Friday, June 23, 2017

How many self-delusional bullshiters populate Mother Earth? Well, I’m hoping there will soon be one fewer

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I am about to dig myself a huge hole, and if I’m not careful I shall fall into it. And if I do, apart from possibly lying at the bottom of it for ever and a day - or until I die, whichever comes sooner - I shall also look very silly indeed. And even if you don’t know anything about it - which, or course, you won’t - I shall, and that will be shame enough for me.

Many, many years ago when I was about 15 or 16 I decided I was going to become ‘a writer’. And from then on I thought of myself as ‘a writer’ who happened to be doing other things, anything and everything, in fact, that is except actually ‘write’. Why?

Well, when I was about nine I had translated a long German poem into English. I can’t even remember what it was, but I wrote it out carefully and produced, using a needle and thread, a little booklet and one morning, I think on a Christmas Day I read out my translation to my family at breakfast. So far, so unimpressive and, I now know, so pretty usual.

Then, at school, I wrote a poem and showed it to Mr Hinds, an English teacher - I say ‘an’ because he wasn’t mine. Mine was Mr Walsh. But Mr Hinds, or Hinds was we called him, was far younger, and I possibly felt he would appreciate my poem rather more than Walsh, who was very ill and off sick for much of the time he took us for English (or, I suppose, didn’t take us for English).

I can’t remember exactly what Hinds said, but it was something along the lines of ‘very good effort, keep it up’. That is, he did what any paedagogue would do: he encouraged me. I, however, in that rather silly and self-absorbed way common to pretty much all adolescents, I decided he had told me something entirely different. Hinds, I believed, had told me that I was pretty much something of a literary genius and, in common with all literary geniuses, I had a brilliant future ahead of me. And so, as far as I was concerned, the die was cast.

It was, of course, entirely delusional.

That was - I am 68 in November - roughly 53 years ago, and, sad to report, this literary genius has produced almost nothing and, more to the point absolutely nothing at all which might allow him to be described as a literary genius.

What have I produced? Well, about five or six short stories, five or six poems, and two-and-a-half novels. If I were pretentious I could always claim that I have produce ‘two novels and a novella’, but to be frank at 67 I have rather less time left than I have at any point in my life and most certainly no time at all for pretension and, far more to the point, delusions. As an ‘output’ it is thoroughly pitiful, and as an ‘oeuvre’ fantastically non-existent. But that must change, if only for my self-respect, and, dear friends it will change.

. . .

It so happens that I ended up working for newspapers, as a reporter for six years, and then as a sub-editor (US copy editor) for a further 43 years, and still am working as a sub-editor. I could have retired in November 2015, but for very simple reasons - I enjoy my work, I enjoy the company of people I work with, the work is by no stretch of the imagination ‘hard’, I feel I am paid reasonably well and I enjoy spending half the week in London and half the week down here in Cornwall.

My career was by no means stellar, but if I gained one thing from working as a newspaper hack, especially as a sub-editor, it is that I am familiar with words and handling them. They don’t frighten me as I understand they frighten some. The example I always give is that if you and I were presented with a pile of bricks and a load of mortar and told to build a wall, that wall would be a pretty awful wall. But give those bricks and mortar to an experienced bricklayer, and a wall, a very good wall most probably, would take shape in no time. The bricklayer is used to working with bricks and mortar. We are not. But I am used to working with words and am not frightened by them. I don’t agonise over them.

But being able to put words down on paper with reasonable ease - pretty much all sub-editors acquire that gift - most certainly does not make you ‘a writer’. That is where I come up short for a chap who a lifetime ago persuaded himself he was ‘a writer’. I can’t tell a story, or at least I don’t think I can in the conventional sense. I can bullshit, most certainly, and let’s be clear, there’s a great deal of ‘bullshit’ in writing and even more broadly, art. And, let’s again be clear, that word ‘bullshit’ is unfair, what with its connotations of ‘bollocks’, ‘nonsense’, ‘dishonesty’ and I don’t know what else.

I would argue, in fact, I do argue, that in one way all art is a certain kind of legerdemain: from virtually nothing a writer, a musician, a painter, using only words, sound and pigment creates something over and above that jumble of words, sound and pigment with which we are presented. If nothing else he or she holds our attention for just a little longer than a less successful jumble of words, sound and pigment might achieve. But just as all Athenians are Greeks, not all bullshitters are writer. Not by a long chalk.

Here’s a second hurdle (as though ‘not being able to tell a story’ were not sufficiently discouraging): I am no great thinker. I am reasonably articulate (and I mention that because all too often folk just aren’t) and I have finally learned over the years not to go off at a tangent, to stick to my train of thought. But I am no great thinker.

On the other hand, I would again argue, nor is pretty much anyone else, and that might, for me, be a certain saving grace. So I don’t want to write novels about ‘how awful families are’, how badly - this is very modern and has won many a mediocre writer the attention of a publisher - we are ‘treating the environment’. To cut to the chase, I don’t at all want yet again to observe, as has been observed so often over the years, that water is wet, that all farts stink except our own and that you should never trust anyone, least of all yourself. All I now want to do is entertain.

. . .

I have learned one or two things about writing along the way, and I don’t just mean ‘writing’ as this blog is ‘writing’ or a committee report is ‘writing’, or that a manifesto or a PR handout is ‘writing’: I mean what - Christ I really do hate the word - is known as ‘creative’ writing. (NB There is only one - only one - response to anyone who, when asked that they would like to be,

‘ . . . and then in one bound he was free!

replies ‘I want to be creative’ and then waits for general approval and schmooze: tell them ‘well, fuck off and be creative’. That is by far the kindest thing you can do.)

