first solo LP I thought to be nothing but a long whinge of self-indulgent shite, not even redeemed by the one good track, Revolution.

Then came Imagine which I did buy but which underwhelmed me, too, followed by Mind Games. I bought that, too, but I don’t think I played it more than two or three times. And to this day, I want to puke every time I hear Imagine played. Jesus, it’s awful.

I remember being particularly irritated when I caught footage on TV of Lennon playing it in some concert New York concert hall. Lennon was alone on stage, wearing sunglasses and playing a white piano. The camera panned to the audience, which consisted - quite obviously - of the monied and chic of New York, all in their finery and who most certainly wouldn’t give peace a chance if their fucking lives depended on it. As they might say in Scotland: get to fuck John, you big phoney.

Both Lennon and McCartney’s solo output and the reception given to it seem to imply that they were still the musical geniuses from Liverpool and that, including the bullshit about the political activism of the ‘man of peace’ Lennon carries on to this day. Harrison was a half-decent guitar player, but not better than any number of other half-decent guitar players and session men. More to the point he wasn’t a very good songwriter and didn’t have a good voice, although it was useful for some of the harmonies.

Yes, like almost all our one-time heroes, The Beatles did go off the boil, and in retrospect it is rather more obvious to me now than it was then. I mean I did buy the first three Lennon solo albums, although I hardly played them. I didn’t buy any of McCartney’s albums at all. Granted there were still the occasional catchy tunes but . . .

But they really did have their moments and it’s good to remember what was good not what was self-indulgent and mediocre, so here are three songs, coincidentally with Lennon on lead vocals, although all three are very much a group effort and to my mind really do stand the test of time. As for the rest of it, the Sexy Sadies, the Helter-Skelters, the Fool On The Hills and all the rest, leave me out.

The first is No Reply from Beatles For Sale:

No Reply

Then there is I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party from the same album:

I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party

And finally, from a Hard Day’s Night, my favourite from that album of very strong songs, I’ll Be Back:

I’ll Be Back

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Merry Christmas to you all, but there’s still a dash of vinegar here (I hope)

As I write, it is mid-afternoon on Christmas Day and I am sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in Bodmin Hospital where she has been transferred for stroke rehab now that she is not medically in any danger. In fact, she was not medically in any danger pretty soon after suffering her stroke two weeks ago tomorrow, but had to stay in Truro (an 80-mile round trip) because no beds were free at Bodmin (an 16-mile round trip - guess which I prefer).

For the past few years, my daughter has had a job at the Red Lion, St Kew Highway, to top up her college funds (or, from where I sit, to get even more money to waste on clothes she doesn’t need). The restaurant there is doing a Christmas lunch for I don’t know how many and she was asked to work, and she agreed.

My son has also had a holiday job there for about a year now and although he wasn’t that bothered about working on Christmas Day, he decided to as my daughter’ decision to work has meant our Christmas lunch has been postponed until tomorrow, Boxing Day.

So, being at a loose end this afternoon - and not much being one for watching the Queen’s Christmas message, one of innumerable James Bond reruns or any of the other shite they decided to screen on Christmas Day, I’ve come to Bodmin Hospital to spend a few hours at my stepmother’s bedside and keep her company.

A bottle of champagne - on of her’s so it wasn’t any of the cheap shite I tend to buy - of which I am swilling by far the lion’s share, and a Christmas stollen, with Hymns from Kings College,
 Cambridge, playing on Radio 3 means it is all rather pleasant. My stepmother has yet again fallen into a happy slumber, which give me the chance to compose this bulletin from her bedside.

So a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, even those who haven’t suffered a stroke. Oh, and for about the umpteenth time I have reflected on just how bloody lucky we are here in Britain to have healthcare for each and any complaint utterly free of charge. Totally free. Not ifs, no buts. The sad thing is too many of us take it for granted.

. . .

