Thursday, December 29, 2016

Join me on my journey (or another cliche if you can think of a better one)

Just something to keep you going while I decide which of my wise thoughts I shall next share with you. . .

And here is a second version. The first has got Billy Bauer on guitar, this one has Grant Green, with Baby Face Willette on organ and Ben Dixon on drums (I’m told).

And by the way, I’m ‘Jacques Pernod’. There’s absolutely no reason why I should choose that name or masquerade as some dilletante Frenchman. It was a spur or the moment thing a few years ago when I started making short videos and posting them on You Tube and I rather like it. I suppose it could have been ‘Jacques Ricard’ or even ‘Jacques Bardouin’. Look it up. And as I am in the swing, here are two more videos for your enjoyment. The first one is obvious and should speak for itself. The second is pretty much plain nonsense masquerading as sense. The music is Thelonius Monk and the quote is from a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of H G Wells’s Time Machine. I thought (and think it) rather apt, but to be honest it was simply happenstance.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Save the bloody hyena? You’ve got to be joking. Ah, the tiger - well, that’s completely different. Their young are so sweet, aren’t they? And this earth belongs to all of God’s creatures doesn’t it? (Well, the cute ones at least)

One thing that has always bugged me pretty much since I can remember raised its head again a few weeks ago. As a child I was often told by my mother ‘Du musst immer anders sein’. That might translate into in English as ‘you always want/have to be different/the exception’. Or, as it was put a few weeks ago by my brother with support from my sister, ‘you’ve always been a contrarian’.

It bugs me because at best I don’t like contrarians and at worst feel something close to contempt for them. By ‘contrarians’ I don’t mean people who sincerely hold an opposing point of view but people who do so merely to stand out from the crowd - the names A.N. Wilson and Stephen Fry spring to mind (and sorry, dear Johnny Foreigner if you haven’t a clue who they are). But it also bugs me because it simply isn’t true (or better: it isn’t true as far as I am aware and I shall be mortified if, against all my expectations, I am given conclusive proof that it is true).

When I voice an opinion which goes against the tide, it is because that is my opinion. It is not because, as my brother and sister claim, because for some stupid reason I want to stand out from the crowd, want to be thought as remarkably different or quite simply I am some kind of sad attention-seeker (although let me again add, by way of figuratively touching wood, I bloody well hope not).

Now you who is reading this who must make up his or her mind as to who to believe have absolutely no other way of judging the matter: do I say things just to stand out from the crowd or do I say them because, for better or worse that’s what I believe? And I am obliged to tell you now that despite my vociferous denials, my brother and sister would not be swayed: they insist that I am quite simply a silly contrarian who disagrees with the majority simply to stand out from the crowd. Oh, well, there’s not a lot I can do about that.

Where all three of us can agree, though, is that I quite often do disagree with majority opinion. And on one matter you reading this might well conclude that my brother and sister are quite right: that I simply like to cut a dash by holding minority views. That matter is conservation and all the hoopla and rigmarole which goes with.

The problem - and, in view of the above, my difficulty - is that conservation is such an important shibboleth of the modern age and of modern liberal thinking, and championing conservation is so keenly regarded as pretty much a defining characteristic of the modern man that even to doubt that it is worthwhile would strike many as not just perverse, but quite possibly wilfully perverse. It’s as though in all seriousness someone were to question the habit and benefits of wiping your bottom after taking a crap and suggest they it is a horribly overrated practice and quite simply unnecessary. In other words anyone suggesting that conservation is not necessarily A Damn Good Thing (and I can almost here the latter-day completion of that claim ‘... To Save The Planet) is nothing but a very sad and self-regarding contrarian looking to make his or her mark.

Well, if that’s your view, fair enough. But I’ll repeat for those at the back: I still can’t quite get my head around the modern notion of conservation in the form it takes and, crucially, I dislike a great deal of the double-think which surrounds it. And, quite possibly to compound such an inexcusable moral and ethical faux pas, I have long thought that conservation is rather less about ensuring various forms of wildlife are not made extinct and a great deal more about Homo Liberalensis basking in a little more of the glory he instinctively thinks is his due.

My doubts about exactly who is kidding whom about conservation occurred to me again yesterday - for about the umpteenth time - when I happened to find myself watching on TV one of those staples of afternoon gogglebox, the wildlife show. It was one of those shows which catches your eye with exceptionally good wildlife photography and an increasingly inane and sentimental commentary, and before you know it, it’s time to pull curtains and decide how to waste the rest of the day. This one was about it five mountain lions in Wyoming who - don’t you know it - had been orphaned and were each struggling to survive.

A team of conversationists had become aware of their plight when they were still very young - they are known as ‘kittens’ and would all win an Oscar for looking cute - and decided to follow their fortunes to see how they would get on. Each was fitted with a tracking device and then released to make their way on their own. Because they had been orphaned, none of the five had been taught by their mother the kind of skills they would need to make their own way in the world, for example how to hunt, and the team of conservationists wanted to discover how they would fare.

It was all very interesting and not one cynical thought crossed my mind until there was mention that in that part of Wyoming the population of mountain lions was ‘declining alarmingly’. And why was this? Well, we were told, it was because ‘wolves

Just spotted: some bastard contrarian who thinks conservation is pretty much a load of self-deluding crap

had been re-introduced into the wild’ in that neck of the woods, and that these wolves were competing for resources - that is the smaller animals killed and eaten by the bigger animals. In the struggle for survival mountain lions were losing out. I can’t quite tell you why and I don’t think we were told except for the reference to the competition for resources, but it occurs to me that the wolves have an advantage because they hunt in packs, whereas mountain lions are solitary hunters.

And there, dear reader, was yet another example of the double-think which seems to permeate so much of our thought: wolves were re-introduced to the wild? Why? Well, because they had once been indigenous to the area but their population had ‘declined alarmingly’ because of human activity. So where’s the double-think, I hear you asking? Aren’t you getting your knickers in a twist about nothing? Well, it’s this: we are up in arms because ‘human activity’ is interfering with the ability of various wildlife to survive and impacting on their environment, leading to a ‘alarmingly decline’ in their numbers. And what is the solution? Why, even more human activity and even more interference. In this case it is the ‘re-introduction into the wild’ of wolves because their numbers have ‘declined alarmingly’. Surely, I hear you ask, this is a Good Thing? Well, is it? You tell me. Does it really make sense if the effect of this apparently saintly and caring re-introduction of wolves is an ‘alarming decline’ in the numbers of local mountain lions?

Such ‘re-introduction’ of various forms of wildlife continues everywhere: just here in Britain lynx, sea eagles, beavers and wolves have been re-introduced to Scotland - the buzzword is ‘rewilding’ which admittedly does make it sound sexier - and there’s even talk of ‘rewilding’ bears. To be fair, even those involved in widlife do have their concerns - here you can find reaction to the rewilding of sea eagles - but generally speaking ‘rewilding’ is regarded as a Good Thing, and any cunt (such as me) who dares to question it is at miserable bastard or, at worst, anti-progress.

A further aspect of what I regard as double-think by the conservation movement is that generally the cuter to animal in danger of extinction, the greater its chances of some caring herbert setting about rewilding it. Conversely, if you score rather lowly on the cutey-cute scales, you can kiss goodbye to existing anywhere except in, perhaps, a zoo (which, by they way, I loathe, but my rant against how inhumane zoos are must wait for another time).

So I haven’t yet heard mention of any plans to rewild the Tasmanian Devil, pug-ugly if ever an animal were pug-ugly. And how about hyenas? Their numbers are also declining, but I’ve have yet to see a collection tin anywhere exhorting us to Save

Save this ugly bastard? You are joking, surely!

The Hyena. Have you? Well, why not? Shall I tell you: because hyenas aren’t cute, that’s why not. The greater irony, of course, is that wolves, bears, sea eagles, lynx, beavers, tigers, lions and all the other cute animals we insist must be preserved and rewilded aren’t that cute, either.

Certainly, they look cute in photographs, and which cat lover hasn’t at some point or other seen a picture of a tiger and though ‘ah, must be so great to stroke that tiger. Ah’. Well, it would be the last time you stroked anything if you were given half the chance. And were it to enter your head to cuddle up to a bear or wolf, that would most certainly be the last thing in this world you would cuddle up to.

Furthermore, anyone who comes into proximity with any wild animal (or even, as I do, farm animals as my brother-in-law is a beef farmer and I have, on one or two occasions, helped out in some way) will know that as a rule they stink to high heaven and when stroked leave all kinds of shit on your hands. As for beavers, sea eagles and lynx...

The concern I mention - and here are more thoughts on rewilding and why it might have downsides - at least had the good grace and honesty to consider rewilding from both points of view, and for that it deserves credit. But for me the final, and darkest, irony of the whole conservation industry - and there’s certainly a great deal of money to be made producing wildlife films reminding us what complete bastards we are to all those dumb animals - is that our conviction that we must remain in control the whole time: our relationship with wildlife is utterly one-sided.

