Saturday, April 29, 2017

Will it snow on June 23, 2018? Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. But there might certainly be stormy weather ahead for the EU

I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve twice posted I’ve taken photos - irrelevant to current events our what? Couldn’t be more irrelevant - reported two spats with the Guardian, recycled a few videos with music tracks I like and even threatened to start a new, personal blog, which no one will have access to, anything but anyting rather than join the cacophony and add my two ha’porth in comments about Brexit - what’s best to wear in the run-up to Brexit, how Brexit might prove to be the ultimate diet, why Brexit can be blamed for the decline in bees, that kind of thing. But there is no getting away from it (which isn’t that surprising).

Brexit is everywhere, though what it will mean for Britain is still anyone’s guess, and in keeping with the fact that it is anyone’s guess, everyone with even half a deadline is predicting: in today’s Guardian the Lib Dems Vince Cable is on the side of the doomsayers and reckons it will cause an even bigger financial crash than the one in 2008.

On the other hand some think once Britain has rid itself of the shackles of the EU, the good times might come a rolling. Here the Independent (no longer a print newspaper but carrying on online like some ethereal guardian angel for the bien pensant who thinks the Guardian is too much of a lefty rag) outlines ten reasons to feel positive about Brexit.

Given my abysmal track record in predictions - I predicted Britain would vote to stay in the EU and that Trump would not be elected - I shall gracefully resist once again taking a Mystic Meg role and keep schtumm. But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk generally about what might happen to Britain and the EU over the coming years.

As for predictions, I am bemused: can anyone here tell me what wether we will have on, say, June 23, 2018? That would be exactly two years after the Brexit referendum was held. Will it rain? Will it be a day of glorious sunshine? Will it be hot, unseasonably cold? Will it be windy? Will we be in the fifth week of a drought? There are one or two things we can rule out, of course. Given the time of year, a blizzard would seem unlikely, although I did once witness snowfall in June. (It was in June 1975, and I was attending a two-month NCTJ block release course at the then Richmond College in Sheffield (now Stradbroke College). My mate Tim, a Sheffield local, and I had taken to having a lunchtime pint at the Richmond Hotel ten minutes walk away, and we were sitting (‘sat’) in the bar when I looked out and noticed it was snowing. Mind, it was not a blizzard, the snow didn’t settle and it was unseasonably cold for June.)

So we can say one or two general things about the weather on June 23, 2018, but would be wise to keep it vague. Similarly with predicting what effects Brexit will have on Britain and the rest of the EU: keep it vague and ensure the amount of egg you get on your face is kept to as little as possible.

I don’t doubt it will be an upheaval. Moving house is an upheaval of sorts, even if you move from the bleak inner city to place of bucolic bliss. Things go missing, stuff gets chipped and you don’t really settle in for a month or two after the move. The same will be true of Brexit, but how commentators and pundits can predict so certainly that it will spell doom for Britain/be a return to a golden age I really don’t know.

The fact is that before it became shackled to the tyranny of Brussels/embraced the community of European enlightenment, Britain was far from being the poster boy for prosperity and progress. All nations have their myths, and a current myth in Britain is that we were an industrial giant and a superpower on equal terms with the US and Soviet Russia. But that is not quite true.

Britain has been a member of the EU - and crucially the single market - 44 years and enjoyed many free trade benefits, but from the end of World War II until it signed up in 1973 economically Britain was often a basket case. Cheerful Brexiteers up and down the pubs and golf clubs of the nation will forecast a new golden age of trading. The thing is that the previous golden age of trading had been some 130 years earlier and the world has moved on considerably since then.

Conversely (and in my view) the EU has benefited from Britain’s membership and, arguably, needs us to be a member, and this has less to do with the financial contribution Britain makes than with the steading influence it had. Conventionally, Britain has been portrayed as something of a bolshy fly in the ointment member, complaining about this, objecting to that, but in truth Britain has been one of the steadier members, more inclined than many other members to observe the letter of EU law.

Furthermore, and given the accepted view that France and Germany are pretty much the two mainstays of the EU (and that, we are told, a desire to stop the two countries continually going to war with each other was one of the main objectives of forming a ‘European community’), the lack of Britain’s stabilising influence might be keenly felt.

We’re also told that many of the smaller member states were grateful to Britain for taking the lead in matters where they, too, had the same concerns about some aspect of the EU, but who felt that without the voice of Britain, they could not speak out.

Then there is what might now already be called ‘the problem’ of the EU of Poland and Hungary. Neither country feels much like toeing the Brussels line these days. Just a few days ago Victor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister made a speech that was heavily critical of the EU’s migration policy and in other ways has been apt to clash with Brussels of lesser matters. Mention this to keen supporters of the EU and they will get all misty-eyed and say that ‘families often have their little spats, but at they end of the day they pull together’.