Christmas has been an odd time for me for quite some years now. I am - perhaps ‘was’ is more truthful - what is called by some a ‘cradle Catholic’. That means that we were born, baptised and raised as RCs. There’s none of this ‘going over to Rome’ nonsense, whether it is because a deep-seated faith has finally come to the realisation that the Romans have got it right whereas the rest Christianity has got it wrong, however sincere they are; or whether, as is all-too-often the case, they are attracted to Rome because, unlike the bloody, sodding bastards Anglicans, the RCs will have no truck with what are called this ‘women priests’ nonsense and still thinks - thoroughly hypocritically, it has to be said, as a large part of the Vatican play for their own side - that homosexuality is ‘a sin’ and an abomination, and woofters of any stripe, however good and sincere they are, are banned from the kingdom of heaven. (This is usually announced in a tone of heartbreaking regret, that repeating what Rome’s doctrine is hurts them more than it hurts the woofters, but . . . well, but.)

As I say, that ‘doctrine’ - religion’s misleadingly posh word for ‘policy’ - is hypocritical to the nth degree if we are to believe the reports of a gay mafia running the Vatican. (Actually, on reflection the phrase ‘gay mafia’ is thoroughly offensive and I ask any gays reading this to please try to understand the sense in which I use it: members of the criminal mafia are Italian and Italian/American, but that most certainly doesn’t mean Italians and Italian/Americans are all mafioso.)

But it is not that hypocrisy, or better just that hypsocrisy, which I dislike intensely. As a lad I was brought up to repeat pieces of what were called ‘the catechism’. The only piece I can now remember is ‘a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace’. I didn’t at all understand what that or any of the other pieces of catechism I was taught to parrot meant, but I was expected to learn it, and crucially, believe it anyway. I attended mass (Mass with a capital M if you are still a believing RC), went to confession and took communion. Because I had to.

If, at first, I was lax in my attendance as I grew into my teens and twenties, it was most certainly not because I was having intellectual doubts. It was because I could think of better things to do on a Sunday morning, staying asleep in bed being one of them. But those intellectual doubts did slowly grow and then lead on to sheer disbelief that what is taught by the RC church, and other churches, is taken in the slightest big seriously.

I cannot these days hear any religious service or any religious proclamation, as I have been while listening to the carols from Kings, without thinking of Doctor Who or various threadbare bargain-basement sci-fi novels I read when I was in my salad days. When I hear of the mystery of the Trinity or the mystery of transubstantiation - that the host given as communion doesn’t merely ‘represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ’ but is that body and blood of Jesus Christ, I really have to wonder.

A strict Catholic will, as primed, respond that ‘yes, of course, it is odd, but that is why faith is important - faith that although is sounds like just so much stupid bollocks, it is nothing of the kind - it is the truth as revealed by Our Saviour Jesus Christ’. Well, sorry, I not longer buy it. And nor do I buy the suggestion that ordinary rules of comprehension and logic simply have to be suspended because this is different, this is God’s revealed truth. Ever met a really good carnie, or cardsharp or conman. He will tell you the same: ‘Yes, a 15pc return on investment is, I agree, unbelievable, but we have achieved it. Just hand over you hard-won savings and we will show you - and what could be more convincing evidence than that?’

But at this point I really must insert a caveat: I might think that the various religious ceremonies, services, invocations and the rest are as close to goobledegook as one can get, but many don’t. For many their faith is important to them and gives them great comfort when they need comfort. Please remember that.

So that is why Christmas is always rather a strange time for me. On the one hand, the older I get, the more I abhor the commercialism and rampant sentimentality of Christmas - ‘peace on Earth to all men of goodwill’? Why, of course, but pray tell me, why only now, at Christmas? - and for many years have reminded my children, especially when they were younger, exactly why we celebrate Christmas.

On the other I regard the whole nativity story, the ‘three wise men’, the shepherds coming to adore and all the rest of it as akin to Hansel and Gretel and The Sleeping Beauty. But, as the man says, there you go. As always, it’s horses for courses, you pays your money and you makes your choice, chacun a son gout, whatever floats your boat, an apt cliche is worth hours of thought, that kind of drift. You gets my meaning (and do I really have to add ‘squire’)?

Now where’s my glass of Comte de Senneval?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать. And in newspapers facts are said to be sacred, but not quite as much as sales - use your discretion

Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать I tend to look at the stats for this blog every morning when I check my email, and a few days ago I noticed that rather a lot of visits had come from Russia. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and everyone is welcome to waste whatever time they have to spare in their busy, busy lives reading my ramblings. But I was puzzled. It’s not as though I have anything useful to say about Russia, mainly because I don’t know Russia or much about the country and her people and culture. And I don’t speak Russian.