Let me try to explain: on, for example, the issue of foxhunting, I am firmly in the ‘I don’t give a fuck either way’ camp. Both sides are very much inclined to talk bollocks to push their agenda: the hunters in general claim that they are only hunting to keep fox numbers down; and the ‘sabs’ get het up because of the cruelty involved. Both claims are thoroughly dishonest: there are far greater dangers in the countryside than foxes and far more humane ways of controlling their numbers. And as for the sabs, I would be more impressed with their bona fide and concerns about cruelty if they didn’t behave in rather cruel ways towards the horses ridden by hunters and would be a little more sympathetic to their views if some of them weren’t inclined to threaten hunters with death.

Finally, of course, in the list of Evils The World Faces, foxhunting can be found at the bottom of page 29. But what I cannot deny is that pretty much all forms of hunting are utterly one-sided: if the hunter, whether some cunt in a pink jacket on a horse or some fat Yank with a high-powered shotgun, were in just as much danger as their quarry of losing their lives then the hunt would at least be equitable. But, of course, he’s not. The hunter will spend the evening boasting of his ‘courage’. The quarry will spend the evening in bits if it was a fox or being roasted on s spit. The hunter in danger of losing his life? Not a chance, unless he's a complete idiot and shoots himself or is shot by one of his hunting compadres (I think that is the jargon). And that is the crux of the debate on hunting and, more broadly, at the essence of the zeal for conservation: at every turn we, humans, mankind, call us what you will, are not only in charge, but would not countenance any situation where we weren’t in charge.

Rather like a secular god, conservationists the world over are deciding what species should or should not exist. For example, every attempt is being made to exterminate mosquitoes wherever they are found because of the diseases they are partly responsible for (partly responsible because they are carriers, not causes). And amen to that: lives are being saved. It’s a similar story with rats and rabbits: get rid of the fuckers, they are a pest and carry disease. But when we get to the ‘noble’ lion, wolves, bears, tigers, bears, lynx, sea eagles and every other we decide that it is a Good Thing that they should be rewilded, re-introduced. Why? Well, I have yet to hear an argument for rewilding which is not distressingly circular. But it rarely gets even to the stage where rewilding can be questioned in civilised society: deny that it is absolutely necessary and you are regarded as very odd indeed. Try it.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A brief glimpse into private correspondence - read it while you can because I shall delete it if asked to


Upstairs brushing my teeth earlier on, it occurred to me that although I had replied to your email, I hadn’t, in fact, replied in the sense of responding in that I didn’t in any way touch upon any of the points you made about your life and tenaciously stuck to my affairs and concerns to the exclusion of the rest of the world. I didn’t for example ask you about the upsetting (I should think) and most definitely rude and self-centred behaviour of your son _______. What he said must have been hurtful Nor did I ask you any more about your diary/commonplace book.

Well, having realised yet again that I’m just as self-centred as the rest of the world, I shall do so now. My first question is - I, too, have a daughter, 20, who seems in an odd way a little more distant now than she was while growing up and until a few years ago, and a son, now 17 - what has been your relationship with ________ as he grew up, was he affected by your troubles with you wife and subsequent divorce, and why do you think he is behaving in such a dismissive way (e.g. that nasty crack about your library)?

Was he at all grateful that you gave him a roof over his head, irrespective of whether or not he was paying rent? And were there any signs in him as a lad, from 0 to 20, of this kind of behaviour? How old is he now? I was about to move onto my daughters rather distant behaviour when I remembered just how I had begun this email. So tell me about ______ (a good RC name, by the way. Was it your or your wife’s choice?).

As for your jottings, and I agree that it is difficult to give them any descriptive name which does sound arch, twee, pretentious or self-regarding, so I shall stick to ‘jottings’ which strikes me as the least offensive and most descriptive name, keep them up. I suspect you are writing them for exactly the same reason I began to write a physical diary - in hard-backed A4 ledgers bought especially for the purpose - for about 15 years (until I married, actually, in 1996, and topped because I didn’t want any private thoughts to be read by my wife and also because I no longer felt so bloody lonely as I had done in the five years I lived in London, and writing them had been an odd, though effective, escape from that loneliness.

If nothing else it was like chatting to someone, only there could never be any guarantee that those diaries would be read. In fact, the chances that anyone would come across them were tiny, and the chances that anyone who did come across them would even bother to spend more than a minute trying to decipher my grandiose, but illegible handwriting, were even smaller. By the way, I once had a friend (a fellow hack with the apt surname Penman, who had also briefly gone to the OS) with whom I had shared a flat with in Cardiff and occasionally saw for a drink in London who once, before he married, very shamefacedly admitted to feeling lonely. What struck me at the time was quite how ashamed he felt of it. Ashamed?

Well, I can understand that in a way, and perhaps it is a guy thing where we believe we must at all times be tough, resilient, heroic and sport a perpetual hard-on, and that any deviation from that behaviour was unwelcome proof that we were wimps of the first order or, for men of your and my generation who had been sentenced to five years in one of Her Majesty’s Public Schools (despite being wholly innocent of anything except being the sons of men and women with, most probably social pretensions and through some wheeze or other money to burn) quite possibly homosexual or in the now dated phrase queer. I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of ‘queers’ when I first got to the OS, but then I and Bettesworth - I still remember the name, on of three brothers at the OS - were the only ones who hadn’t gone to a prep school.

So any admission of what might be seen as something sissy, under which admitting to feeling lonely was sure to be filed, was most certainly not on. At this point it has occurred to me that this letter to you, for letter is what it is although I shall be sending it as an email, could prove to be a useful blog entry to keep my tally up. I think I have before published and email to you as a blog post, but again I shall comply with your wishes: if you don’t want it to be one, please say so and I shall take it down again asap.

You say that you are writing them to as somewhere to keep pieces of text and prose you have come across and want to keep etc (which would make it a commonplace book) but that you never write about our family. Why not? The chances of anyone somehow or other coming across your laptop and then stumbling across the now 62-page long Word document are tiny. Mention your family, let it out, that’s what I urge you to do. And I am also intrigued by your cryptic comment that whenever you do mention family in conversation it ‘invariably lowers the tone however bizarre the circumstances implied’. Care to elaborate? I would be interested. Did they all, against all expectations, drop their aitches?

Well, that is it. I shall email this and also post it if that is OK by you. By that I mean if you object to me posting this as a blog entry, I say so and I shall immediately delete it. Deleting a previous entry, one which has upset my sister, is what I shall suggest I might do if she so wishes. Even though I was surprised she didn’t realise that in my blog entries, or at least in most of them, I am essentially speaking with my tongue in my cheek, I should prefer her to be happy and that we get on as well as possible rather than insist on any higher justification along the lines that ‘a blog is sacrosanct and cannot be censored’. For that would be total bullshit and as I say I love bullshitting for fun but don’t ever want to be tempted to doing it seriously.

So sorry I didn’t actually address any of the points you made in your previous email and please fill me in on quite why any mention of your family immediately encourages folk to leave the room and cross you off their Christmas card list.

Pip, pip

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

They’re all bloody biting the dust (though me liking them has nothing to do with it, honest): RIP Leon Russell

I was looking up something entirely different on YouTube and came across a posting of Leon Russell’s A Song For You, one of my favourite songs and a love song which, for me at least, knocks several hundred other love songs into a cocked hat. I have previously featured it and various cover versions in a post (and here it is) in I which moaned about how a great song can be massacred in the wrong hands, but this isn’t another burst of self-publicity. But that isn’t the point: while on YouTube I noticed in a comment on Your Song a cryptic ‘RIP Leon’ and variations thereof (you know how inventive people get when they are sincere). ‘Leon Russell dead’, I thought, ‘can’t be.’

Well, yes it can. A quick Google confirmed that he died at home in his sleep ten or eleven days ago on Nov 13. Well, that's Leonard Cohen up the swannee, and there were others this year I am sure, but to be honest I can’t be arsed trawling through the net looking for examples, and I have to say Lenny Cohen popping his clogs wasn’t for me the Upset of The Decade.

But Leon Russell is - well, was now - different for me. For one thing he kind of operated in the shadows: no star, no ‘celeb’ he, but a highly respected and always interesting musician, songwriter and singer. Here are three of my favourites for you Leon if up there your rapping with God and want to be reminded of what you did and hofw some of us liked it a lot. First of all here is A Song For You: if it doesn’t persuade you that it is purely from the heart and sung for just one person (presumably the woman who was or became his wife), I shall be astounded.