I have learned this: writing is work. I know. I learned that by ‘writing’ my ‘two novels and one novella’. Both the novels took several months and the novella two weeks. But each time I followed the same routine: I sat down two or three times a week and wrote and didn’t get up again until a substantial amount had been written. Ironically, starting at a set time, telling yourself you are going to do nothing else but write for the next four or five hours makes it just a little easier. Odd, but true.

That brings me to the second thing I have learned (but which, frankly, I still forget): nothing you write has to be perfect from the off. In that first instance there doesn’t have to be any agonising over a word, a sentence, a paragraph. There is just one objective: to get it bloody down on paper. You then have all the time in the world to edit it, hone, it reshape it, rewrite it. Don’t ever kid yourself: unless you have signed contract and your publisher is waiting for your manuscript, no on, but no one give a flying fuck about ‘your novel’, except you. But unless you first get something down on paper, you are pissing in the wind or, to revert to my personal them, deluding yourself.

Related to that is another truth: don’t talk about it, do it. The more you talk about it, the less likely you are to do it. And you nor do you have to throw it all up and head of for that Greek island ‘to write my novel’. If you can’t find the time and discipline now to do it, you’re never going to do it and you most certainly won’t find it there.

Finally, think. Don’t write that sentence on paper, write it in your head first. As I say, you can always rewrite it later.

. . .

So where, you might - or might not - be asking is this hole I am digging for myself? Well, here I go: our cottage is an old and quite small granite building which, I’m told, was built in the 16th century as a small farmhouse. And outside it is a tiny granite building, about 12ft by 8ft which, when I first arrived here was derelict. It was then rebuilt by my brother-in-law David into a small playhouse for my daughter (The posh word is renovate, but David rebuilt it). It has power and a neon light, and although the building is 12ft by about 8ft, inside is even smaller.

When she and my son were young, they used it to play in, but for these past ten years after they got older and became less interested in Lego and dolls, it became used to store all the shite which could not be stored in the cottage (and there was and is a lot of shite - my wife, a farmer’s daughter, hoards everything). For these past four or five years I have been hatching a plan and two weeks ago, that plan began to take shape.

First of all I got rid of all the shite, and for these past few days I have been vacuuming the carpet (it had a carpet) and wiping down windows and the walls. Next week I shall freshen up the walls with two coats of matt white paint and then I shall build for myself a den, a hideaway.

This is the plan, or pitfall if you like - I shall at some point in the next few months crack the whip and start my routine: get in there by 9am every morning to write and stay there for at least four hours. Every day. No excuses. Work. It has to be work. It will be work. What will be done, what I might produce, the good Lord knows, but at the very least I shall finally put my money where my mouth is and do my very best to convince myself that I am not just another of life’s self-delusional bullshitters.

I shan’t go in with no ideas at all. Christ I have several ideas if not more, but ideas count for nothing: they have to become words on paper (so to speak). Somerset Maugham used to do it, tuck himself away in his top-floor eyrie with a view of the sea at his Villa La Mauresque and write, whether or not he was inspired. He, modestly, described himself as - I paraphrase - first among the second rate. Well, even if I only become fifth among the fourth rate, at least I shall know when I finally breath my last that this gadabout, this self-delusional charlatan, this complete wanker at least after all these years he tried.

. . .

The best thing about it all is that of one thing I am certain: when I put my mind to something . . .

Sunday, June 11, 2017

In which I descend to thoroughly trivial matters, including the farce which British politics has become in a matter of 24 hours

To be honest, the only reason I am writing this entry is that I was about to revert the ‘Election Special’, photo above for the original artwork, but I can’t: I made a copy of it and saved it to one of my many other laptops (and you think I’m joking: I still have nine, for no very good reason, obviously), but that one, the one I usually use and which is pretty much permanently at home in Cornwall in the kitchen, is as I write about 240 miles away (if you take the A303) or 260 miles away (if you take the M4 and M5).

But tonight, a Sunday night after my single shift at work, I am in London, sitting outside the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington (motto: No Price Too Steep, But We Know You All Have Cash To Burn), writing on one of two small, but rather neat 11in Lenovo x121e(s). And I’ve just decided that in keeping with the utterly mundane, not to say thoroughly trivial, nature of this entry, I shall add a little more domestic detail (and replace the photo above when I am home again on Thursday).

I was here last Sunday evening, and drank two large glasses of house red. I then drank another, small, glass at La Pappardella around the corner from my brother’s flat in Earls Court where I put my head down. And as is the way of these things, I didn’t then get to sleep until almost 3.30am, watching I don’t know what, so when I woke – early as is the way when you go to bed late – I was feeling distinctly grotty and was bloody tired all day, a double shift. That probably contributed to it. What’s ‘it’? Well, hang on and I’ll tell you.

While at work, deciding what to have for lunch or supper, depending upon whether I eat lunch or supper is always a conundrum. The canteen food is usually pretty rough, and I am getting sick of my usual tuna salad/chicken salad from Pret A Manger in the Tube station. The thing is that I have long ago pretty much knocked bread, pizza and pasta – in fact any other wheat-based on the head, so sandwiches are out. It’s not a health fad or anything like that, it’s just that I find that since I’ve stopped eating wheat (within reason – it’s not an all or nothing thing), I feel less bloated, get less hungry and have lost a small, but distinct rim of flab around my tummy.