Well, I shouldn’t bank on it. Just as the perceived view of many Brits was (though it was and is not mine) that EU migration and attendant matters was somehow wrecking Britain, it might not be too fanciful to suggest that migration from North Africa and the Middle East could prove to be one of several nails in the EU’s coffin, the loss of Britain’s stabilising influence being another.

As for Poland and the threat it poses to the equanimity of the EU, as far as I am concerned the Polish come in two flavours: reasonable and outright nutters. On the reasonable side one might count the former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who seems to strike a note of commons sense in all the Brexit bollocks and has no discernible axe to grind. As for outright nutters, look no further than Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the surviving half of the Kaczynski twins - his brother Lech, then Poland’s president died in an air crash in 2010 - and who occupies a strange position in Polish politics.

He and his twin founded the right-wing (and some say rather anti-semitic) Law and Justice party, which is now back in power in Poland under the premiership of one Beata Szydlo. Kaczynski is chairman of the Law and Justice party, and although it is power holds no government position and is just an MP, he is widely thought to be pulling all the strings. Pertinently Kaczynski is also as implacably opposed to further immigration than Orban and has clashed with Brussels on that and many other matters.

Migration is, though, just one of the problems the EU will continue to face without Britain as a member. Another is the perpetual problem of the euro for many member states and the related problem of unemployment: manageable in northern states, embarrassingly high in Med states. This map, from the European Commission itself, shows quite graphically that the differences are large. And to compound the problem these are just overall jobless figures: among those under 25 the number is far higher, with often one out of two without work.

I did start off by insisting that Mystic Pat had been banished to under his giant toadstool in the garden and vowing to make no predictions. Well, I shan’t, but that doesn’t preclude me from making one or two suggestions. Well, make that one suggestion: Brexit will be the first step in the slow, painfully slow, but certain disintegration of the EU as we now know it. And history will show that Brexit wasn’t a cause but a symptom.

If, as I suggest, the EU will prove less durable than supporters hope, I further suggest it has only iteself to blame. It worked as a small trading bloc and it worked as a European Community. But then the idealist took over from the pragmatists and developed a queer sort of megalomania: talk of ever-closer politic union became louder, there was talk of forming an EU army and for a while the EU had its own ‘foreign minister’ (for some time an ineffectual former Labour Party apparatchik of whom little is now heard).

The real problem for the EU was that it had overreached itself. Member states and their citizens were perfectly happy with getting spanking new roads and schools and hospitals over the years, all paid for by EU funds (which, let’s be frank, was the money of the EU’s major contributors, Britain and Germany), but many became rather picky when it came to the downsides of membership. Most notably they weren’t at all keen to share in the EU’s goodhearted, liberal drive to take in as many immigrants as possible.

This might make it sound as though I am agin the EU. I’m not, although my sister and my brother are both convinced I am a closet Brexiteer. As far as I am concerned the EU is essentially a great idea, but one which, for one reason or another, has gone bad. I think it might have started losing the plot when it was turned from a trading community, and economic bloc into a would-be political union (although keen ‘le projet’ supporters insist that that was always the intention: odd, then, that the rest of us were unaware of it).

In an ideal world I should like to see the wiser heads in Brussels take stock of the situation and decide that losing Britain is Not A Good Idea, and set about seeing how they might change Britain’s mind. But even I know there is no hope of that. Oh well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Some more pics. Busy? Me?

Update 19/05/17: I thought I might add that these pictures, and many of the other pictures I take and occasionally publish here, are intended to get as close to being ‘abstract’ without actually being abstract. That is what interests me. After all what sad fuck gets off on taking pictures of bicycles, chairs and tables? Once that fuck begins dicking around and somehow ‘reducing’ the images to take them a little further away from what they ostensibly seem to show, it would be legitimate to claim that that fuck is no longer a sad fuck but a slightly (but only slightly) nutty fuck. See what I mean? Oh, you don’t. Oh, well.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rather curious behavour from a self-appointed beacon of free speech. Make up your own minds

This might be of interest to some of you. I think it speaks for itself. You do sometimes wonder what is going on at the Guardian.

After I had posted a comment on the Guardian website apropos a piece by Hadley Freeman in which I suggested it wasn't her best and that it smacked as though she had forgotten a deadline and cobbled something together at the last minute (and queried what was she actually trying to say), I was astonished when not ten minutes later it had been deleted by the papers moderators as ‘not conforming with its community standards’.

Leaving aside the rather Orwellian catch-all nature of that explanation (and if you ask which standard you had not conformed to, you are merely sent a link to a long, long list of ‘community standards’ with the implicit invitation to go through the lot and find our for yourself), I was baffled as to what had been so offensive in what I had said. So I posted a second comment, this time about the deletion of my previous post, but that, too, disappeared into Guardian never-neverland.