His singing might not be to everyone’s taste and his voice (like that of Ray Davies, Donald Fagen and Bob Dylan, and I’m sure others you could tell me about) is distinctive. Well, better distinctive than to sound like bloody everyone else. Here’s another great song:

And a third, which might be a little more familiar. It’s been often covered, not least by George Benson and, sadly inevitably it seems, by The Carpenters who good ruin the fucking Second Coming, I’m sure. It has also been pretty much murdered by David Sanborn - too, too schmaltzy - and Kenny Rogers. One version I’ve come across by Nile Landgren - who I have never heard of - gets a little closer to doing the song justice. (PS Just looked him up: he is a trombone player. Well! Christ, they are everywhere. But at least he can sing and has taste.)

Leon Russell was special. He was never a ‘big name’, but he was highly respected by other musicians and singers and the rest of his industry.

I first came across Leon Rusell when he organised the famous Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour, but I didn’t take much interest. His was just a name I heard associated with it, I have to say one of many names I heard at the time and never gave a second thought to. Then later, again I can’t remember how, I came across his LP (as we called them then, and a damn sight easier they were to use for rolling a joint than a sodding CD, and as for trying to roll one on an MP3...) Carney, and I was hooked and have been buying his stuff ever since. Not all of it but a lot of it.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned Mr Russell was a one-off. There will be others of course, I always insist that there always will be greats many of them no yet born. But that doesn’t mean we can’t tip our hats to Mr Russell and that bloody strange voice.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My brother and sister arrive and I am urged to calm down. Oh, and I clear up confusion about my alleged communist past, a past which, if anything, lasted no longer than it takes to tick a box

In view of what you are about to read, I must immediately concede that these are my views and naturally one-sided, though how you can set about getting the other side is not immediately obvious.

. . .

It is my birthdey next Monday - I shant say how old I shall be, but it won’t be 24, 34 or even 44 - and not only has my sister come across from Germany to visit our stepmother and help me celebrate it, but my newly retired brother-in-law is also along for the ride, as is my brother who, for reasons none of us can fathom and still baffle us all, left my stepmother’s house abruptly while on a visit 23 years ago and has not been in touch since. Well, now he has broken the ice and has seen her again. Doing so in the company of our sister most probably helped in that he might have calculated her presence would ease any situation in which there was any awkwardness. In the event there wasn’t.

I know my stepmother, who is now 79 and pretty much housebound after three strokes, is glad that contact has been re-established, and the whys and wherefores of my brother’s original departure and long absence can be left to another day, which is to say need trouble no one ever again.

Knowing what was going on in his head when he flaunced out - though I, who was also visiting, was elsewhere when he did, so whether it really was a ‘flaunt’ or whether his leaving was far less dramatic I can’t say - is still a mystery, of course, and he won’t say even though I have asked him many times over these past 20 years. But, of course, now it no longer really matter.

That the past is often left acknowledged but largely undisturbed because no one has yet found a way to alter what happened in the past leads me quite neatly into another account, of conversation last night at a tasty meal prepared by my brother-in-law. It involved, in no particular order, the EU, the UK’s departure therefrom (aka Breakfast to those who make a point of using cliches) and what the future might hold. Actually, the question of what the future might hold was pretty much only raised by me, and I raised it because discussing that future and what might be done to salvage a pretty messy situation is rather more crucial than raking over the past (though I wouldn’t bet on those in the British government and the EU who will decide the ways and means by which Old Blighty says ‘adieu’ then ‘fuck off’ will pay any attention whatsoever on the views of four middle-class know-alls sitting around a supper table in darkest North Cornwall).

I found many aspects of the conversation deeply stimulating and was asked on more than one occasion - more then eighty or ninety, in fact - to calm down a little. My sister, half-Human, half-Vulcan like me, but who has lived in Germany since 1979 when she and her family weren’t living, because of her husband’s postings, in the Philippines, Istanbul and finally Warsaw, has become more Vulcan in her ways than English. Her husband, my brother-in-law, now, as I say newly retired, is fully German, a nice chap, held valued and important jobs with the chemical firm Bayer and was rewarded appropriately and generously, so he and my sister are not exactly on their uppers. That, in this post, is not particularly relevant, but I add the detail to try to give a little more context.

What is relevant is that my sister sometimes seems to resort to brilliant insights, which is another trait - in her and others - I find deeply frustrating, because insights seldom come to me, except when I am on Colombian marching powder. (Whether or not I do so, too, I would, of course, not know — we all shine a little brighter in our own eyes than the eyes of other, and as I pointed out above this account is by its nature one-sided.) When, for example, you drop your car keys at the kerb, then in your
haste to retrieve them, inadvertently push them beyond redemption into the nearest drain and some bright herbert intones ‘Well, you shouldn’t have done that. People who act in haste always live to regret it’, not for the first time do you wonder whether the persistent use of platitudes shouldn’t be regarded as sufficient justification for manslaughter.

The conversation was about sausages, and if my sister and brother-in-law didn’t repeat umpteen times if not more that ‘Britain was silly to stop eating sausages, very silly indeed’, I’m a Chinaman (or Chinese as I have recently been told to call them, Chinaman now being thought racist). It’s true, but my view is that at this point is that nothing can be changed and it’s an unhelpful contribution when you are speculating what the best future might be all round. Then there came, again more times than I could count, the observation that ‘the sausage eaters didn’t have a plan’.

Well, no they didn’t and very stupid of them it was, too, not to have one. But almost six months after the die was cast in the referendum, as a contribution to discussing (as I wanted to do) what might well happen in the coming years, it really doesn’t cut the mustard. Neither does: ‘They’ll regret it, they really will, when imports start costing a lot more.’ Yes, chaps, they most probably will and a truer word was never spoken. But can’t we move on a little? Just a little? But, no, we couldn’t.

Eating  patterns have shown that unexpected support for sausages came from what are often called ‘Labour heartlands’ in the north of England. The support was unexpected because notionally Labour is ‘pro-EU’. Conversely, support for fish fingers was strongest in more affluent areas of the country, such as London. Oh, and the wisdom was that fish fingers were tastier  in ‘areas where people are more educated’, leaving unsaid, but well articulated the obvious conclusion about areas where Leave was more prevalent.

Those voting patterns seem to agree with anecdotal claims that migrants from EU member states where arriving from countries where average wages were and are far lower and who were prepared to accept work at pay below the British going rate but higher than what they would be getting at home (which was the whole point of their migration). The upshot was that, anecdotally, British workers in those poorly paid areas were given the choice of accepting that their wages would be cut to what the immigrants were prepared to work for or to sling their hook to make way for someone who was. This, not very surprisingly, lead to resentment (and rather wild claims of xenophobia).

I mentioned this at table, and was startled to hear from my sister and brother-in-law that ‘ordinary people’ simply don’t - or rather didn’t - understand the implications of Brexit and should not have been allowed to vote on whether or not they want to stay in the EU. That decision should be left ‘to the politicians’. I felt a little queasy (and even had the temerity to ask whether they thought ‘ordinary people’ are qualified to vote in general elections, though that question was diplomatically ignored). There were also suggestions that certainly migration was unhelpful for some but they should consider ‘the greater good’. Easily said, of course, if migration doesn’t mean you might also be invited to buckle down, kowtow or sling your hook.

At another point I suggested, or rather wondered, whether the apparent rise in popularity of various right-wing groups and politicians - in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Denmark - might not change the dynamic of the present rather fractious relationship between the EU and Britain - in view of Brexit - and, given the alarm among achingly liberal eurocrats by the rise, bring about a mood in the EU that a compromise with Britain might be preferable to the EU losing the stabilising influence of Britain. My suggestion was shot down in flames: ‘There can be no compromise.’ Actually, given the vehemence of the response from the United German Front, I’m inclined to render it in this written account as ‘There can be no compromise!

My brother throughout this remained, as is pretty usual, rather quiet. He readily admits to preferring to sit on the fence in many situations, though why I don’t know. He is the youngest, is quite solitary, gay, prefers a low profile and was always a little thus. (I mention the gayness in case it does, in some way, have some bearing on his psyche. Perhaps, perhaps not.) But I also know from previous conversations with him in this and other matters that we agree more than not, and I was surprised that he didn’t speak out. Well, actually I wasn’t surprised given that he prefers a low profile. But I could see in his eyes that he was agreeing with much of what I was saying and it rather irked me that he didn’t speak out.

Anyone who has read my previous entries on the EU (and please don’t describe or think of them as ‘my previous pontifications’. That might be spot on, but I shall be very hurt) will know that my - I like to think - pragmatic view is that remaining in the EU would have been the sanest option, but - a huge but - remaining in a wholly reformed EU. I have long been fed up with the EU zealots who believe that every time the Jean-Claude Juncker farts, we should get down on our knees and praise the Lord. For me - to recap - the then EEC become EC become EU was a great idea which has slowly but inexorably gone wrong and will collapse in on itself unless there is drastic reform.