But last Sunday, and I gave in and bought two rustic rolls from Marks & Spencer just down the road and crucially a slab of brie. (I warned you this entry would be remorselessly trivial. By all means go and find something better to do, I really shan’t be upset.)

I had one of the rolls and a third of the brie at about three, then the second roll and some more brie at about 8pm. And that’s when it started – yes, that ‘it’. To begin with I seemed to have a belly full of trapped air, but the instinctive action of swallowing even more to build up pressure to release what was already there simply made it all worse. This went on for some time – swallowing air, trying to burp, not managing to, swallowing more air, feeling even fuller, trying again to burp – until about an hour later I began to feel sick.

Now, I’m sure pretty much everyone hear has been through it: you know in your bones you are will sooner or later throw up. At first you ignore it. Then you realise you can’t ignore it. Finally, with minutes to go, you rush to the nearest WC and, with seconds to spare, spew up everything in your stomach. As a rule, you retch several times, until your stomach is clear. And once your stomach is clear, you wretch again, pretty much bringing up nothing. But at least you feel better.

That’s what happened, and I did feel a bit better, though still very tired from the night before. I am usually due off at 10pm, but managed to get off a few minutes earlier, caught a convenient bus, and was at my brother’s within 20 minutes (for someone who works in London, I live very, very close, thank the Lord). There’s was no listening to the ten o’clock news that night or watching something inconsequential on Amazon or Netflix, it was just out with the light and heads down. And for a few brief minutes, knowing that I had a full ten hours of sleep ahead of me, I was in heaven.

The trouble was that just minutes later I began to suffer from stomach cramps. I turned sides, lay on my back, lay on my tummy, went back on my back turned again, but could I get rid of the cramps and could I get to sleep? Could I buggery. And this went on hour by hour (I kept checking my watch) until just before 4am I once again got that feeling – I knew – I was about to throw up. But I’ve nothing left in my stomach, I thought.

Well, my stomach didn’t seem to know, and it was another rush downstairs to my brother’s WC and once again I was (as the Aussies, who always have an apt phrase for most things, say)
talking to God on the great white telephone. And Lord did I throw up quite a bit. Where it came from I really don’t know and cared even less. Then the cramps faded, but my limbs, every single one of them, ached and ached and ached, the kind of ache you have when you have the ‘flu, and I don’t mean man flu, which is nothing but a bad cold, I mean the real flu.

My mind was pretty much made up that I didn’t want to be anywhere, but anywhere, but home in Cornwall in my own bed. Bugger work, bugger everything. The trouble was it is a drive of between four and four and a half hours and a journey I am increasingly beginning to dislike. Work was out – I wanted to do nothing but stay in bed – but the decision was whether to spend the day in London or bite the bullet and drive to Cornwall. I drove to Cornwall.

I texted my boss and the colleague with whom I was due to be working that I was making myself scarce and took off just before 7am. I was home by midday, after taking it slowly, and went straight to bed and stayed there for two days. I got up last Thursday only because I was due to drop off my car at the garage for a bit of work and to vote. Then it was back to bed. I didn’t really feel myself until yesterday. What was ‘it’? I really don’t know. And I really don’t care. At least ‘it’s’ over.

. . .

If you were to sit down with several imaginative scriptwriters and write a political farce, you could not do better than come up with the current political scenario here in Britain. I rather like politics and have been listening to and watching pretty much all the political programes on  radio and TV, and there is - obviously - just one topic: the total disaster of her own making the prime minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party find themselves in. From pretty much every angle the woman is, to use a word with which I’m sure most of you are familiar, fucked. Truly and utterly fucked. And I must repeat in case the point somehow gets lost:  it was all of her own making.

The Brits being the Brits, pretty much everyone except dyed-in-the-wool Tories are laughing their socks off. I know I am. And it does sound like a farce: The Tories ‘won’ the election, but, in fact, in the real world they have lost it. They had a majority of 17, now they don’t have a majority at all and if they want to hang on to power, their only solution is to throw in their lot with a gang of ten Protestant cutthroats from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and rely on their votes to survive each and every House of Commons vote.

Because the DUP is holding every trump card in the pack, their price for cooperation will be high. This lovely gang of thugs oppose same-sex marriage, denounce homosexuality as an abomination, want abortion banned throughout the United Kingdom and have close, though tacit, links with Loyalist paramilitaries. And they are the only friends May now has – she has absolutely none in her own party which is livid with her beyong description.

On paper Labour ‘lost’ the election, but in the topsy-turvy and highly amusing world which is British politics, they pretty much won. Corbyn, the ‘friend of terrorists’, the unelectable Commie-rat leader

(our press assure us) proved exceptionally popular with many voters, to the extent that Labour gained 60-odd seats. Even my plummy-voiced stepmother says she voted Labour. (I voted for a chap representing the ‘Socialist Labour Party’ in North Cornwall. It’s not that I support him, but I couldn’t bring myself to voting for the Tories, the Lib Dems or Labour, and he and some guy from the People’s Christian Alliance, another homophobe, were the only other two options. As I didn’t want to waste my vote, the Socialist Labour Party bod got it. And he got 197 other votes out of something like 45,000.)

