Thursday, November 30, 2017

Susan’s funeral and her husband’s sense of humour and ‘an aesthetic approach to politics’

A funeral today and my birthday (this entry was started on November 21). There is no particular connection and most certainly no meaningful connection, but I thought I would mention my birthday anyway: 68 and never been kissed, or at least as far as I am concerned not been kissed enough. I should like to do some more kissing, and as for the other, well, however the desire is, the flesh, as other gents of my age and older will agree, gets weaker. Sod it, but there’s no pretending.

The funeral was that of Susan Wharton, nee Moller, a devout Roman Catholic and a lovely woman. I wrote of her death a week or two ago, but I shall repeat that she was one of the nicest and most interesting people I have known. RIP Sue. Her funeral mass, attended by family, friends and members of her church community, was at St Teresa’s, Princes Risborough.

Afterwards, as is customary, there was what the Irish call a wake and the rest of us call a buffet, booze and tea or coffee for those who had arrived by car and intended to depart by car and who didn’t want to risk death or, worse, being nabbed for drink/driving on the journey home. Sadly, I am not one of that wisest of wise groups and enjoyed several glasses of house red wine.

The funeral mass was pretty much as all other funeral masses are, and I can’t really add much detail. Once again as at the wedding of my nephew in Cologne several weeks ago when mass was also celebrated I didn’t – I won’t say couldn’t, just didn’t – take part in any of the liturgy. I’m afraid I and the Roman Catholic church have long since parted company. Susan’s cousin David Moller gave a eulogy, again stressing just what a kind and unassuming women Sue was, and although that kind of thing is par for the course, it was still good to hear, especially as it was so true.

Sue put herself out for others and of how many of our family, friends and acquaintances can we say that we do that? But what did strike me as remarkable (in as far as I am going to remark on it) was that her late husband Michael also featured, quite prominently in that eulogy. And ironically this entry will largely be about Michael, but also his extended family. The irony is furthered in that it must surely be a real pain for some women that they and their lives are still apparently defined by ‘the men in their lives’.

. . .

I have written about Michael Wharton before, here and here, but, briefly, he was a right-wing satirist who wrote a column called The Way Of The World for the Daily Telegraph, using the columnar nom de plume of Peter Simple. I
got to know him and Sue as they were friends of my father’s and regularly came to visit him and my stepmother, Paddy, in North Cornwall for many years.

Usually, probably because they had two Labrador dogs, they stayed in one of the two holiday cottages my stepmother had come to own which abut her own cottage in De Lank (once Lower Lank, and I really can’t remember why or when the name was changed to De Lank. I live just up the road at Higher Lank, and both – well, what do you call them, they are not even hamlets – are just over half a mile from the moorland village of St Breward).

My father, who also liked to call himself ‘right-wing’ – he even once, when I asked him what he was politically, called himself a ‘right-wing radical’ which is pretty much meaningless in as far as it can mean pretty much anything – had, in the early 1970s contacted Michael after being a fan of his Peter Simple column in the Telegraph, and the two met up and became friends. Their friendship endured until my father’s death in 1991 and Michael’s in 2006.

What concerns me a little is that the description of ‘right-wing’ is, at least, in their cases, rather misleading. I shan’t talk about my father here, but pass on what Michael’s son Nicholas said about his father’s politics.

NB I am about to write what might be regarded as ‘personal stuff’ about Michael and his family, and although none of it is in the least contentious or slanderous, I should like their family – his son Nicholas, his daughter Jane, his son Kit and his grandson’s Max and Isaac – to know that if they feel I am stepping on toes (although I don’t think I am), I apologise, as I really don’t mean to. But to be honest I don’t think any of them would object to what I am about to write.

. . .

Michael Wharton wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Missing Will and A Dubious Codicil, and both are good to read although the second is more in the way of memoirs (and if I remember correctly as I haven’t read it in years anecdotes of Fleet Street colleagues and pubs) than autobiography. He was born in Bradford to a German Jewish father and a Yorkshire woman, a gentile. And his birth name was Michael Nathan.