But such drastic reform was - is - unlikely while the the majority are doing rather well out of it, at the expense of others. And more to the point the majority in EU member states are sitting rather pretty at the expense of others in those same member states. For example, the overall unemployment rate in the EU was (according to this site) 8.6pc, although in the Euro area it was, not encouragingly higher at 10.1pc. Nothing startling you might think: 10.1pc is historically on the higher side, but the EU can live with it.

More illuminating, though, are the statistics for individual countries: The moon 23.4pc (pretty much one in four adults hasn’t a job), Mars is 19.5pc, Venus 11.4pc, Klingon at 11pc and France 10.5pc. All are at least 2pc higher than the EU average. And what is bringing that average down to 8.6pc. These figures: Slovenia 7.8pc, Bulgaria 7.7pc, Estonia 6.5pc, Romania 6pc, Poland 5pc, Hungary 5.8pc and the the Czech Republic 3.9pc. You might conclude that all those latter countries are running their economies rather successfully and providing jobs for many. But you might also care to consider that men and women from those countries have moved to work in richer economies such as Germany, The Netherlands and Britain and that their absence from their home countries rather flatters employment figures, that is if they were home, they might not be in work and unemployment figures would be higher. It’s a suggestion at least. As for Greece, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, things are not at all rosy, though I’m sure not all folk there are on their uppers.

Another startling revelation was that until last night, both my brother and sister remembered that in my salad days I had declared myself to be ‘a communist’. This was true, as the closest I have come to stop being a communist is taking a few pence from the nearest blind box. Then the penny dropped, and I told them where they had gone wrong: several things happened on February 28, 1974, in fact many thousands of things will have happened around the world and made the day memorable for many.

For me the day was memorable because on that day, a Thursday it had to be, the first general election of that year was held (the second was in the October) but also because in the late morning of February 28, 1974, I found myself in the dock at Dundee Sheriff’s Court accused of gummy bear possession. Although the lump of gummi found - a full ounce block as it happened - wasn’t mine, I had, in that convoluted way young folk think, decided honourably to carry the can for my then girlfriend who had dropped it and to whose previous boyfriend it had belonged. (She still did a little dealing on his behalf). It’s a longer story, but I shan’t give details here. And rest assured that these days I am apt to accept that ‘honour’ is largely, though not exclusively, for saps and dumbos.

More to the point, I walked away from court with just a £15 fine (£141.06 in today’s money according to the Bank of England inflation calculator) when, for reasons I shall explain in another blog entry I had, not unrealistically been expecting and bloody well dreading a spell in clink at Her Majesty’s pleasure. And walking away, I remembered it was polling day. Right, I thought, and went off to the polling station where I was registered (though I cannot at all remember registering, but I had) and looked through he list of candidates.

There I spotted Joe McSomeone, Communist. I thought given what I have just gone through, you are getting my vote, Comrade McSomeone. And get it he did. The trouble is that when at some later point, a month, a year, ten years later, I told my brother or sister or both what I had done, they put two and two together and reached 15, or rather came to the conclusion that I had told the I had been a communist. To, to put the record straight, no I wasn’t, never was and never shall be. Pip, pip (and would a former communist say that?)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

So Trump’s next for the White House: did the birds fall out of the sky where you live? No, not here, either. And as Leonard Cohen has finally played his last gig, I give you one of his - co-written - songs, though mercifully not his version, but one by Holly Figuera O’Reilly

The dust has settled neither on the Brexit vote held almost five months ago, nor the US presidential vote last Tuesday which say Trump take the top prize and it won’t settle for some time. A colleague won £235 betting on a Trump victory, although as she placed her bet rather late in the day when they odds had considerably shortened, her winnings were not as great as they mighty have been; and rather more exciting is that a John Mappin, who owns the Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, North Cornwall, is now £110,000 better off after placing ‘a small bet’ (his words) at 20/1 last year. When I heard about Libby’s win, I could have kicked myself - I would have put a pound or ten on Trump (as the apparent underdog) but is just didn’t occur to me. Memo to self...

The reaction has been predictable: all the bien pensant folk are screaming ‘it’s just too, too awful, my dear’ and the bloody Guardian, never a slouch when it comes to trying to win Tit of The Week, even published a very silly piece that ‘Electing Trump: the moment America laid waste to democracy as we know it’ which for bloody stupid hyperbole takes some beating.

A certain Giles Fraser came out with the so far most outré feature I have seen on the matter of Trump’s election. Fraser is an egregious example of a peculiarly British phenomenon the ‘left-wing Anglican clergyman’, public school educated naturally - Uppingham - and who can always be relied upon by whichever newspaper employs the type to broaden an argument sufficiently to be acceptable to as many as possible (and, not to put too fine a point, to maximise sales).

He insists that ‘This election result is a terrific argument for monarchy’. This being the Guardian, which doesn’t want too many readers choking on their cornflakes, he does go on to slightly modify his contrarian position by insisting that he wouldn’t of course - well, of course not! - want our queen or anyone’s monarch to have more than zero executive authority, but the claim is left standing on the grounds that a monarch, ‘anointed’ by God (he is a sky pilot, after all) is a unifying force. Well, possibly. And possibly not. But making the claim does help the Guardian fill the acres of newsprint it is obliged to fill each day to keep the advertisers happy.

The Independent, the ‘paper’ chosen by bien pensant folk who find the Guardian just a teensy bit too leftie and who are, anyway, those kinds of snobs who very much enjoy being in a minority (the ‘Indy’ is now no longer a newspaper ever since circulation slipped inexorably slipped into minus figures and is only available online) was rather quieter on the hyperbole front, though it has done its damnedest to remain contrarian by insisting that Trump’s support came largely from disaffected blue-collar workers who felt neglected by the political establishment.

Trump voters jobless blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt? Not so, says a piece headlined ‘The biggest myths behind Trump’s win debunked’ and it goes on to quote ‘research’ - newspapers love research which gives their bullshit a patina of respectability - by Professor Eric Kaufman, of Birkbeck University, London. It all makes very convincing reading if you glance through it, but my very first thought was just how much care and effort can have gone into a piece of research conceived, carried out and evaluated within 36 hours of the polls closing? I rather think I would be inclined to take more seriously research conducted over a matter of months and then thoughtfully evaluated.

But then this is the world of newspapers. (I well remember as a reporter for almost six years the ease with which one could ‘get to know’ a subject for the purposes of writing a news story, only to forget everything within days. It was just a question of tracking down the right ‘experts’ whose knowledge of a certain matter - and a few pertinent ‘quotes’ - was sufficient to stand up the story the news editor had asked you to stand up. The trick was simply to ignore the expertise of the first few experts you contacted if they didn’t say what you wanted them to say. It wasn’t rocket science.)

The Daily Telegraph - yes, it does still exist - takes a pretty much sober line which reflects pretty much what it would like to happen. So one piece by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (no, I’ve never heard of her, either, but then I rarely read the DT) spells out (I imagine rather to the DT’s glee) that ‘Donald Trump’s message is spreading across Europe - and France could be the next domino to fall’. Could Marine Le Pen win the presidency of France next year? it wonders.

I would very much like to answer that question with a resounding ‘No’, but as I have been wrong twice - on Brexit and Trump winning - perhaps I should keep my trap shut. Moutet’s piece sounded the usual dog whistle’s for Telegraph readers and had remarkably little to do with Trump’s electoral victory. Pope Francis, it assured its readers who crave such assurances daily, is becoming a realist on the matter of immigration: just last week he had declared that ‘ “setting limits” on immigration “is not selfish” ’. And this from a man who had the cheek two years ago to celebrate requiem masses for drowned migrants. Fancy!

‘Queen Europe herself, Angela Merkel,’ Moutet declared, ‘has spectacularly backtracked on immigration, declaring Germany’s borders closed again to to the refugees immigration she vowed to welcome only a year ago.’ The Telegraph also makes strong play of the fact that our British Prime Minister Theresa May was only
the tenth ‘world leader’ Trump spoke to after he was declared president elect. But then I don’t think the Telegraph much likes May, so that might explain that story (though as usual its cartoonist Matt produced a good cartoon to put the matter of a potential ‘snub’ in context).

This is all intended to convey to the toffs and wealthy pensioners the Telegraph likes to think read the rag it produces that ‘not to worry, things are becoming saner again’. Up and down the country in golf club bars the word is going out that ‘that man Trump, well, he might be a bit of an oik but he does seem to be what we need just now’. What to make of it all? Well, nothing, really. It struck me as remarkably foolish to pass judgment on Brexit - as both sides did - within hours, then days of the referendum result being declared before much dust had settled, and the same is true of Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States.

About the sanest piece I have so far come across and which pretty much sums up what I feel was by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Jenkins, who seems inclined to the Tory side of things, but usually strikes me as his own man, was editor of the London Evening Standard for two years and later editor of The Times for two years in the early Nineties.