The result in Scotland also proved to be a hoot. Whereas two years ago the Scottish Nationalist Party swept the board and hoovered up all but two of the 50-odd seats in Scotland, this time around they lost ten to the Scottish Tories. And Labour grabbed one or two back, as did a sole Lib Dem. I am hazy on all the details, but overall they lost about 20 seats, which pretty much puts paid to a second independence referendum for a decade or two.

. . .

Does any of this matter (apart from the entertainment value)? Well, I suppose it does. May, who has shown herself to have an ego well out of proportion to any talents she might possess, is due to sit down in eight days’ time to spend the next two years hammering out Britain’s divorce deal with the EU. And she hasn’t got a leg to stand on. Not one. But it gets a lot worse: although the Tories now want nothing more than to get rid of her, they can’t.

It’s not that there isn’t any number of Tory politicos who would love the job – and one in particular, that arch-buffoon Alexander Boris ‘Boris’ de Pfeffel Johnson – but who in their right mind wants to take on the job – for which read the impossible task – of getting even a half-decent settlement with the EU. So May, who I should imagine would now prefer nothing better now than crawling into some obscure hole somewhere and forgetting everything, has no choice but to carry on.

There’s a lot of brave talk from Labour about May ‘standing aside/standing down’ and allowing them to cobble together a government, but it’s not going to happen: even with the support of the Lib Dems – who aren’t at all keen – and the Greens, they still couldn’t make up the parliamentary numbers.

Finally, no one but no one wants yet another election. We, Brenda of Bristol and the rest of us have had two general elections and a referendum in two years and that is it: we don’t want one. And the final irony is that even if there were one, it would well end up just as inconclusive as the one last Thursday.

. . .

The EU, of course, is also laughing its socks off. Just like the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland although in a different context, they hold every trump card in the book. And it’s all very well, as May once trumpeted ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but it simply isn’t. We need a deal, even a bad deal. And whichever way you spin it that is all we are going to get.

This latter part was written after Fiona ‘Fi’ and ‘I don’t want to give my name’, her friend came to sit at the table next to me, but I know it is Gillian. They are American visitors (I think. Later: no they weren’t, they were Irish, though one lived in Canada for a while. We were later joined by Clark, an Australian) and have been celebrating something or other for a few hours in the company of booze (it would seem). I mention it only because I said I would mention it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How to look very, very silly in one easy step: call an election and lose your majority when no election was ever necessary. Narcissism helps as does a smug belief in your own infallibility. And the curious case of that nasty ’ol crypto-Communist stinky old Trot Corbyn who isn’t quite as hated by the ‘middle-class’ as some would have you believe

As I’m sure all reading this entry will know, there are many, many ways of making yourself look very stupid, but of those many ways, some are open to only a few. For example, only someone like Donald Trump can get himself elected as the President of the United States, then comprehensively alienate pretty much everyone and anyone who crosses his path and end up, within just five months of his inauguration look like the biggest dick on the planet. But as this blog entry is an ‘Election Special’, it will restrict itself to ways available to those involved in yesterday’s general election Trump faces a strong challenge for that position from (despite her gender) on Theresa Mary May.

Just under a year ago, May found herself as Prime Minister of Britain, and for someone who has latterly proved herself to be something of a narcissist, it will have been one of her biggest

and ;bestest dreams come true. Fancy! A modest vicar’s daughter from rural Oxfordshire now running one of the world’s leading nations (subs please check).

It came about in an odd kind of way: the Tories then leader, and a rich old Etonian called David William Donald Cameron, who in hindsight was rather less politically astute than he was smooth and suave, felt that the only way to deal with the irritation of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) snapping at his heels was to call their bluff.

UKIP had been banging on about Britain leaving the European Union almost since the dawn of time and though still insignificant in electoral terms, the party was gaining supporters for what came to be known as Brexit. Cameron knew that a large number of his own Conservative MPs were also keen on Brexit - indeed two of them did defect to UKIP - so he announced that the matter of wether or not Britain should leave the EU would be put to a referendum.

We know how that one ended, though the smart money was on Britain remaining (and when visiting Germany for my brother-in-law’s 60 birthday party I smugly assured everyone who asked what the outcome would be that Brexit was laughably impossible. Never in a million years, squire. Mark my words. Don’t even think of it, s’not going to happen). Cameron resigned.

There was then an unholy scramble for the leadership of the party, which was pretty much a farce in itself. One would-be candidate, Andrea Jacqueline Lucretia Leadsom, touted her suitability for the post by citing her wide-ranging City of London experience. It turned out that said experience was rather less wide-ranging than touted and had mainly consisted of counting the paperclips at Barclays bank HQ when the office junior was off sick.

Another would-be candidate, Michael Andrew Lucifer Gove, at first announced he wasn’t at all interested in standing and would support another candidate, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson - known in Old Blighty as ‘Boris’ or ‘That Twat’ - only to about-turn and do the dirty on Johnson by declaring his own candidacy. Both got short-shrift from those electing the leader.

That’s when May got her look-in: cannily - or perhaps sneakily - she had kept her head very low during the campaigning for and against Brexit and was not identified with either side. The assumption was that she was a Remainer, but . . .

Then, come Cameron’s resignation and the subsequent farce that was the Tory leadership election, she was appointed, or as she would probably liked to see it, crowned. There was no election as all the other candidates, having sooner rather than later been revealed as nine bob notes of the basest kind, May just breezed in.