At some point, and this is not talking out of school, he changed his name from the Jewish ‘Nathan’ to the gentile ‘Wharton’, which, I’m told was his mother’s maiden name. Doing such a thing is not at all uncommon among Jews,
or was not earlier in the last century, because their Jewishness was often, though subtly, held against them. Thus a Goldstein might become a Goodman and a Jewish reporter I once worked with, a Pru Philips, came from a Cardiff family who were once known as Pinkas-Levi. And given the almost insufferable and as far as I am concerned inexplicable prejudice against them ‘as Jews’, I can’t say I blame them. In fact, I don’t blame them at all: why let something as ridiculous as prejudice hold you up in life and if a simple change in name takes you out of the line of fire, go for it. I know I would.

Nicholas was his son from his first marriage, ironically to a Jewish woman, born in the early 1940s and as this will have been before Michael changed his surname, he is known as Nathan. Nicholas (with whom I chatted later after the funeral) studied philosophy and then taught it at Liverpool University.

Jane (who wrote in interesting piece for he Daily Telegraph which you can find here) was his daughter by his second marriage, but Michael then went on to bring up two more children, though neither was biologically his, but the result of a long and, as I understand it, open affair his wife was having with a journalist friend and colleague. (I know his name and it would be well-known to those with knowledge of Fleet Street and its papers in the 1960/70s but there’s no very good reason to give it here.)

Michael was a one-off, journalist and satirist who could be very, very funny in a very dry way, so I asked his son Nicholas who of Michael’s children had inherited his father’s sense of humour. ‘None of us,’ he told me. Well, perhaps not, but Jane is – as she will tell you and as she has told me more than once – is very much her father’s daughter, which might well be summed up as having a keen eye for bullshit and no patience with it at all.

But when I say Michael could be – was – very, very funny, he was not one of those life and soul of the party types with a quip and a joke for every occasion and can often rather soon evolve into a distinct irritation. At least, he wasn’t when I knew him, but I am pretty certain he wasn’t either as a younger man. I’ve met several over the years, and if you and I ever meet, I can assure you I am not ‘the life and soul of the party’ and would be mortified ever to be so described. (NB Whenever I hear anyone described as ‘larger than life’ I always take it to mean ‘a complete pain in the arse’.)

As for his ‘right-wing politics’, Michael, Nicholas explained, using a very useful and thoroughly illuminating phrase, had ‘an aesthetic approach to politics’ and was not essentially right-wing at all. Michael, Nicholas told me, disliked Communists and the Left intensely and thus took up a ‘right-wing’ stance on many matters pretty much only because it was in opposition to what the Left might believe. For example, in the post-Tito disintegration of then Yugoslavia he championed Serbia not because he felt any particular sympathy for Yugoslavia but because demonising Serbia was the Left’s cause.

I think I know what Nicholas meant when he said Michael had an ‘aesthetic approach to politics’ because I suspect I do, too, although I like to think I am not in the slightest ‘right-wing’. And nor, Nicholas told me, is he, and he went on to say he had many political disagreements with his father.

And here I will end this entry. As I say above, it was started and more or less completed more than a week ago, and after going through it, dotted i’s and crossing t’s here and there and trying to ensure it isn’t complete gibberish, I can’t really build up steam to carry on. I also can’t remember the point I was hoping to make (if I indeed had one). Sorry.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sorry, but Brexit: pretty much a fuck-up all round. Sad, but true

Sorry, but I can’t resist it any more. What with the daily, if not hourly, developments in – well, why don’t I for simplicity’s sake merely refer to everything as ‘Brexit’ and use the word as a catch-all term? – the whole shooting match is getting sillier and sillier and sillier. That wouldn’t actually matter if the possible – perhaps even probably – consequences of Brexit for Britain weren’t so dire.