I have to admit that two years is not long for anyone to edit a paper and the suspicion is that he didn’t really suit the proprietors. But that might well count in his favour - they all love a Yes man and are never to chuffed with someone who refuses to be a Yes man. I really don’t know what the score is either way, but I find I often agree with Jenkins’s views and he seems most often to strike a sober, down-to-earth tone. He most certainly does so here when he declares that ‘Trump is not the worst and won’t go unchallenged’.

. . .

In view of Lenny Cohen popping his clogs, here is one of his songs. I can’t say it is a tribute for the simple reason that it isn’t. Apart from the years of my late teens and early twenties when I was apt to feel sorry for myself and played his first album to death, Cohen’s music does less for me than a bowl of cold porridge. And this song is not all his own work, but was written by Sharon Robinson, one of his occasional backing singers, who also does a great, rather jazzy version.

Cohen’s own version is crap (in my humble view - I understand convention insists we much add such disclaimers however insincere they are). This version is by a Holly Figuera O’Reilly, and I particularly like the jaunty, upbeat delivery which underlines the cynical pessimism of it all.

Friday, November 4, 2016

As the US sleepwalks to disaster (whoever wins next Tuesday) and Breakfast most certainly no longer means Breakfast, are you stupid or part of the liberal elite? Or possibly both? Or even neither?

Perhaps the good folk living on Rimatara don’t yet know it or perhaps they do know but don’t care, but the good folk here in the Western hemisphere look set to be in for a bumpy ride over the next few years, and quite possibly, depending upon what happens, and even bumpier ride of the next 40. Around five months ago, and by a whisker of a majority, the UK voters told the EU ‘look, it’s not you, it’s me, and I want out’ and that it was time both went their separate ways (though can the sex carry on?). And in four days we will find out whether the US has elected as its 45th president a man who can most charitably be described as the mother of all barroom lawyers, though apparently one with learning difficulties.

The departure of Britain from the EU, or ‘Breakfast’ as an increasing number of politicians and commentators have decided to call it, is old news and to a large extent the world - or at least most of us with an attention span shorter than that of a gnat - have moved on. The imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it that had been predicted by far, far too many Remainers (who really should have known better) didn’t happen, and though for fuckwittedness they were easily matched by assorted Brexiteers celebrating once again being able to stick one up Johnny Foreigner who within hours of the referendum result being published on June 24 began a chorus of ‘crisis what crisis?’

There were cheers in golf clubs and saloon bars up and down the country (though not in Scotland who these days take a contrary view on everything supported by the English) when the pound fell a great deal against the dollar, then fell a great deal more — before the vote on June 23 you could get $1.496 for your pound — as all those who voted to ‘regain control’, another of those vacuous phrases which sound great but begin to mean less and less the more you examine them.

Today, as I write, you can get just $1.244. I tried to work out the percentage fall, but after ten minutes have given up. I’ve never been good at maths.) Marvellous news, the Brexiteers cried, it means that our exports will go up and up and up and the economy will grow stronger and stronger and stronger. That imports will become dearer and dearer and dearer and everyday living will become ever more expensive is written off — if, indeed it is mentioned at all — as just one of those things and a reasonable price to pay for ‘regaining control’. (NB I realise that despite my best efforts, I have rather given away what I think about Breakfast, but I can assure you that what I feel about it is not at all straightforward. Here’s a teaser: although voted Remain, I wasn’t at all upset by the result. But more of that later.)

As for the coming US presidential election next Tuesday (November 8) it has so far been the accepted wisdom that being as Donald J Trump is a state-registered, card-carrying moron — and furthermore a moron who gives other morons a very bad name — Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrat nominee will walk it. Until recently, the polls showed her substantially ahead and even though, apparently, Trump is these past few days on an equal footing, that is because someone somewhere is not playing fair: inexplicably just a week before the election the head of the FBI has reopened the investigation into ‘her emails’ and that has rather dampened the enthusiasm of some voters for seeing Clinton as the next US president. As I write Trump and Clinton are apparently neck and neck in the polls.

This election is widely being billed as a contest between ‘the two most unlikable people on Earth’, and given the proviso that there are a great more candidates for that position, it does neatly sum it all up. Forgive me if I am wrong and being a tad too cynical but nothing I know about Hillary Clinton and nothing I have heard her
say persuades me that she is seeking ‘the highest office in the land’ and tenure as ‘leader of the free world’ out of a burning sense of wanting to serve the public. There is not even about her - as ironically there is about Donald Trump - that she wants to see things done in a different way. Almost everything about her shouts entitlement and there’s more than just a sneaking suspicion that she feels the office of US president is somehow hers by right.

Trump, of course, is another matter entirely. There is the assumption that as a billionaire businessman he really can’t be all that stupid, that he must know a thing or two about this, that and t’other. And that line is largely one he has plugged throughout the four, five years the presidential campaign seems so far to have lasted. He likes to make out that he will bring to running the country as president a business-like attitude and will get things done. So Trump as a move and shaker? Up to a point, Lord Copper. First of all he inherited a great deal of wealth from his father and although he did put it to use and can claim some business achievements, it seems that his business success is largely down to him allowing things to tick over rather from any gift for innovation.

Most certainly the list of businesses he has started which went pear-shaped is not impressive, which doesn’t say much for his skill as a businessman. Four of his corporations filed for bankruptcy, and although Trump apologists point out that filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is often merely a business ploy to carry on trading (or something), you do have to ask why those four businesses got themselves in such a state that they had to resort to such ploy.

Given that Clinton since the head of the FBI waded in last week with thinly veiled threats that he was ‘going to nail that bitch’, the chance that ‘the free world’ could really end up being ‘led’ by Trump after all becomes more likely. And given the United States’ baffling presidential electoral system, Trump might well be elected. But if, on the other hand, the top prize goes to Clinton, an already sour political reality in the US will get just that much sourer.

Arguably Trump only threw his hand in a year or two ago when various Republicans were jostling to become the Republican nominee began out of vanity. I really doubt he thought he might win the nomination, and perhaps even now, when he is taking a dump on the can and is all by himself with nothing but his thoughts and a handful of lavatory paper, he is still wondering ‘what the fuck is happening’. His candidacy, though, has proved useful in one respect: it has highlighted just how neglected by the political establishment a very, very large and disparate number of people feel in the US. The Breakfast referendum last June did pretty much the same thing in Britain, as did the surprising results of the EU parliamentary elections in just over two years ago.
. . .

There is pretty much everywhere what might be described as a ‘liberal elite’ or, alternatively, as a ‘metropolitan elite’ and I’m sure that, given that it will have been known be different names, there has been one for ages. For many folk both descriptions ‘liberal elite’ and ‘metropolitan elite’ are terms of abuse. But for some those descriptions are - quietly - worn as a badge of pride. And it was probably always thus. The self-regarding ‘elite’ might might not always have been ‘liberal’, but since Adam first rejected a Granny Smith and instead chose a Pink Lady, there will have been folk who think they are a cut above many others. Another word for them is ’snobs’.

Years ago when chatting to a colleague in the in-house bar of the Daily Express one Saturday night after our shifts had finished (we were working on the Sunday Express) she referred to ‘PLUs’. What are ‘PLUs?’ I asked. ‘People like us,’ she replied. Well, I didn’t much like her until then, and I liked her even less after that. I also remember coming across, in conversation with a young friend of my stepmother’s many years ago, the phrase ‘intelligent people like us’. I had previously regarded the young woman as rather silly, self-regarding and stupid, and her use of that phrase confirmed me in my judgment.

But make no mistake: there are a great number of people who do regard themselves, their views and their opinions as more than just a cut above those of the hoi polloi, but ‘more relevant’ and ‘more important’. And I’m sure none of them would be at all averse of being thought as members of the ‘liberal/metropolitan elite’.

Here in Britain we was a rather synthetic outcry when at the recent Conservative Party annual conference our prime minister Theresa May laid into the ‘liberal elite’, mainly from those already under suspicion of being members of that elite. This is how one Guardian writer reported on the speech. And here is the front page of the Daily Mail after May’s speech.

 But there can be no doubt at all that a large number of those on the Remain side do see themselves as being rather brighter than your average Joe, and it all came tumbling out when a majority of those who voted in the Brexit referendum went for Leave. Tony Blair — yes, he is still around and still hasn’t cottoned on that no one, but no one except dictators in the Caucasus want anything to do with him — has already called for a second referendum, presumably in the hope that the result will be different and a year ago was even crass enough to suggest that the public were simply too stupid to be relied upon to make a sensible choice on Brexit. That will most certainly have qualified him to become a leading member of the ‘liberal elite’. And without wanting to sound hysterical it is a rather shorter leap from Blair’s view to deciding that not everyone can be trusted to vote in an election and therefore shouldn’t.

While we here in Britain have been agonising about Breakfast, there has been astonishment in the US that Trump is still gaining support. But we shouldn’t be so surprised: there really does seem to be a groundswell of revolt against those — call them a ‘liberal’ or ‘metropolitan’ elite if you like — who think they know better than the ordinary Joe. And many of those pro Trump not necessarily pro Trump at all: essentially they are anti Clinton and what they perceive she stands for.