At first there was rejoicing: May was somehow seen to be a strong, no-nonsense leader who knew what she was doing: wasn’t it she, who, as Home Secretary, bravely stood in front of row upon row of coppers at a Police Federation conference and told them what a gang of overpaid and underworked sods they were? Indeed it was. Full marks to May the call rang through the land. As the newly appointed leader of the Conservative Party and thus as the new Prime

Minister her first appointments caused some consternation, especially that of Boris Johnson as her Foreign Secretary.

At the time this was seen as a Machiavellian masterstroke: ‘You, Boris,’ she seemed to be saying as she passed him the poisoned chalice ‘were all in favour of Brexit, so now it is up to you to deliver’. The appointments of two other possible leadership rivals, David Davis and ‘Dr’ Liam Fox, to work with Johnson on Brexit were seen in the same light: if they cocked up, the fault would be theirs and she would be well in the clear.

Well, that was then. May performed reasonably well at the Dispatch Box, making any number of laboured and unfunny jokes as is the way of rather too many politicians and seemed to be establishing herself in the public mind as someone who knew what she was doing. Well, now it seems she didn’t and doesn’t have a clue, and the disaster which Brexit always seemed to threaten the UK with looks as though it will be even worse. Whenever asked what her strategy would be during the Brexit talks, May put on her best Mystic Meg face and would whisper ‘wait and see’. The suspicion is now that she wasn’t keeping her cards close to her chest, but that she didn’t and doesn’t have any cards at all.

. . .

Five weeks ago, after repeatedly assuring to country that she would not call a snap election, she called a snap election. Her thinking was probably that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was such a useless prat - two-thirds of his own MPs voted against him in a vote of confidence a few months ago - that she would walk it. She already had a slim, but workable House of Commons majority of 17, but as soon as called the election and presented the country with the choice between herself and the ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn, the word went out that ‘this will be a Tory landslide’. The polls will have encourage her, putting her apparently 20 points ahead of Labour. And then, over the past five weeks, it all began to unravel.

For one thing she decided (and I gather from the election coverage I was watching last night that she surrounds herself with a very small, tight group of advisors) to put herself at the centre of her election campaign: the message on posters and the leaflets of Tory candidates up and down the land was ‘Back Theresa May for strong and stable government’. There was almost no mention of the Tory party, something which did not go down well with many Tory grandees. Then there was the ‘dementia tax’.

To be frank, I am rather unclear on what went wrong here, except that some policy May put forward about how the government would recoup money spent on care in old age went down like a lead balloon, and once it was dubbed by some smartarse newspaper sub-editor as ‘the dementia tax’, it was pretty much curtains for that policy. So after barely a few days it was ditched. Wrong! Ditching a policy so soon is seen as real weakness, and when a would-be leader likes to show themselves off as ‘strong and stable’ but in the event proves to be ‘weak and wobbly’ (as inevitably May was described) you have lost badly.

The matter of the ‘leaders’ debate on TV and radio also helpt to cook May’s goose: both she and the Labour leader Corbyn at first said they would not be taking part. But at the very last moment Corbyn smartly about-turned and declared he would be taking part after all. It was a great move and utterly wrong-footed May. She should have also agreed to change her mind and appear, but she didn’t, and her absence really damaged her. It’s odd how such seemingly small points can do so much harm in politics.

Last night showed just how much harm can be done to a politician in just a matter of weeks. May had a majority in the Commons, now she has none. The ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn managed to gain quite a few seats and will be a much more confident Opposition leader. The Lib Dems, still banging along the bottom where they always have been these past 70 years except for the recent coalition blip, gained a seat or two.

Remarkably, in Scotland the Tories gained several seats from the Scottish Nationalist Party, but it is generally agreed that that is down to hard and good work from one Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tories and bugger all to do with May. (The SNP also lost a few seats to Labour, which makes the much heralded second independence referendum look even more like pie in the sky than ever before).

And there you have it: from a position of reasonable strength, May has painted herself into a corner where, to be honest, there is nothing to comfort her. Blame it on narcissism.

. . .

Incidentally, the curious though undoubtedly popular rise of Labour leader The Honourable Jeremy Bernard Rutherford Smyth-Corbyn, to give him his full name, is interesting in itself and might be worth an entry of its own right.

This is a man who could not command the respect and loyalty of his own MPs but who not once but twice was elected leader by a poll of Labour Party members. The second election took place after he lost by two-thirds a vote of confidence by his MPs and put himself up for election again. In one sense, although the description is curiously unfair, Corbyn is a strange fish.

He is pretty universally seen by the unbiased as a ‘decent sort of man’, and there can be fewer doubts about his integrity than about, say, those of Boris Johnson - fiendishly ambitious - and Michael Gove - also fiendishly ambitious, although now something of a non-player. He is apparently a man of courage, viz going for re-election as outlined above when his own MPs had largely turned against him when he need not necessarily have done so.

For many he talks a lot of sense: does Britain really need its own nuclear deterrent, he asks, and many reply ‘well, probably not’ (although that debate is rather more complex than the usual

‘cancel Trident and build loads and loads and loads and loads of allotments for immigrant schoolchildren’). And his railing against the ludicrous salaries enjoyed by a small elite in Britain, especially in the financial sector, also finds a great deal of support.