I happened to have voted Remain, though I must admit through rather gritted teeth. I am not an EU cheerleader, one who thinks, as some seem to think, that the EU is the best thing to have happened to the world since the invention of lavatory paper. On the other had there was never the slightest chance that I would have voted Leave. And I don’t think I am alone in realising that on June 23, two years ago, I faced a horrible Hobson’s Choice.

It might help, although I am supremely conscious of just how boring it will be if I don’t manage to express myself succinctly, if I outlined my position. And it most certainly isn’t either ‘Remain under all costs’ or ‘Leave under all costs. Christ, no.

The concept of the EU as it was when the European Community evolved into the European Union was – as I understand it – a very good one. For me its essence can be summed up in one word: co-operation. There has, of course, been co-operation between the various European nations for some time on many matters, but the EU could be seen to provide a useful streamlining function. That included the streamlining of trade, keeping down costs which was to everyone's benefit.

I was, and most certainly still am, also in favour of one of the underlying principles of the EU at the time, that the wealthier nations are net contributors to the EU budget, and the poorer nations are beneficiaries – those who could afford to do without shelling out and helping those who needed help. Thus even a short trip to Spain, Portugal and Greece – all three were countries which had suffered under dictatorship for many a decade and whose economies had stagnated - would show to what good use those EU funds were put. That, at least, was the theory.

In practice, it was not quite as straightforward. For example, Greece, a beneficiary, would perhaps not necessarily have been quite as badly off as it purported to be and as its official figures showed it to be if it had collected its taxes more efficiently, i.e. had not allowed its rich folk to stick two fingers up to the state as far as their taxes were concerned. And we now know that in other ways it was rather wasteful, for example, allowing its men and women to retire at, I think, 55, and to draw a state pension while they then immediately carried on working, occupying jobs which those without employment could have done with.

But I don’t want to sidetrack myself, except to add that according to one Radio 4 programme I heard, a great deal of EU money was disappearing into the pockets of, in Italy the various mafia and in other countries to their criminals, but this was not publicly acknowledged - glossed over, even by the EU - in the interests of the greater good.

. . .

The point has often been made here in Britain, and I think it is a valid point, that there was little talk, and pertinently, little public talk, of the EU eventually aiming at ‘political union’. Stout-hearted europhiles will here declare that it was always the intention, right from the outset to unite politically. Well, perhaps it was, but no one was banging the drum for it then, especially not in Britain which in the 1970s held a referendum, its first, on whether to withdraw from the EEC. It chose not to. And note the institution was then still called the ‘EEC’ in that it was first and foremost an economic community, one which by gradually abolishing trade barriers and tariffs benefited all.

It all began to change when the Soviet Union collapsed and former members, all pretty much on their uppers economically, eagerly queued up to join. Was that, I ask, because they were eager for ‘ever closer political union’ with the rest of Europe? Was it hell: they wanted some of the economic action, they wanted markets for their goods and they wanted, without putting too fine a point on it, as much of the good times as they could get. I am not in the slightest bit convinced that those, all very proud nations, having just emerged from being part of political group in which they had little say as to what was to happen were thoroughly content in becoming part of another political groups in which, arguably, they would also have little say.

In 1993 the institution was changed into the European Union under the Maastricht Treaty and was already gaining members, so it once had 12 members rather rapidly increased in size to its present state of having 28 members. And now it quite openly declared that it wanted to become, though it was not called this, a United States of Europe. The purists in the EU visualised and still visualise a state with one parliament, one armed force, Europe-wide taxes and one currency.

That was when alarm bells, which had long been ringing in Britain, became even louder. ‘Do we really,’ an increasing number of folk asked, ‘really want to surrender our national sovereignty to a United State of Europe?’ No, many felt, no they did not.