The snippet of Russian above I’ve used head this entry - I mean to say ‘I’m glad/pleased to see you and welcome’, but which it seems actually translates as ‘I’m excited to see you and welcome’ - comes courtesy of ‘Google translate’, then checked on a second sight. I am wary of Google translate (which I why I checked). I speak German and once or twice I’ve noticed that what Google translate offers is rather closer to goobledegook than one might wish. I checked on this site and this because for all I knew Google’s offering of Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать actually means ‘don’t bother me with your problems, you fool’ or ‘off with you now, woman, and find me some vodka’.

According to the stats 50 people visited some entry of other of this blog in the past 24 hours, of which 31 visits were from Russia. The others were from the US, the UK, German, Taiwan, Australia, France and Ukraine (which I must remember not to refer to as the Ukraine as that, I understand is an insult). And in the past week of 353 visits, more than half - 188 - were from Russia. Why, I really can’t imagine.

There is, of course, one, rather sobering, explanation: it’s not what I have chosen to write about which last week attracted 188 visits, but some netbot scouring the web for whatever reason netbots scour the web. I have come across that before. Then, it seems, this blog was sought out by someone who had initially visited another blog, one active for just one month in March 2009 in order to sell houses. Why? I have no idea.

. . .

Like man other people - possibly still like many other people, who despite ‘social media’ and news on the web buy a daily newspaper - I grew up rather in awe of newspapers. It seemed to me that they and the stalwarts who produced them were somehow set apart from the rest of us. Journalists seemed to ‘know things’, some of which - but most certainly not all of which - they passed on to us.

They did this, we were assured by any number of Forties, Fifties and early Sixties Hollywood films dealing with newspapers, for noble reasons: we, the public, had a ‘right to know’. Journalists, we were - somehow - assured had a moral, almost sacred, duty to get ‘the truth out there’. Journalists were ‘in the know’, or at least that was the impression they liked to give us. From June 4, 1974, on - that was the day I started work as reporter on the Lincolnshire Chronicle in Lincoln (I specify that because the Lincolnshire Standard, part of the same group, was based in Boston, Linconshire).

The scales didn’t fall from my eyes overnight, though gradually but very surely it all came into focus, and gradually but very surely the pleasure I got from reading a newspaper disappeared like morning mist on a summer’s day. Now I get none at all, because I know how its done. I often compare it to the awe we have of stage magicians: we know with absolute certainty that no ‘magic’ is involved, we know it is all just trickery, dexterity and clever sleight of hand - and yet . . .

We plead with the magician to show us how its done. The wise ones refuse, always, both for their sake and ours. But occasionally one will relent and demonstrate how what held us so spellbound and in awe was quite simply to achieve. And then the regret sets in: we now wish we had not been shown how the trick was done, we wish we were still in that state of awe. But like losing your virginity, you can never regain it. It’s like that with newspapers.

Having written a great many news stories and later in my career edited them (as a sub-editor), I can spot the joins unerrringly. I can spot where the reporter wasn’t quite sure of the ‘facts’ and had to fudge; I can often spot what brief he was given by her/his news editor; I can spot - and we can all do this - what exactly is ‘new’ in the story we are reading and what is just a rehash of past news stories. But there is one magazine - which rather oddly likes to call itself a newspaper - which I still read, though less often than I might.

It is delivered every Saturday, and on the previous Thursday I can download it to my iPads directly. It’s the Economist. There are some, on both the Left and the Right, who don’t like the Economist and I can see why. It wears it principles on it sleeves and is unashamedly free market and in favour of the free movement of goods and principles. I should guess, though I really don’t know enough about them to make this claim, that it stands for pretty much what the old-fashioned 19th-century Liberals stood for.

On social questions it is ‘progressive’ (a word I believe should always get its quote marks). And like some ‘progressives’ it does, occasionally, give the impression of being rather pleased with itself and its value. But my response to that is ‘oh well, there’s always a price to be paid for most things.’ And I am prepared to pay that price becasue the Economist is a great source of information from all over the world.