Yet can he be seen as a future Prime Minister of Britain? Would he really be tough enough when in a no-holds barred fight for survival in the now inevitable EU divorce proceedings? Would he, as the Tories suggest, be eaten alive in trade negotiations with China and the US? Who knows?

But what is indisputable is that he has defied all the naysayers and proved himself to be ever more popular. If I were a Tory leader, I would take careful note of what he is suggesting. I don’t mean a cynical ‘let’s grab his policies ’cos that’s what the punters want to hear’ but ‘this man is getting a response from many non-Labour voters as Labour supporters and perhaps we should find out why’.
. . .

NB Shortly after the election was called and, being 20 points in the lead, May was said to be in line for a ‘Tory landslide’, I thought to myself ‘ho hum, not so fast’. I went to on the Ladbrokes websites (other bookies are available) to check the odds on a hung parliament: 5/1. That’ll do me, I thought, and punted a tenner. I’m no £50 better off. And it’s about to go to my head.

Pip, pip.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

You want an election promise? I’ll give you an election promise: Jam tomorrow!

Well, it’s election day in Britain tomorrow, and a bloody odd election campaign it has been. We usually have just three weeks of campaigning once the government of the day has called a general election, but this time it has been seven. At the time the British prime minister, the Conservative leader Theresa May, had what looked like an unassailable lead in the polls and it was predicted she would have a landslide. That lead has now diminished to if some polls are to be believed, just one point ahead of Labour.

Theresa May looked like winning by a landslide and the long, long predicted demise of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - who a few months ago even lost a no-confidence vote by his MPs with more than two-thirds of them declaring he was a complete no-hoper, but who then went on convincingly to gain the backing of party members in a leadership election - looked imminent. It all looks very different now.

The oddest people, who normally see themselves as Tories are saying things like ‘well, I have to say that that Corbyn does say some good things’. And May who seemed so unassailable has shown herself to have feet of some of the hardest clay known to man. It didn’t help that she decided to become the centre of the Conservative election campaign which was centred around how ‘strong and stable’ she was and how chaotic Labour and the other opposing parties looked. Her line was that ‘she’ was up for re-election, not the Tories, and that tack even pissed of many Conservatives - personality cults don’t go down well in Old Blighty.

It all began to come unstuck for May when she announced something along the lines of ‘old people won’t be charged for their care until after they die’, which, as many pointed out, seemed to imply that once they had die, the state would swoop in and hoover up as many of their assets as it could. It only needed some astute sub-editor somewhere to label such a measure as a ‘dementia tax’ and the policy was a dead in the water and a surefire vote loser. And don’t you know it just four days later May abandoned it. ‘Strong and stable’ folk began to ask themselves. How about ‘weak and wobbly’. And as image is all, May just hasn’t recovered.

As for Corbyn, it is now almost a cliche to remark what a dead nice chap he is and what sensible things he says, and if he wasn’t actually the leader of the left-wing ruffians, why, one might even consider bringing oneself to vote for him. As it is the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have gone for the jugular on front page after front page, trying to make him out to be a ‘friend of terrorists’. And they are, of course, slavishly in favour of May despite here persistent wobbling. Oddly, enough - or possibly not at all oddly enough - the Mail’s former stablemate, but still it’s office mate at Northcliffe Towers in Kensington, the Evening Standard is rather viciously anti-May. Well, there’s an strange thing, you might think, but it ain’t that strange after all.

Here are two good examples of the Mail’s style. The irony is that for all the huffing and puffing and viciousness, they are preaching to the converted (and the same is true of the Guardian, although on the other wing).

You see when David Cameron resigned after what can now only be called the Brexit referendum disaster, so did his Chancellor George Osborne. And then to great surprised from hacks throughout the country Osborne was appointed the new editor of the Evening Standard. Needless to say he has no journalistic experience at all, although the nature of his job doesn’t really demand any if, as is very likely, he his safely surrounded by professionals who know their job.

The general wisdom is that, like Blair and Brown - though without the rancour and eventual utter mutual loathing - the idea was that Cameron would be PM for a while, then Osborne would take over and take his turn in the cockpit. What larks, eh? But the Brexit vote saw to that. So the general wisdom has shifted to declaring that Osborne his using his editorship of the Standard to take well-aimed potshots at May in the hope that she will sooner or later fail and he can ride in to rescue the Conservative Party. Well, I personally think there’s little hope of that. The Tories don’t like a snitch and a snitch is what he will look like.

Apart from that, the election campaign has been surprisingly low-key. I’ve known far livelier elections. I have agreed with my stepmother to stay up tomorrow night and watch as the results roll in, which isn’t usually until after 2pm, four hours after the polls close, by which time we shall have had our fill of rambling, sonorous political analysis, most of which will be shown to be garbage by the end of the night, but then most of which will also be comprehensively forgotten by the end of the night. Sometimes you get a laugh or two when some politico or other makes a gaffe, and if you can stay the course, it all gets very rough around the edges by about 5/6am when people are well and truly flagging and have run out of cliches.

The last time, in 2015, there was great excitement early on when against all expectations - the polls were predicting a hung parliament - a slim Tory majority was predicted by the exit polls. In the event it wasn’t even as slim as the prediction. Interestingly, I heard on the radio a few days ago that at the last elections and then the 2016 Brexit vote, although the bookmakers were predicting a hung parliament and that Britain would remain in the EU, their wrong predictions were necessarily their fault. All they were doing was recording how much money had been wagered on different outcomes. And it seemed that although in total more money had been wagered on those two results, more but lower value bets had been placed on what proved to be the final results. Bear that in mind tomorrow. Or not.