But still it isn’t that simple. For in other member states there was also growing disquiet, though it was by no means as pronounced as in Britain. What makes that British disquiet all the more pertinent is that folk who, to put it mildly, didn’t and don’t have the slightest understanding of the intricacies of the EU acquire what can only be described as a visceral hatred of the EU. It is utterly irrational, certainly, but that doesn’t diminish it.

They then began to believe rather a great deal of nonsense – mainly because they wanted to believe it - about how Britain might well do far better economically if it were no longer a member of the EU and would be ‘free to forge its own trade deals with the rest of the world’. And that is where I think they are living in cloud-cuckoo-land, though, I must add, as there is just the one cloud-cuckoo-land, it is also home to those ‘I am a European’ types agitating for ‘ever closer political union’.

Well, that was then, but we are here and now and – as I keep pointing out to my sister who suspects I am a secret Brexiteer – the foregoing is neither here nor there. What is here and now is the fact that the negotiations between the EU and Britain are getting nowhere. Or perhaps they are, but both sides are keeping it all so close to their chest that we, the public, have no idea as to what is going on.

What is so thoroughly dispiriting is that both sides, Britain’s Leavers and her Remainers simply aren’t listening to one another, even though in my view both need the other rather more than either side is prepared to admit, even to itself.

Talk to a Brexiteer, and you will be bored rigid with all kinds of economic gobble-de-gook, that Britain will ‘liberate’ itself from some kind of imagined EU tyranny at 11pm on March 31, 2019, when we finally leave, but pertinently it is gobble-de-gook that is lapped up with gusto by like-minded folk. Every slight piece of economic information, if it is good – unemployment is coming down, the sale of salt has increased, this or that forum of distinguished economist (of whom the Brexit believers will never even have heard) is disingenuously corralled by them into justification for Brexit and as proof that Britain is doing the right thing. On the other hand, signs that things might not turn out as rosily is dismissed as ‘Remoaner propaganda’. As always folk believe what they want to believe, and bugger the truth.

Conversely, if you are a British ‘convinced European’ you will now be crying out in anguish and despair about the catastrophe which awaits Britain, a prediction which even I, not a convinced European in the sense usually understood, agree is far more likely to come true. And in there desperate zeal to turn back the clock, these folk, like their Brexiteer counterparts, are also largely clutching at straws.

Recently, for example, a chap who, according to the Guardian, drew up Article 50, the clause which governs a member relinquishing membership, remarked (and I am sure it was a throwaway remark) that under Article 50, and despite the ever so slight Brexit majority two years ago, Britain could still reverse its decision to leave. ‘There,’ the faithful cried as one, ‘it’s not a done deal, we can still remain a member of the EU.’ To which my immediate response was ‘yes, if you say so, but just in theory, and that in practice there would be almost, but no quite, unprecedented political chaos in Britain if a government, whether Tory, Labour or one run by the Tellytubbies, did an about-turn and declared Britain would not be leaving.

The real tragedy, the real completely unnecessary tragedy, is that here in Britain neither side, neither swivel-eyed Leavers, nor the starry-eyed Remainers is listening to the other but merely stoking up their fury at the other’s disingenuity and thinking up more ways to widen the gulf between them. Well, let them. It doesn’t mean I have to join in. And the real problem for us, the public, is that we haven’t a bloody clue as to how the ‘Brexit negotiations’ are proceeding.

. . .

The EU is insisting, and I can’t fault them on that, that the financial details of Brexit – i.e. how much money Britain is liable to cough up given its obligations under plans made years ago for this and that expenditure – must be settled before any talks can begin on what kind of trading relationship Britain will have with the rest of the EU. Britain, on the other hand, wants those talks to be held in parallel, but the EU isn’t buying that (and again, given the nickname long attributed to Britain, ‘perfidious Albion’, I can see why). So, apparently, there is stalemate.