This morning, for example, I discovered, that Chennai in India (once known as Madras), a city with a population of 8.7 million, has been almost wholly underwater for the past month; in Germany one

Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, is possibly shaping up to be a successor to Angela Merkel; that a very bloody-thirsty television series in China of 36 parts (they don’t do much by halves, do they) which goes out rather to early in the evening for some has led to calls for more censorship; and that Fiat (though most other manufacturers are doing similar things) has developed an engine - and already uses it in some of its cars - which is only a two-cylinder, 900cc beast but which can accelerate to 62mph in 10 seconds and - apparently - reach up to 117mph (and, yes, I also find that hard to believe, but then that is what the Economist is reporting).

Ford has developed its EcoBoost range of engines, 1-litre, three cylinder engines which are said to deliver more power than the previous generation of 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engines. In South Africa, the finance minister, by all accounts a capable and honest man, has been sacked at a rather delicate time - the country might soon be applying for an IMF bailout.

There are certainly many other journals - whether they call themselves newspapers or magazines - which provide just as good a service as the Economist informing us about that which we know little. But I have to say that the awe I felt for our daily and Sunday rag when I was far younger has long disappeared.

Here’s a useful exercise for you to perform next Sunday when your paper is delivered: turn to the main stories and read them. Then ask yourself exactly how much fresh information you have been

provided with. You might find it is surprisingly little. And I really must yet again point you in the direction of the website Committee to Protect Journalists which details the number of hacks killed and where they worked.

These are men and women who really do risk their lives daily ‘to get the truth out there’. Consider that when you next read the gossip column of your favourite rage (speculating on whether Posh and Becks are soon to divorce) and peruse the Mailonline’s column of shame (which keeps an admirable account on where and and with whom various non-entities have taken lunch). You might also care to visit this page to hear about journalists killed in Pakistan who most certainly not reporting on Kim Kardashian’s latest dress.

С моим лучшим wishe, до свидания, до тех пор пока в следующий раз, когда мы (and I do hope that doesn’t make me sound very silly indeed. If it does, blame the various online translation services.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Events, dear boy, events, though this time of a personal nature, though thankfully I am wholly unaffected. But perhaps you will do my stepmother a small favour. As for Voltaire and Satan, there’s a certain wisdom there

Well, I headlined a recent blog post ‘Events, dear boy, events’ which, I’m sure, many will have recalled as the response given by one Harold Macmillan, a former prime minister of Britain when he was asked by a journalist what was likely to blow his government off course. I suppose a companion piece to that quote would be the old joke ‘What makes God laugh?’, to which the answer is ‘When you tell him your plans’.

Well, I’m glad to report that nothing has gone amiss in my life, but ‘events’ have occurred, or rather an ‘event’ has occurred, in the life of my stepmother. More than eight years ago, on March on the night of March 17/18, two days before her 70th birthday, she suffered a massive stroke. She was in a coma for three days and in hospital several months, before she went to live in a nursing home. Things looked very bleak.

One minor blessing was the stroke did not affect her speech or brain, but she could not stand or do anything physical unaided. If she needed the loo, it required the use of a large contraption (of which Mr Heath Robinson would have been very proud) and two carers to hoist her out of her armchair, move her to the bathroom, then sit her down on the loo. She never complained.

There were several meetings with all sorts from social services, including one woman who simply insisted that my stepmother (who I shall refer to as Paddy, as that is her name) should reconcile herself to the a life in which she could never live independently. But my stepmother did not give up (and to this day spits when she is reminded of that woman).

Her older sister, the aunt I have been staying with these past few years in the Bordeaux area to go to concerts with, was also having none of it and tracked down a very capable physiotherapist (who also deserves a name in view of the help she gave, Emma Mees) who bit by bit by very slow bit managed to get my stepmother to regain the use of her legs and her right arm and hand. (She might well have also more or less regained the use of her left arm and leg but was rather lazy about doing her prescribed exercises, which is a shame).

So after a year and a half at the nursing home, she was able to move back into one of the cottages she owns, one which she had inherited from her sister. (There are three in a row, her own, the one she inherited and a third, in between, which at some point she and my brother bought together. She later bought him out and thus owned all three. They are three separate granite cottages, but all one building and her one motive for buying the middle cottage (it is, in fact, called Middle Cottage) is that she was a very keen gardener and wanted to make sure all the gardens surrounding the cottages were very nice gardens.

