Friday, 18 November 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?)

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