But it is all so bloody, so frustratingly silly: as far as I am concerned whichever way you cut it, both sides will still need each other after Brexit, and not just economically, but politically: Britain, boring old, bolshy old, pragmatic Old Blighty was useful to have around when they various hotheads from different parts of the continent got into a tizzy. And given that France and Germany are seen as the pillars of the EU, Britain was useful to keep stability. There doesn’t seem much likelihood of the Krauts and the Frogs (to use the terms used in King Charles St, Westminster, London SW1A 2AH) falling out, but history does have its quirks, so having Britain around to calm matters would be no bad thing.

(NB I discovered recently that at the Congress of Vienna when the enemies of the defeated Napoleon got together to carve up the spoils, it was Britain’s representative, Viscount Castlereagh, who insisted that France, too, should attend, and so Talleyrand was of the party. Russia, Prussia and Austria weren’t at all in favour, but Britain held out, in the interests of a lasting peace.

Something similar happened after World War II when the Soviets and the US were all for destroying defeated Germany and grinding her into the dust. Certainly not, said Britain, we must build up the country and make her viable again economically as soon as possible if we want long-term peace.)

Britain was useful in other ways. For many members of the EU Britain was useful as a fig leaf, bolshy Britain saying things they agreed with but did not necessarily articulate because, Britain was saying it. And I believe among many eurocrats there is the conviction that Britain was useful in other ways, bringing a kind of stability to the whole shooting match.

For Britain, of course, the EU – for which read its markets – the EU is also needed. But can they work it out? Can they get to the point where both sides win a little, lose a little? Can they fuck. Like in a bitter divorce each side thinks it is right and the other side is being unreasonable, and it seems the twain will simply not meet to compromise.

I’ll repeat: whatever happens in the long term, by 2060 for example, 43 years hence when a great deal of water will have flowed under the bridge it might all look very different. But I do fear that in the short term – by which I mean five or ten years - Britain will suffer and will suffer badly from Brexit. Britain needs to trade, it needs to sell its goods, but trade deals are not made overnight and there is a very real risk that in the interim many industries will suffer to badly that they will go to the wall. But I also believe that has much to lose. It, too, needs and equitably trading relationship with Britain, one of its big markets.

In the short term it would seem that the EU is less under pressure. Life will go on, trade will continue elsewhere, there are, after all, another 27 members of the EU and things won’t go tits up just because Britain, in a strop, doesn’t join the party. But in the longer term the EU also must look to its future. And I believe that unless the EU rids itself of its pie-eyed obsession with ‘ever closer political union’, it is on a hiding to nothing.

Economically, the EU is still sitting quite pretty. Yes, with Britain no longer part of the customs union and no longer part of the EU economic block there will be a price to pay, but it will be a comparatively small price, and there is a lot more to the EU than just Britain. But there are other dimensions to the EU that cannot be ignored.

Certainly, they EU is still a supremely viable institution. OK, so Britain is gone, but that is not the end of the world. But that ignores something quite crucial about the whole EU shooting match, the situation of an EU with Britain as a member and a post-Brexit EU of which Britain is no longer a part. That is the political future of the EU, a future, given this obsession with ‘ever closer politca union’ which is not just part of academic discussion over coffee and cognac.

Already there are very uncomfortable rumblings of discontent which have nothing to do with Brexit. The assumption was always in Brussels that these days every member can see the virtues of the Brussels vision, that all members subscribe to the all for one and one for all. So the results of the most recent EU elections were, at best, uncomfortable, and it might have dawned on the less starry-eyed eurocrats in Brussels that the assumed harmony is not quite as copper-bottomed as they might like. They might even, after a bad meal and a bout of dyspepsia, have feared that the cherished and assumed harmony is nothing but a sham, a rancid piece of whishful thinking.