She is by no means wealthy and the course of events - that word again - which brought the other two cottages into her ownership was as much luck (if you can call the death of her sister, to whom she was very close and who left her a cottage in her will ‘luck’). She lived in the one cottage for several years, but was intent on eventually moving back into her own cottage if for no other reason than it was the one she and my father, who married her after my mother died, had lived in.

A small area beneath the stairs, which until then had been used for storage, was rather neatly converted into a lavatory with wash basin, and that meant she was able to live a more or less independent life. She spent her days sitting watching an awful lot of daytime television, and occasionally listening to classical music (in Classic FM - snob that I am, I refuse to and listen to Radio 3 when I listen to music on the radio) and every so often reading. That was her life for the past, what, four years. I return from London on a Wednesday night, did her shopping on the Thursday and spent a few hours with her every day for three days until I had to bugger off back to work in London on the Sunday morning.

Last Saturday - today is Tuesday night - I was called at about 10am by her carer of the day to say she couldn’t move her left arm and leg. As it turned out she had suffered another stroke. An ambulance was called and then the air ambulance which flew her to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske, Truro. And there she remains as I write. But now the good news. I have learned that there are, broadly, two kinds of strokes: one, the very serious kind, she is brought about by a burst blood vessel in the brain; and then a slightly less serious kind which is brought about by a blood clot.

She, ‘thankfully’, suffered the second kind. So her speech is not affected and although, now 78, he thought processes are often painfully slow, she is very much on the button. The use of her left leg and arm and still adrift, but I was told today that the occupational therapist (who remembered her from when she first washed up in Phoenix Ward, Treliske, eight years ago) has already had her standing on both feet. I really, really, really hope she will be able to get back to the state she was in before last Saturday morning and will be able to come back here (I am writing this in the kitchen of here cottage) to resume the life, albeit the limited life.

That, I’m sure, gives you, dear reader, yet another take on ‘events, dear boy, evnets. The irony is that before her first stroke she was a very active woman, spending all day gardening and twice a day taking her two springer spaniels for a walk, one very long, usually on Bodmin Moor, the other a little shorter. Her condition after her first stroke did bring her down a lot and she has been an anti-depressants. But - the relevant ‘but’ - not once in the eight years since that first stroke have I heard her complain. Not once.

. . .

I am not religious, and although were I asked ‘do you believe in God’, I would truthfully reply ‘yes’, it is most certainly not the God the Christians, Jews, Muslims or Hindus would recognise. It could, I suppose, be described, though very loosely, as a ‘humanist God’, although no such thing exists. My God is, when I am not beset as I have been a few times, by Churchill’s ‘black dog’, simply a faith in what makes humans admirable: their kindness, humour, optimism, altruism, sociability, laughter - that kind of thing. But I did the other night say, as I was brought up to say as a child an Our Father asking for my stepmother to at the very least to be brought back to a state where she can live the reasonably happy life she had before last Saturday. As we say, in a storm any port will do.

That reminds me of the story - and give me a moment while I google it - of the story of . . .

. . . Voltaire who, when on his deathbed, was asked by a priest to renounce Satan. His replied: ‘Now, now, dear man, this is no time to be making enemies.’

Quite. So whether you share my modest views or are a fully-fledged Godwhacker, you might care to remember my stepmum in your prayers tonight and ask whoever for the grace that she pulls through and has another few years on this earth. . . .

There is the old joke about why the Irish rarely suffer from memory loss. Well, apparently, however bad their memory becomes as they reach their dotage, they are said never to forget a grudge. Unfair? Who cares? My father met my stepmother in 1964. Both were working for the BBC and she, as I hear it (from her) fell in love with his voice before even setting eyes on him. Quite how, I don’t know.

The trouble was that in 1964 my mother was still very much alive and didn’t die for another 16 years (of a massive heart attack as it happens). But my stepmother and father began an affair. I don’t know the full details and have never made it my business to get chapter and verse, and what I do know has been volunteered by my stepmother. I gather my parents’ marriage (like rather many marriages) was not made in heaven and they most certainly had their ups and downs. I also suspect that my father, who though irascible and intolerant, was undoubtedly charming and had already had an affair or two. There are things we can only look back on and try to piece together. We’re most probably wrong, but

. . .