Me, I voted Remain — though I must repeat that it was through gritted teeth — and rather smugly reassured folk who asked me what the outcome referendum outcome should be that Remain would cruise home and then some. I even posted as much here in this blog. I mention that, though, because when I heard the news, I surprised myself by not only not really caring, but even detected in myself an element of ‘good, now this might well shake up the EU and bring it to its senses’.

The trouble with the whole issue is that ‘facts’ about the reason for Brexit support are hard to come by, and don’t bother consulting your newspaper: you’ll get as much, or rather as little, unbiased opinion from the saintly Guardian as from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph (and it is worth recording that at least in the run-up to the vote the Mail was staunchly Leave whereas the more mealy-mouthed Telegraph hedged its bets right up to the line).

What is true because voting patterns were recorded is that support for Brexit was stronger in the North of England and in ‘working class’ and traditionally Labour parts than in ‘the Home Counties’ and London (where, one assumes, most of the ‘liberal/metropolitan elite’ live. And there was anecdotal evidence that what had largely upset many in those areas was not that ‘foreigners’ were ‘taking their jobs’, but that ‘foreigners’, that is EU citizens from former Soviet bloc countries where average wages are far lower than in Britain, were taking jobs at wages which were substantially higher than in their home countries but below average for Britain. The upshot was to depress wages overall, and Brits reported being told to take it or leave it — if they didn’t like the wage offered, there were plenty of EU migrants only to happy to take the job.

I have been working on this entry for the past two days and yesterday we heard that our High Court has ruled that Parliament must have a vote on Brexit, i.e. that the Government cannot constitutionally use the ‘Royal prerogative’ and simply declare UDI, sorry invoke Article 50. But as this entry is already over 2,240 words long, surely my two ha’porth on the matter must be kept for another time

. . .

This is apropos nothing. A few years ago, I spent two weeks on Mallorca and took loads of photos. I dicked around with one of them for a bit, then uploaded it for an entry here. But the entry was not written and the draft has been hanging around for no very good reason since then. I can’t even remember what it was supposed to be about. So I thought I might simply publish the picture, have done with it and forget all about it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

As the blog says, nothing much about very little. I was going to write about liberal/metropolitan elites, but somehow sidetracked myself. But I least by the by I have learned a new word

When I moved to London in 1990, at first commuting weekly from Cardiff where I had been living and working, then eventually shifting all my few possessions up to The Smoke, I was not - as the current cliche is - ‘in a good place’.

I had very vaguely - very vaguely indeed - been planning to set myself up as a freelance photographer, but getting the boot from my job as a sub-editor on the South Wales Echo for one cock-up too many (see this entry for part of the reason why) hastened things, and for about ten months I had scraped together a certain kind of living taking pictures, selling features to Wales on Sunday and working sub-editing shifts on the Western Mail (until its editor, one John Humphries - Geoff Rich without the heart, was one memorable description of the man, which, though, will mean nothing to anyone reading this unless you knew Geoff Rich - heard about my sacking from the Echo and banned his chief sub from giving me shifts. Incidentally, looking up John Humphries on the web to make sure I got the spelling of his name right, I notice he has reinvented himself as a gardener and writes a gardening column for Wales Online. Odd. All I can say is that I wouldn’t like to be a flower in his garden.)

Come the turn of the financial year in April 1990 and yet another of Britain’s financial crises, work dried up. It was as though the tap had been turned off. It was actually quite startling. No one wanted to spend any money. Until then I had been doing as well as I might have hoped and working hard. From April on there was virtually nothing, most certainly not enough to live on, so by June I did what I actually should have done ten years earlier and rang the Fleet Street papers to see whether I could get any shifts as a sub.

At the time ‘Fleet Street’ was still a notion in the industry and several papers were still located there or nearby. Now, none are, and ‘Fleet Street’ will mean as little to most as ‘Grub Street’. And you haven’t heard of Grub Street? Didn’t think so. If you are interested read New Grub Street by George Gissing to give you an idea. I struck lucky on my first call, to the Daily Express and was given several shifts. Other shifts followed on other papers and very soon indeed I was working seven days a week, here, there and everywhere. And that was a good thing, because I was once again suffering from one of the bouts of depression which have blighted my life and keeping busy was a tonic.

For whatever reason, I have never liked London, though to this day I can’t tell you why. But in 1990 and the few years after when I was feeling pretty low and the depression didn’t lift, I especially disliked it. Given the sheer size of the city and the spiritual state I was in, I felt very lost as though the city were sitting right on top of me, and I was keenly aware that in the grand scheme of things, I was utterly, utterly insignificant, rather like one grain of sand on a beach is indistinguishable from the billions of other grains.

Ironically, of course, that is pretty much all we are, insignificant, except that, thankfully and praise the Lord (Mammon, if need be and that’s your schtick), none of us is aware of it. Thankfully and for most of our lives we have family and friends
and, above all, company; we have a job or are otherwise usefully employed doing something or other, and so our lives have what is conventionally regarded as ‘meaning’. But ask the old and lonely how much ‘meaning’ they feel their lives have and you will not be heartened by the answers they give you. I must admit I didn’t really get to know London very well, because given the times I worked, from early afternoon until midnight and later, there wasn’t much time left over to get to know it. Even now I don’t see any of the city or its people and life.

Driving up on a Sunday morning, working a shift; working a double shift on the Monday and Tuesday, then a single shift on the Wednesday before jumping back into the car and driving westwards down here to North Cornwall doesn’t give you a great deal of time to hobnob with the Queen or get down and dirty in the nightspots of Hackney or wherever London’s cool go to chill. But even though I am hardly on even on a nodding acquaintance with the city and its people, I have to some extent become familiar with some of metropolitan attitudes.

I’ve always thought that to enjoy London you must be young, well-off and preferably both. OK, you can enjoy it even if you aren’t necessarily well-off and are obliged to count the pennies if long-term debt isn’t our bag, but being young is pretty much sine qua non. Come the early squalls of middle age and most folk hitch up and settle down and move to where rents and house prices are cheaper (although ironically doing so means they will spend more on commuting).

Some, of course, stay but then they can afford to. I was three days ago talking to a well-known Mail columnist with whom I’m on chatting terms and asked her where she lived. I knew it was in North London, but didn’t exactly know where. Hampstead, she told me. But then she is single - again - has no children and will be on a generous contract, so Hampstead is where she can afford to live. She’s in the minority.

. . .

I meant in this entry to write about what is called ‘the metropolitan elite’ or ‘the liberal elite’ and how I am devastated that to this day it has not occurred to anyone to ask me to join. I would most certainly turn down the invitation where it to be made, of course, but it would be nice to be asked. I intended to start off by writing about London, then gracefully segue into eight hundred words of pithy prose about that elite.

Sadly, I lost my train of though a little earlier on and, despite some frantic searching these past few minutes, I am not at present able to lay my hands on it again. So rather than write something which would forced, I shall leave that until another time. Sorry. Try again in a few days time (you not me. Your luck might be in).

. . .

I’ve just come across new word: idiolect. Just before posting this and returning to my browser, I was sidetracked (as invariably we are by the net) by piece about Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize in the Guardian. That’s where I came across it. The piece, which you can find here, is rather silly in that the Guardian features editor obviously thought the paper had to write something about Dylan and obviously felt that Armitage, a poet, might be the chap to do it. But I would rather he or she had gone for someone who truly liked Dylan from the start rather than Armitage, whose line is rather throwaway.

Here’s an excerpt: ‘Maybe in Dylan I recognised an attitude as well, not more than a sideways glance, really, or a turn of phrase, that gave me the confidence to begin and has given me the conviction to keep going.’ And maybe not. The piece seems to shout ‘I really don’t know a great deal about the man, but I could do with the money, so let’s go for it’. Shame.

Anyway idiolect: I have never before come across the word and as is a racing certainty I shall now hear it used several times over the coming few days. I wonder whether I have an idiolect? Be great if I did. Fancy!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Rush, rush, sodding rush - the bane of my life and I wish I could stop it!

If there is one thing I would change about myself, for the better, it would be to get rid of my tendency to rush almost everything. And I have had that tendency since I was a toddler. I remember my German mother telling me always ‘nicht so fix’, because there was a certain haste in everything I did. It led to toys broken within minutes of getting them, new clothes ripped within minutes of putting them on, and later professionally - I work as a sub-editor for whom attention to detail is possibly, probably even, the quintessential necessity - it has meant I really haven’t done as well as I might have done.

You might think that being aware of the tendency is the first step to overcoming it. Sadly, it isn’t. At work I consciously - very consciously - slow myself down or try to slow myself down and largely succeed to ensure that it doesn’t affect my work. Yet I have to admit that to this day ‘slapdash’ is my middle name and if I achieve a task without being slapdash, it is only after a great deal of effort.