This is not the first time this had happened, so before posting the comment, I took a screenshot of it and you can read what I wrote below. Anyone care to tell me what is so offensive about it?

Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened, and I can assure you on those other occasions I was not in the least bit offensive, either, but I was critical of the Guardian. I stick by what I say in the comment below, that the Guardian very often stands head and shoulders above the other matters in its serious journalism (although it, too, can be ridiculous when it comes to fashion, ‘lifestyle’, travel and food – it is often a self-parody).

I don’t for a second suggest or believe that Britain is in danger of becoming a totalitarian state with the Guardian as a gauleiter. But I do suggest it takes a hard look at some of its beliefs and behaviour, and tries to ensure they are not quite at odds this each other as this latest incidents would suggest.

The above was then also removed, so I left this comment, linking Guardian readers to this blog entry. It, too, was removed.

So I left my final comment, this one. It has since disappeared.

How is that for free speech. And can anyone tell me where the offence might lie?

PS Now you see it . . .

. . . and now you don’t. Isn’t free speech marvellous!

Friday, April 14, 2017

A few photos, just for the craic

All of these were taken on my iPhone, then subsequently dicked around with to a greater or lesser extent, mainly cropping.

PS Bearing in mind that I like to pose as a well-informed commentator on world affairs, I flatter myself often quite successfully, courtesy of The Economist (NB Re-reading that just now, it occurs to me that it will not be at all obvious at first blush that my tongue is in my cheek. Perhaps the ‘courtesy of The Economist’ hints at it, perhaps not. I now think not. So I thought of removing the comment entirely, but then I thought why not just add this note in italics which is so self-deprecatory the reader will think ‘well, he's just got to be sincere. Poor chap, us thinking he was a bighead? Poor chap’. The great thing is that by adding this note, I score several brownie points: you - I hope - think ‘well, he is modest after all’, ‘he is quite self-aware, that lad, I’ll give him that’, ‘do you know, I think he is entirely wrong about himself - he IS very well-informed’), I can’t let this entry go without a word or two about the current spat between Putin, Trump, Jim Jim King in North Korea (or whatever he calls himself), and various foreign ministers over Syria, chemical attacks, rocket attacks and the Lord knows what else: goodness, isn’t it just too awful!

Incidentally, there is great anguish in Whitehall (in London) about whether the UK is at risk of losing its influence in world affairs. To put that into context, an American chap, Someone or Other Shapiro, who once worked as a foreign affairs to Obama who appeared on BBC 2’s Newsnight commented that the question of Britain’s loss of influence might have set several politicos and mandarins quaking in their boots in the Foreign Office, but in Washington, not only are they not talking of nothing else, they haven’t even got around to talking about it.

Apparently, making sure departmental coffee rounds in State Department aren’t cocked up takes priority. And then, of course, there are several other matters to consider. Such as Russia, Syria, North Korea etc.

But here are the pictures:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A short rant about Google and Facebook, and where to have a quiet smoke and malt in peace and quite and - crucially - in public

In the spirit of modern man who will always bite the hand that feeds him (she doesn’t as she is busy elsewhere because he never lifts a finger), can I moan about the complete universality of being invited to ‘sign in with Facebook’? (NB This rant has previously appeared on my Facebook account and this blogging service is courtesy of Google.)

Wherever and whenever you want to sign into online account these days - to leave a comment on a newspaper article, leave a review on IMDB, get into your Screwfix account to buy a gross of 2in screws, log on to file your tax self-assessment on the HMRC website - you are invited to ‘sign in with Facebook’.

And if it’s not that, it’s Google - perpetually - inviting you to ‘accept its privacy policy’ (or something) which entails spending the best part of 15 minutes (if you can be bothered, which they hope you can’t) of confirming that you DON’T want your ‘activity’ to be tracked and, yes, you WOULD like to opt out of getting targeted advertising.

Of course, to you clued-up, plugged-in, digitised folk I sound just like an old fart who increasingly doesn’t ‘get it’ and should start designing his coffin now while Facebook still has a 20pc off all coffins offer, but I don’t see it that way.

If Google again and again ask you to re-enter ‘your preferences’, even though you have already registered them tens of times, you get the feeling that it hopes you will finally simply through in the towel and just click ‘yes, fuck me for now and in perpetuity, amen’ and have done with it.

I’m beginning to think those 1970s and 1980s sci-fi films with all their dodgy CGI about the world being ruled by two opposing but equally hostile global companies were spot on. I’m not about to declare ‘I have seen the future, so take me back to the past toot sweet’, but I do which Facebook and Google would stop trying to creep up my arse every five minutes.But this entry wasn’t about that.

. . .