Pip, Pip

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Conversation is great. Call it communication if you are so inclined, but I just see it as talking to someone else. And if you have lost a parent, cry. And do it now if you have never done it before. As for breaking up with girlfriends (as a guy or a gal) or boyfriends (as a gal or a guy), think carefully

Nothing much really, except general shite, but after two or three gins - not half as stiff as I used to make and drink them - and sitting outside in the garden of my stepmother’s house, I just feel like jabbering. NB Strictly speaking not. This was written on Thursday afternoon/early evening, but I am completing it on Sunday, June 4, sitting outside the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington, West London, after work. Why I add that – why I can even be bothered to add that, I really don’t know. But, as you see, I have.

I gave the crucifix I had bought in one of the bazaars in the Old City in Jerusalem to my stepmother, and she is very pleased with it. For me it is just another piece of sentimental religious tat. For her, an 80-year-old Irishwoman (though one born in Bodmin, Cornwall, to Irish parents) it is far more than that. I very dimly, from my ‘cradle Catholic’ childhood, recollect how such things as ‘a crucifix from Jerusalem/the Holy Land’ might have significance. These days for this quasi-liberal, 67-year-old ageing semi-cynical newspaper hack it has less significance than a stick of Blackpool rock. For her, it is different, and she was delighted; and it is enlightening to reflect on that difference: who is right? Well, neither of us and both of us, of course.

Coincidentally, when I arrived here this afternoon to give her the crucifix and show her the pictures I had taken on my short trip to - forgive me, but I can’t resist the inverted commas - ‘the Holy Land’, she was watching a TV documentary about Jerusalem. And just as I walked in, the presenter was talking to Roman Catholic pilgrims (quite possibly just yards away from where I might have bought the crucifix for 200 shekels, although at the end of the day I found one for just 25 shekels) about their experience. They were over the Moon, simply overwhelmed by the experience of walking down the Via Dolorosa (down which Jesus is said to have dragged his cross to Calvary).

Me, who most probably walked on the same cobblestones, it was just being another tourist in a well-known place, a place where Muslim, Jewish and Christian stallholders sell all kinds of goods to visitors, goods which include the kind of thing I describe as ‘Christian tat’. Who is right? Undoubtedly, those devout pilgrims would be appalled by my cynicism, but . . . Who is right? Neither of us, of course, and both of us. Now there’s something to ponder on.

A few minutes later, the presenter took us, the TV viewer into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and said - I paraphrase, of course - when visiting the spot where Jesus is said to have been entombed after his crucifixion and where he is said to have come alive again, that he was overwhelmed by the experience. I don’t think he said his skin was tingling, but he might well have done. Me? I didn’t actually bother going in.

For one thing the queue of devout Christian pilgrims was long and for another - well, it really means nothing for me. The spot, he said, was pretty much ‘the holy of holies’ for Christians the world over. For me, it was just another ‘holy’ spot for one of the world’s faiths. Who is right? Again, neither of us and both of us: faith is so utterly personal that there can be no objective judgment. All I shall say is that although I share not one jot of their faith and beliefs, I wish them all well.

The same can be said of the Western Wall, the ‘Wailing Wall’, the last surviving part of the temple in Jesus’s time after its destruction by the Romans in Ad60. I went there, I touched the wall myself, surrounded by devout Jews all saying their prayer, but felt nothing. My lack, my shortcoming and their devotion? Their gullibility and my savvy? Well, neither, of course, and both. But I won’t ramble on because I think I’ve made my point.
< br />The point of this entry is that there is none, there is no difference, at least there is no objective difference.

. . .

This afternoon, my stepmother, Jill (her friend, former carer and tenant) and I have been sitting outside supping gins. And whenever I sup a gin or a cider or a glass of wine I tend to remember things, things occur to me and want to write in this blog. As I have said more than once, this isn’t really a blog in which I record important things, but more of a commonplace book cum diary, somewhere to record whatever triviality crosses my mind. time and again, walking down the street, at work, lying in bed or wherever I might be, something occurs to me and I think ‘must put that in my blog’. And I invariably do not, for one reason or another.

For one thing there’s the niggling suspicion that it’s just a tad too self-important to imagine that anyone could be interested in what I have to say when all folk – and mean all - have their own thoughts and preoccupations. And their own lives and problems (although I should say – touch wood – that I am unaware of any potential problems in my life. But still, the point of this, at the end of the day, is not to pass on anything, to inform in any way, but simply to blather without fear of retribution. Still, you are here reading this, so what the hell.

I met one or two people and fell into conversation with three or four people in Israel as I am the chatty sort, but the one conversation which sticks out was with a young Israeli in Jaffa. He was 22 and originally from Russia, but had lived in Israel since he was 7. It was a short chat about this and that earlier on – I was surprised at how good his English was and he spoke with an American accent that I asked him whether he was an American.

An hour or two later, when his shift finished (he was waiting on tables at the Bell Café in the touristy port part of Jaffa, he stopped off again, I can’t remember why and we began chatting again, and that ‘chat’ went on to last for several hours. He told me quite a bit about himself and his plans and what he wanted to do, and I will have told him a lot about myself, though being - he was 22 and I am 67 and thus 55 years older - we both had a slightly different perspective on things. He was an interesting guy, especially because he reminded me of myself 55 years ago, but young, as I was then young. Talking to him, as I told him, was like talking to my son or rather a son.