My stepmother inherited a small sum from her aunt and bought a small cottage here in St Breward. Although her heritage is wholly Irish, and although her two sisters and her brother (who became a priest, though later lapsed and married) were born in Ireland, my stepmother was born in Bodmin. Her father ran the local - well, what was it called in those days: mental hospital? So she was familiar with North Cornwall and loves it and with her inheritance bought what she renamed Rose Cottage (and in whose kitchen I am now sitting).

She and my father then jointly extended the cottage and built a kitchen, study/bedroom and bathroom. All this while my mother was still alive. He lived with her in her flat in south-east London and the two of them would spend weekends down here in Cornwall. My mother didn’t know, but I’m sure she suspected and perhaps she did know a little of what was going on. I didn’t though. One day, in January 1981, I happened to be staying at home and found my mother dead. After ringing for an ambulance (and being told ‘well, if she’s dead, you won’t want us then’), a few hours later I had to ring my father to tell him his wife, my mother, had died. She died at just 60.

As it turned out this was rather a good turn of events (that word again, and I am not, 30 odd years on being quite as callous as you might think). Three years later, my father married my stepmother when he retired. She also retired, early, at 45, and they lived what for her must have been quite an idyllic life, although even she had to walk on eggshells, given my father’s irascibility. And then he developed prostate cancer at 67. It spread and he died in July 1991. She was devastated.

I must confess that I, who had been very close to my mother (though a little less close in her final years due to my then still jejune sensibility and after what I regarded as ‘a betrayal’ - and Christ how slight it was. I still flush with embarrassment at the thought of it 35 years on) did not immediately get on very good terms with my stepmother.

My father did not invite me to their wedding because he feared I might ‘cause a scene’. That, too, irritated me, because I have always been reasonably polite and know I would never have done anything of the kind. But over the years I have got to appreciate, like and then love her all the more, not least because she has a very good heart and would do anything for anyone.

So, dear reader, down on your knees and pray, in whatever way you know, for a useful outcome to her current predicament.

Oh, and if you’re thinking that I am taking something of a risk by being so candid, don’t worry. I only know of two people who read this blog and neither knows my stepmother or knew my father. Secrets? They’re for spilling. There’s no other reason for having them. ‘Jejune’? I was 66 on November 21 last, but isn’t ‘jejune’ what this blog is? I do hope so.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Back in the saddle (and glad for it) and wondering what next is going to go wrong in Syria. Everything or even more than that?

Well, I’m back in the saddle, more or less, thanks to a daily pill of sertraline hydrochloride, which seems to have done the trick and banished that perpetually thick head, the locked shoulders and a desire to get away from everyone and just sleep for the time being.

Actually, I’ve been back in the saddle for a few weeks now, but it has taken me this long to return to this blog and admit as much: and that’s the odd thing. Why should I feel a tad shamefaced about it? I shouldn’t but I do. Had I suffered a bad dose of - real - influenza or been laid low for a couple of months with hepatitis or, like my brother, been out of action for more than a year with tuberculosis (he refused to go to the doctor for several months despite my insisting, then he did, was whisked into hospital, and then spent the best part of a year on medication recuperating), I wouldn’t feel this niggle to apologise and excuse myself. But I do.

Much has been written about our attitude to ‘depression’ and ‘mental illness’ and I don’t think there’s a great deal more I can usefully add. I’ve already pointed out that - in my case, at least - there’s bugger all ‘mental’ about my symptoms (wanting to be elsewhere and on your own can equally be brought on by being in the company of a group of crashing bores in committee) and, like ‘cancer’, I suspect a great deal of disparate conditions are lumped together under the heading of ‘depression’.

But I will point out - and I must stress that I most certainly cannot speak for anyone else - what when, as I have in the past, often severely, I have suffered from a bout of ‘depression’ it had nothing to do with ‘being unhappy’ and any feelings of being ‘down’ I experienced was brought about by the, at the time, fear that ‘this just isn’t going to end’. It did, of course, and that is the first thing I always remind myself: it came to and end before and it will do so again. But now enough of that.

. . .

My last entry, on November 13, was ‘Events, dear boy, events. But are some worse than others? Or are they all equally bad?’ Then bugger me, not hours later the massacre in Paris occurred, to be followed - here in Britain - just three weeks later by Parliament’s decision to extend the our involvement in the bombing campaign in Iraq to Syria. Talke of ‘events’. Pretty much overshadowed I’m A Celebrity, Give Me The Money for almost a day.