Not rushing what I do is a constant battle, one waged from moment to moment, and if you have ever been jealous or worried, you will know how ‘being aware of something’ isn’t half the solution it is cracked up to be. For example, ‘don’t worry’ is pretty much the most pointless advice you can give to anyone who is worried. It’s good advice, yes, but pointless: have you ever tried not to worry about something which is a constant concern? And being told by well-meaning family and friends ‘don’t worry’ and verge on the supremely irritating.

If you have been jealous, whether of a lover or a friend or a colleague’s success, no amount of telling yourself that your jealousy is groundless does much to assuage that jealousy. I’m assuming that everyone reading this has felt such jealousy, although perhaps not everyone has. And, incidentally, I don’t think anyone will truly appreciate Shakespeare’s Othello unless they, too, have been jealous. That’s by the by.

This tendency to rush wheedles it’s way into more or less everything I do: I am constantly looking for shortcuts ‘to save time’, even though it doesn’t matter whether or not time is saved. I usually find myself impatient to get on with the task

in hand whatever it might be and to get on with the next even though there really is no rush and the next is no more important. I very often find it difficult to concentrate (although I have to add that every now and then I can concentrate beautifully, but it is then to the exclusion of everything else).

Where I get this tendency from I really don’t know. I had an older brother who seemed to be able to do anything with apparent ease - he excelled at school when he wanted to, he was a natural artist and musician and generally made me look like the plodder I finally have reconciled myself to be. Sadly, all that came at a price in that he suffered very bad mental health all his life - no one ever said so or made the

diagnosis, but it is likely he suffered from some form of schizophrenia - so perhaps that had something to do with it. But then perhaps not and saying so is mere speculation (and borders on that awful Sunday paper supplement cod psychology which is one staple of middle-brow conversation).

A few years ago, in the late 1980s when I was living in Cardiff and things weren’t going very well, I shelled out something like £60 and enrolled on a Transcendental Meditation course. I was very low, just been sacked from my job and had entered yet another bout of ‘depression’ (why I put that in quote marks I’ll explain later. NB Actually, I don’t in this entry, but if you go to my entry for October 16, 2015, which is what I would have repeated here) and was haunting local bookshops trying to find a self-help book which was quite obviously a load of old cack as, sadly, 99pc of them are. (I did come across a useful book about how to deal with ‘depression’ which was sane and down to earth, though I can’t know remember what it was called.)

The TM course was held over two or three days, and although I didn’t and don’t buy into any of its theory, I did learn a very useful meditation technique which I occasionally use to this day. But I should add that it is very simple indeed and I could demonstrate and pass it on in a matter of minutes, and it was most certainly

not worth shelling out £60 for. But then the whole TM movement was more than just about trying to pass on a meditation technique. (Is it still going? I must look it up in a minute. It does strike me now as something very much of the past, like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Moral Rearmament.)

One problem with talking about ‘meditation’ is that it sounds far deeper than it is and is invariably thought to be associated with some faith or other, or at the very least some kind of lifestyle. It seems to conjure up a certain way of living, ascetic rather than comfortable, a diet of porridge and acorns and communes in Mid-Wales where lavatory paper is regarded a bourgois luxury and the first step on the road to Hell. That’s here in Britain, of course.

I don’t want to sound in anyway goofy but there really is something to the notion of ‘inner stillness’ which we often hear about. I know, because I have, though rarely, experienced it, as perhaps have you. But once you have experienced it and know what it is, you are also know what a waste of time, effort, energy and emotion much of what we do daily is. Oh, and as far as I know there’s no need at all to pose cross-legged with your thumb and forefinger pinched together and facing up. That’s only obligatory in LA and Hampstead. The rest of us are allowed simply to sit somewhere comfortably and quiet.

As for the rushing, well, I’m doing it again: I’m rushing writing this so that I can post it, even though there is no earthly reason why this entry should be posted sooner rather than later or, to be quite honest, even at all.

The etymology of words is often illuminating, and the German for ‘to rush’ - hetzen is often also one way to describe racism - Rassen Hetze. The derivation would be from ‘hetzen’ used in a chase as in hunting. Oh well.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A few tunes to be getting on with as you all get on today with preparing to make your maker (it might seem a long way off, but believe me that bus is coming). And a photo or two, most by me.

Don’t Lose Your Mind

The main title music from Glengarry Glen Ross

Autumn Leaves

I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby

I Get A Kick Out Of You

I’m Not The Enemy

and a favourite cartoon I have come across

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An entry for all of you who like a bit of twee crap about Mother Nature’s bounty

My sister’s husband works for a pharma company, and don’t worry, I regularly harangue him on the evils his employers perpetuate, their cynical pricing and how in an ideal world we would all be going to the grizzled old wise man who lives by the stream on the moor for some concoction or other when our ill health demands it. (The only respite he gets when I visit my sister is to retire to the loo, ostensibly, to take a dump, but even then I’ve found standing outside and yelling through the locked door can be quite effective. No man must be allowed to hide from the truth.) He has been posted abroad three times, which means my sister and her family have spend around five years each time in Manila, in the Philippines, Istanbul, Turkey, and are within weeks returning from a stint in Warsaw, Poland.

Holding down the job he does, my brother-in-law is very well-paid (and it has to be said the Germans do look after their own), but their lifestyle in Manila was truly colonial, paid for, of course, by her husbands bosses: a guard at the gate (no doubt armed), a man to take care of the pool, a driver, a great many maids (I think eight in total, one for each bathroom) and a superbly uniformed major domo who had merely one duty, to stand by the door when guests arrived looking very grand (and my sisters tells me he was very good at his job).

My sister insists the set-up wasn’t quite as outrageously swanky as it seems and, anyway, her domestic arrangements were quite modest compared to those of others. She also tells me (and I believe her) that employing so many folk (I won’t call them ‘natives’ or else I’ll have the Guardian on my back) is a real boost to the economy and at least 12 Filipino families are supported who might otherwise have nowt.

Life was similarly pleasant in Istanbul, where the family, or at least those of her four children still at home, lived in a rather splendid palace on a hill overlooking the city with impressive views of the Bosphorus. Warsaw sounds less attractive, however. But this entry is not about the why and wherefores, hows, whens, whatevers, which ways and whereforuntos of my sister and her husband’s gilded and unmistakably capitalist existence but - you guessed it, you are way, way ahead of me - seasons. My sister (who like me is half-English and mainly grew up in England until she married at 22 and moved to Germany) tells me that what she missed most while living high on the hog in Manila were the seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter.

There, she says, there were no seasons. The weather was the same throughout the year, hot and muggy, with the occasional muggy and hot interlude. There was no spring and twee poems from readers in the Daily Mail;s Peterborough column about the rebirth of Mother Nature, no summer with the endless chatter we are accustomed to here in Britain when a fine day makes it through to second and we all tell each other how splendid it is to live in Britain. There was no autumn and more twee poems in the Mail about rosy apples, hoary hawthorn and Mother Nature’s beauteous bounty. And there was no winter with poems about ragged Robin Redbreast pecking pitifully against the window begging for a scrap or two and when our transport infrastructure grinds to a complete halt and we all manfully struggle to work by foot through inches of snow. She missed all that (though she assures me, and on balance I believe her, that she was tempted to write a twee poem about ‘God’s glorious seasons’ only rarely and resisted the temptation each time).

Istanbul did have seasons, however, though a geographical oddity meant that in winter when her palace and its grounds on the hill were covered in a foot of snow, she could look down onto the bustling city itself where there was no snow whatsoever. Warsaw, it seems, also has it seasons like Britain, although the weather each brings, especially the winter and summer is pretty extreme: temperatures regularly hit -15c and in the summer hover at around 35c.

(She also tells me that about the only meat you can get in Poland is pork. The Polish eat pork several times a day, for breakfast, lunch and supper, and as soup, hors d’ouvre and for the main course. There are even some traditional desserts involving pork, she says, and not all of them are quite awful. On the other hand beef is rarer than a smile in Scottish kirk, though she did track some down a year or two ago, a restaurant in the red light district of Warsaw whose proprietor is regarded as decidedly odd by everyone else and, naturally, universally shunned. But this entry is about the seasons not meat.)

. . .

I mention this because we are officially now three days into autumn and it is quite noticeable. And here I should admit that autumn is my favourite season. I no longer care as I do in the summer when I sit outside with a glass of something and a Wilde Cigarros and shiver that the are is remarkably damp: after all, it’s autumn. You’re allowed to shiver - even supposed to - in the autumn. Down here in Cornwall, the autumn brings a marked reduction in the number of sodding tourists clogging up our very narrow lanes, although from now until the end of November we still get quite a few anglophile Dutch and the occasional German who arrive for a week or two because they ‘love Cornwall, we always have’ and want to ‘avoid the tourists’.