My son is 18 and we have a very good relationship, but I was able to tell Vladimir (for that was his name) things I might have been more cautious about telling my son. Vladimir knows of this blog and for all I know might well read this entry, especially as I emailed him the URL, and if he is reading this I must reassure him that I shall betray no confidences or tell any tales out of school, but there is one thing I shall pass on, not for his sake but for anyone and everyone who has been in the same situation. Among a very, very wide-ranging conversation – I asked him about life in Russia under Putin or what he could remember about it, life in Israel, what the general feeling was about the ‘Israel/Palestinian conflict’, films (I recommended some, he recommended some) music blah, blah – he mentioned that his father had died five years earlier.

His mother was, in fact, his father’s second wife and he had step-siblings with whom he got on reasonably well. How the conversation got around to it, I don’t know, but I asked him whether he had cried when his father died. He said he hadn’t, but I immediately sensed that he really had not come to terms with his father’s death. I can relate to that.

Thirty-six years ago when I was staying at home for a week to do some shifts on The Sun, I walked into my mother’s room, concerned that there had been no sound from her after I had risen and been making quite a bit of noise in the kitchen, and found her dead. At the time and for several years after that I thought I had taken it in my stride. But I hadn’t. I had simply tucked it away and – this has been a habit of mine to overcome difficulties, upsets and problems – I made myself ‘not care’. Well, that is a stupid thing to do. So I told him – perhaps tactlessly, perhaps usefully – that when he got home that night he should talk to his mother about his father and his father’s death and cry. Let it all out. I don’t know whether he did or not, but I’m glad I told him that.

With me the chickens came home to roost about two years later when I broke up with a girlfriend. Actually, I did not want to. At the time I assumed – stupidly – that she ‘was the one’, that we would end up together and, I supposed, eventually marry. In fact, I was so convinced of that that I thought she would resist being dumped. Sadly, she didn’t. In fact, I now realise that she was rather relieved to be shot of me. And – I remember the occasion even now: we were sitting in a wine bar in Birmingham – within minutes I realised my stupidity. And – here I might sound quite dramatic, but this is what is seemed like – there was something like a nuclear explosion in my head and everything, but everything seemed to disintegrate. From that moment on and for several years after that, I quite literally, not think straight. And life was hell.

It wasn’t the usual break-up scenario, and I now realise my mental collapse, if that isn’t overegging the pudding, which went on for a long, long time afterwards, had little to do with breaking up with the girl (well, woman, her name was Sian) but my grief over my mother’s death and the suddenness of it all finally emerging. And boy did it emerge. But I must admit that what I have just written and my realisation of it all did not come to me for many years. Many.

These days and since they were very young, I have tried to teach my two children, now 18 and almost 21: don’t bottle things up! Let it out! Acknowledge what is troubling you. Now, quite obviously neither Wesley, the 18-year-old, and Elsie, the almost 21-year-old are their own people. They are not carbon copies of me and have their own personalities, their own strengths and their own failings. And along those lines I must repeat what you ars sure to know if you are a parent, and must understand if you are not but still hope to be, that quite possibly the hardest thing about being a father or mother is letting go, accepting without reservation that your ‘young ones’, those delightful little babies, toddlers, young children, not so young children, teenagers and then young adults are breaking free and, crucially, need you less and less.

Perhaps that is why – no, in fact, that is why - I was pleased to talk to Vladimir. It wasn’t that I could pick his brains about Israel and the Russia he knew. It was simply because I could speak to him as I would a child of mine, tell him the truth as I saw it, help him a little along his way, and just as I get more pleasure from giving presents than getting them (some of us do, believe it or not) it wasn’t an ego trip of any kid, a wise owl passing on advice. It was simply just helping another soul in this world.

. . .

This has become a long entry. I note, from the little tab at the bottom of my Office Word app page, that I have so far written as of now 2,080. But I can’t leave it and post this entry without adding one more thing. Yesterday, still at home in Cornwall, I was in our kitchen playing my guitar (I’m trying to be a little more disciplined about it to make a little more progress. I don’t at all doubt that were I to play for some folk, they might think ‘ah, he’s quite good’.

Well, take it from me, no I’m not. I could be better, but it entails far more discipline. Anyway, for some reason I found myself humming the theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the choral movement. So, my iPhone to hand, I decided to play it. And within minutes I was almost in tears – almost because I stopped myself: what would anyone think if, at 11am in the morning, they came into the kitchen and found me ‘in tears’? Nutter? Probably.

The point is that the whole movement, which leads up the glorious Oh Freunde, nicht diese Töne! gets right deep, deep, deep to the heart of me. It gets to the idealist in me, the man who wishes the world well. And that, perhaps is why I come across – or more truthfully try to come across – as cynical. It’s that old ploy I used when my mother and father used to argue and bitch at each other and I hated it: I pretended, very successfully, it has to be said, that ‘I didn’t care’. So one last thing: if you meet a cynic, know one thing: this is merely a man (woman can also be cynical but for very different reasons) who simply hasn’t the moral backbone to stay true to his idealism.

. . .
Just for the craic: this is the scene from the Scarsdale Tavern tonight as I write. My laptop and where I am sitting is at the bottom left.

And just a few more pics. The bird, the chairs and shadows was taken in Israel. The bench is in St Breward.

... and just now (a little later).