The vote in the Commons got all the pundits talking with Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn finding himself truly between a rock and a hard place. He opposed and opposes extending bombing to Syria. Most of his MPs, including most of his Shadow Cabinet didn’t. There was talk of him imposing a three-line whip on his MPs instructing them to oppose David Cameron’s motion that ‘this House believes Britain must do everything and anything to persuade the world that we really are still a force to be reckoned with, even though because of budget cuts are Royal Air Force at present only has two Sopwith Camels and a few barrage balloons. Oh yes!’

We’re off to bomb those frightful ISIS chappies. Wish us luck! (See you at teatime)

Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds: the RAF, we are told, already has 50 Airfix kits on order and they should arrive from Shenzen well before Easter. And if not by then, well, this bother in Syria looks set to run and run so there’s no danger of it all being over before the RAF can get it together and demonstrate the full extent of its might.

Unusually, I am with Labour commie rat and national danger Jeremy Corbyn on this one in thinking extending our air strikes it not such a good idea. Well, I think that’s his reason, and it is most certainly mine. Despite all the brave talk about ‘the damage our boys have already done to ISIS’ (©Daily Mail) the reality looks rather different, apparently.

There were some statistics on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night which are illuminating: according to its Mark Urban, since the bombing began, the US has made 8,537 bombing raids on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Since they joined in a month or two ago, the Russians have made 2,300 raids, though Urban pointed out there is some dispute as to how they arrive at those figures. There is no dispute, however, over the UK’s figures: 380 bombing raids since it all kicked off (and, of course, all of them in Iraq). Pretty much all commentators I have heard stress that however useful bombing is, it will ultimately not get rid of ISIS. For that you need (cliche alert) ‘boots on the ground’.

David Cameron assured the Commons two days ago as he was beating the war drum and enthusing MPs in their bloodlust that 70,000 assorted fighters are standing by to attack ISIS. Most commentators are laughing out aloud at this figure and claim it has more or less been pulled out of thin air by Cameron. I think we should not get involved in bombing Syria because it will not achieve anything. Those in favour point out that all we would be doing would be extending the bombing from Iraq to Syria. Point taken, but my concern is Britain getting ever deeper into an already hugely complex situation. What, exactly, apart from getting rid of ISIS do those members of the anti-ISIS coalition hope to achieve?

As far as I can tell - a necessary proviso - the UK, France and the US want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president (and it was his heavy-handed response to protests up and down Syria which kicked all this off). He is, we are assured, a nasty dictator and the West is morally obliged to rid the world of nasty dictators (or at least rid the world of those we haven’t palled up to and who are useful to us, Egypt’s Sisi and Turkey’s Erdogan, for example, though Erdogan hasn’t quite got all his badges to qualify as a nasty dictator.) On the other hand others in the anti-ISIS coalition, notably Russia and Iran, want Assad to stay.

So what happens after ISIS is no more? One of the objections trotted out by those opposing further involvement in air strikes is: what exactly is the long-term strategy? And given that apart from anything else the Syrian conflict is also a proxy war between the Sunni Muslim Saudis and the Shi-ite Muslim Iranians, to which conflict will it transfer if and when ISIS are beaten?

I might be older than I was, but I am not old enough to remember the start of World War I. But I do know that it started almost ccidentally: as today, various powerful nations were itching to demonstrate that they had balls - one constant in many commentaries is how Russia, or rather Putin, wants to regain the position it lost when the Soviet empire went tits up as power in the world and the US, naturally (remember them? The guys in the white hats?) would far prefer to keep Russia in the box it has been banished to these past 20 years.

Things are not going well for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, Iran has internal troubles of its own with something like more than half its population being born many years after the Islamic revolution and rather wondering when they might eventually get a bit of the Western lifestyle action.

Apart from that the EU is beginning to go through its ever-so longwinded death throes - kicking Greece out of Schengen is not a good sign (though it hasn’, as I write, yet happened), and Europe-wide the right and far right are getting ever more support what with all the folk making their way north from Africa and the Middle East. Looking a little dodgy, isn’t it. Oh, and Ukraine has gone a little quiet these days, hasn’t it. Is it all hearts and flowers there again? Doubt it.

Have a Happy Christmas.