About a month ago, I drove my son up from Cornwall to Liverpool so he could attend an interview at John Moores University (he was offered a place). I happened to mention on Facebook or something that I was there and out of the blue got a text from my German niece’s partner and husband-to-be (and father of her child — it is the 21st century so that is the order of play these days) asking to meet up. He was rather hurt.

He is in Liverpool for a year doing a Masters in, I think I’ve got this right, forensic anthropology, but I had completely forgotten about that even though I had been previously helping him find somewhere to live when he was due to study at Bournemouth University, but then was told he was going to Liverpool after Bournemouth kept playing bureaucratic silly buggers.

My son’t interview wasn’t until 2pm, so we all met up in the morning. My son and I had stayed in a hotel just around the corner from Mathew St where the famous Cavern is where The Beatles used to play, so we were right in the city centre. We looked at some landmarks, as one does, and then headed up to the university quarter. But my niece’s partner told me something about which I was very sceptical.

He said that while wandering around Liverpool city centre (which is rather higgledy-piggledy, in my view) he had happened upon a cigar shop. He doesn’t smoke, but went in to have a look - why I don’t know if he doesn’t smoke - and stayed to enjoy a cigar and a drink. That’s not possible, I said. For several years now it is illegal to smoke in pubs, bars, restaurants and public places. But he did, he said, and more than that he was served by a waiter in uniform who even provided crisps.

This puzzled me. So once I had seen my son off for his interview and dropped of my niece’s partner, I decide to check it all out: and, bugger, me if, apart from a few details, what he said was true.

The cigar shop is the Turmeaus Tobacconists and, in fact, apart from the Liverpool outlet, it has six others, four around Merseyside, on in Mayfair, London, and one — oddly — in Norfolk, according to its website in ‘the beautiful Norfolk countryside between Great Yarmouth and Norwich’ — well, why not, do townies really have to have all the cigar shops? The outlet in Liverpool was in the basement of the Albany Building in Old Hall St, and I went along to find out what was going on? And, dear reader, my niece’s partner’s account was true, well almost.

Turmeaus Tobacconists sell top-price cigars and a hell of a lot of them. To put it in context, the La Paz Wilde Cigarros smokes I buy online from Holland (and when I

am abroad, if I am abroad) though very nice and which suit me entirely, are cheap, machine-made shit compared to the Cuban and other high-end cigars Turmeaus sell. And being allowed to settle in and have a smoke? Well, yes, you can. And you can have a glass or two of whisky with your cigar if you wish. How come?

Well, I asked, and a very helpful Australian who manages the Liverpool outlet told me: they have a ‘sampling licence’ which allows prospective customers who want to buy a box of Cuban cigars (and who are, I should imagine, not short of a pound or two) to ‘sample’ the wares before they buy. Now writing that, the following occurs to me: I have long smoked cigars (though admittedly if not quite the cheap shit which in Britain are Hamlet and Castella, are still cheap shit compared to the smokes Turmeaus sells): surely ‘sampling’ implies ‘sampling’ several cigars to see which you would like to buy? But who in their right mind would smoke two, three, four cigars one after the other, not least bearing in mind that smoking one could, depending on its size, take you up to 30/40 minutes? Well, no one, I should imagine, but be that as it may.

There was quite a bit I wanted to know about cigars and so while being shown around by the manager in the cigar shop, I discovered that it isn’t true, as I had often thought and sometimes claimed, that the darker the cigar, the milder it is, and, conversely - well, I’m sure you are well ahead of me. And the ‘cheap shit’ I smoke - and thoroughly enjoy - is all machine made from tobacco sourced from several countries. And more too boot.

Having several hours to kill until my son’s interview was over, I decided to ‘sample’ a cigar and accompany it with a malt (and I know as little about malt whiskies as I do about cigars, though I do enjoy them). I told the manager that I preferred mild
cigars and asked him to recommend one, bearing in mind that I wasn’t a Rockefeller and could he point me in the direction of what I’m sure Asda (or Walmart) would call a ‘value range’. He did, and I choose a cigar — a ‘value range’ cigar — which cost just over £8. I could well have spent five times that sum on just one cigar (and perhaps bear in mind that a cappuccino at Starbucks will set you back at least £2.50, so don’t bundle me onto the tumbril and off to the guillotine quite yet).

So there you have it: my niece’s partner’s story was not cock and bull at all (though to be honest he would have no reason to spin a yarn, anyway). I sat in comfort for close an hour and enjoyed my cigar and a malt (and did get some crisps, although I didn’t eat any, a small but vital detail I’m sure you will appreciate). Pip, pip.

This entry might read like an advertorial but I can assure you it was not sponsored by Turmeaus. And just now, while concluding it, I thought I might treat myself to a trip to its shop in Shepherds Market at some point. Well, why not?