What are you, then? I always want to ask them. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact the Cornwall depends almost entirely on sodding tourists to provide work and keep widespread famine at bay for at least another year, there’s a good case to be made for erecting a barrier across the Tamar bridge at Launceston and turning back everyone who can prove beyond doubt that they are not a tourist and do have legitimate business in Kernow. Bloody tourists. I know for a fact that several magistrates here in North Cornwall treat with remarkable leniency anyone appearing before them charged with violence against a tourist.

Autumn also means the run-up to Christmas (although strictly a short part of that run-up is in winter, which officially begins on December 21), and the occasional bad weather is made a little more bearable because you have something to look forward to. And here in Cornwall October and November are usually very pleasant. OK, they aren’t warm and they bring a fair amount of stormy weather, but once you are holed up in a warm cottage with the woodburner on, it’s very pleasant to hear the wind howling outside and the rain beating against the windows. I have a theory that you prefer the time of year in which you were born, and my birthday is November 21, pretty much slap in the middle of autumn.

Anyhow, autumn is here and we should make the most of it before we have to soldier through the usually very dull and very trying months of January and February. Having said that, of course, it was even those nastier months which my sister missed when she still live in Manila. My cousin (I call him my cousin, but he is actually my stepmother’s nephew) lived in Taiwan for some time and once when he came back and we were sitting outside having a drink and it began to drizzle, he refused to come in but stayed outside to ‘enjoy’ the drizzle, because, he said, he had missed it so much while in Taiwan.

Here for those who like that kind of thing is an ‘autumnal’ photo, though a strongly suspect Mr Photoshop has had a strong input in this picture. Nothing’s that red.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Meanwhile, back on dry land I reflect on whether or not too substantial breakfasts should be subject to an EU directive: Jack Tar's diet might have been abysmal, but it did mean Britannia ruled the waves for several millennia (though I’m told the Dutch take a rather contrary view on the matter). Then there’s the matter of snapped photos and an accusation of insanity from my daughter (so to speak)

First the good news I wasn’t seasick, not even a little. But then you don’t get too many storms in the Markenmeer north of Amsterdam, and when you do, I’m sure some EU directive or other comes into play ensuring that not only do certified landlubbers stay well and truly on land, but that we take the time allowed us by the enforced period ashore as an opportunity to mug up the texts of various EU directives with which we might not yet be familiar. Such high-handed nonsense was one of the many reasons why in June Britain voted by an overwhelming majority of 0.05 per cent to tell the EU it could stick itself, its constitutions, its directives and it ‘open borders’ where the sun don’t shine. This nation of seafarers (©Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, The Times and the Daily Telegraph) refuses to be told when, where, with whom and why it can go to sea: enough is enough, Johnny Foreigner!

I must say I enjoyed my two days on the high seas (we put into harbour during the night). Thirty of us set out from Enkhuizen on the Friday afternoon in the Novel, a

converted flat boat of the kind which before the days of mass tourism and pretty much unlimited leisure time (i.e. in the days when we all still worked) would sail along the north coast of Holland and Germany, delivering stuff to Hamburg and bring stuff back from Hamburg, the stuff being pretty much anything which it was easier to transport in bulk by sea rather than by land, clogs, edam cheese, dirndl dresses, that kind of thing.

Anyone who has heard of Erskine Childers famous novel The Riddle Of The Sands but hasn’t read it will know what I am talking about. Incidentally, I did briefly try to start a discussion with some of my sister’s German friends about the feasibility of Germany and England jointly invading Scotland by sea in the event of an independence vote but was smartly sent away with a flea in my ear. Make no mistake: today’s German is a sound democrat who has put his country’s past well behind him and her. If there is to be any invading, it can only be done under the auspices of the EU and by the EU invasion force Jean-Claude Juncker is putting together as I write. (Oh, and by the way, Juncker is not an out-of-control boozer as some malcontents are suggesting. If and when he falls over, it is merely because he has had a gammy leg after a car crash in the late 19th century and often finds it difficult to keep his balance with a glass of brandy in his hand. I think we should be clear on that.)

All those flatboats, and there must have been several hundred of them at Enkhuizen from where we set out and at Monnickendam where we spent the night, have since been converted for accommodation, and ours had 15 cabins. The Novel was a three-master with six sails (I am not speaking with any greater nautical authority, it’s just
that I can count quite well up to 100 and there were certainly not 100 masts and sails on our boat) with a crew of three - the owner, his wife and a crewman, Mick. Mick, by the way, a lad from The Hague with Indonesian heritage, had a degree in economics, one in infomatics - I don’t know what that is either - but then worked as a roofer before deciding his destiny lay in a life on the high seas, or at least on seas that get as high as they do on the Markenmeer.

Once everyone had arrived by 8pm on the Friday, we were shown how to secure the many, many ropes which seem to make up most of such a ship and told the names of the different sails. When I say the Novel had a crew of three, I should add that we were also part of the crew in that when directed to we, en masse, would pull on whatever rope we had to to hoist sails or lower them as necessary. And there was quite a bit of that. The rest of the time, though was ours, in which to do nothing but relax, eat and drink.

I sure there is a proper nautical term for food and booze brought on board to feed passengers - ‘provisions’ and ‘victuals’ sound far to land-based to my ears - but whatever it is there was a hell of a lot of it. Everyone contributed - wine, champagne, Sekt and beer, in particular - but there was more than enough for three square meals a day over two days with a lot of it brought back home again. My brother-in-law, who is a rather good cook, prepared a supper for the Saturday night (with help) of fillet steak, courgettes and risotto, with a very nice Rioja followed by pudding and cheese. It was very good indeed. In the morning everyone (except me - I don’t like to eat at all before noon) sat down to a substantial German breakfast (Brötchen and Schwarzbrot, Schinken, Käse, Konfitüre and Marmelade, and Kaffee) and the snack lunch consisted of bacon and eggs.

This all took a great deal of organisation, and I fell to wondering just what a similar group of Brits would come up. Years ago, at the beginning of term at university we were four in a flat and as nothing had yet been bought, we sent one of our number out to get ‘essentials’. He returned several packets of crisps, a jar of marmalade and a bottle of orange squash. I rather think had this been a Brit excursion, we would all have mucked in and survived on any number of Batchelor’s Cup-a-Soup Extras (‘A big hug in a mug’ apparently), loads of crisps, Morrisons ready meals and Angel Delights. Or perhaps the German in me is coming out and I am just being nasty.

I’ve got to say as far as food is concerned, give me the German way of life any day. I should add, though, that the Brit in me doesn’t take to well to some aspects of German organisation: it was regarded as slightly odd of me to skip breakfast and lunch on both days. (One helpful soul even tried counselling me and remained unconvinced, though diplomatically silent on the matter, when I explained that I simply prefer to eat when I am hungry, not according to some timetable. She definitely thought I was now just a few steps from the funny farm and gave my arm a charitable, knowing squeeze when we all said goodbye to each other on the Sunday afternoon. It assured me she would be there for me if, you know, if . . .).

I’ve got to say I enjoyed it. The only downside was that whereas I once spoke German as fluently as I speak English and was always taken for a German, that complete fluency has, not to make too fine a point, has gone, and I found I couldn’t converse as freely as I would have liked. Certainly all Germans and most of their pets can speak English (although not always as perfectly as the imagine), and like to do so, but, oddly, it just felt wrong to me to be speaking English to a German. That’s as best as I can describe. Although I know, or at least tell myself, that were I to live in Germany among Germans for several weeks I would regain that fluency - the German is most certainly there, but deep down - that seems unlikely to happen. Oh well. Now I must be off to pore over my charts of the North Sea. There surely must be some way to get the fleet up the Tay without causing too much fuss.

. . .

I have long like taking photographs, and now that everyone one of us carries a smartphone (or even two or three) and each has a camera, it is easy to take a snap of this or that when and if. What particular catches my eye are patterns in our surroundings. They might not be obvious at all, but I will see something and in a matter of moments take a picture (and usually then dicking around with it a little, usually giving it a judicious crop. Here is one such picture, taken at work a day or two ago:

I pasted it on Facebook and it immediately drew the following comment from my daughter: You are so strange wtf have you taken pictures of stairs for (sic).

My repy was ‘Elsie, it is not ‘a picture of stairs’. It is a picture of light and shadow and lines and curves. Try to look at it that way. Try to look at it as thought it were an abstract picture, not a picture of something you can recognise.’

My question is simple: am I getting soft-headed? I like the picture, as I like this one

and the same applies to each: don’t look at it as an object you might recognise, but try to look at it somehow in abstract. I suppose rotating a particular picture might help, to break that link between what we see and what we think we know. Like this

Here’s another question: am I losing it? I don’t think so, and for me all three pictures hold a certain, though it has to be said trivial, interest? But I do like the ‘light and shade and lines and curves’. Is there a lot wrong with that?