On the surface politically all might well be portrayed as sweetness and light, but problems are beginning to make themselves apparent. There is, for example, the embarrassing matter of the Brussels desired distribution of refugees and immigrants from Africa: Poland and Hungary are simply saying ‘fuck off, we don’t want them’ and there seems nothing the eurocrats in Brussels can do about it. The trouble is that one or two lesser states are more in sympathy with Poland and Hungary (not, it has to be said, at present shining examples of democratic practice) than with the wishes of Brussels and are letting those two countries do the talking for them.

For the EU, of course, it is a real dilemma: nominally they are taking those two members to court for, I don’t know how they put it in officialese, but it could be summed up as ‘not doing as they are told’. But they can’t push that lined too far, because it they do, they might well be the losers. But if they don’t crack down, they will look weak. And this bunch still want ‘ever closer political union’.

That all, of course, has nothing at all to do with Brexit. But if there are problems, the EU might well consider that having Britain as a member on the side of the angels would be rather useful. Except that they won’t: Britain wants out.

. . .

So there you have it: Brexit is, whichever way you look at it, developing into the mother of all fuck-ups. Additionally, now the sun has stopped shining the EU ALSO has to deal with other problems.
As usual all is sweetness and light when the sun IS shining, but things tend to fall apart when it doesn’t. 

What do I want? Well, I would like the EU to back down, compromise. And for Britain to back down and compromise. The EU can ditch the notion of ‘ever closer political’ and Britain can see sense that it cannot go it alone. Will any of that happen? Of course, not. Me, I am 68 in seven days times and with luck I shan’t be too discomforted. But I have a 21-year-old daugher and an 18-year-old son and I rather fear for them life will not be quite as sweet.

So there you have it: doom. But did you really expect anything else?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

RIP Susan Wharton, one of life’s gentlewoman and the best company ever. As for the RCs and the rest . . .

In my last post, I reported that one Susan ‘Sue’ Wharton had died, and that I would write about her a little more at length in my next post. Well this is the post.

Susan was the widow of one Michael Wharton, a man who is perhaps better known to the world as Peter Simple. He wrote the column which appeared in the Daily Telegraph for almost 40 years. But this entry is about his widow, Susan, and if you want to know more about Michael, you will find his Wikipedia entry here and a blog entry I wrote about him here.

Susan was Michael’s third wife and even though I know it is almost de rigeur to gush about folk among the English middle classes, it is not a practice I knowingly subscribe to or even like. So when I say Susan was, in my experience at least, a delight, entertaining, always interesting and always good company and one of the nicest people I have ever known, I hope you are assured that I mean it sincerely and am not simply going through a typical middle class motion. I don’t suppose there is any more any point in me denying – although I have never done so – that I am irredeemably and remorselessly middle class, but I do like to put a lot of blue water between myself and both the English/British and German middle classes in some of their manifestations. But, again, this post is about Susan not me, so I shall shut up on the matter.

Susan, who was 91 on October 81, was found dead at home last week. She had vague heart problems – vague in that she would be the last person you would hear about them from – and, as I discovered talking to her nephew last week, has suffered a minor stroke at some point in the past few years, but nevertheless her death was unexpected, as it turns out even by her.

There is/was to be an inquest and I don’t know its result or whether it has yet been held, but Robert, her nephew and her nominated next of kin, told me that she had already been dead for a number of days when he body was found. Her death will have been sudden in that she was found in an armchair with a book and a half-drunk cup of tea by her side. I last saw her just over a year ago when she came to Cornwall to stay with my stepmother and pointedly not to celebrate her 90th birthday.

When I said goodbye on that occasion, I faithfully promised to get in touch by the following spring – that is last spring – to take her to London to visit an exhibition or two and treat her to lunch. To my shame I never got around to it.

She was born Susan Moller and her heritage was Norwegian, although by a few generations (NB Dec 01 correction: In fact it was not, it was Swedish). She studied art and then became an art teacher at Wycombe College. At some point she met Michael, I think in the 1970s, and they lived in a cottage in Naphill Common north of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

I first met her at my father’s house in North Cornwall, where my stepmother still lives, at some point in the 1980s and met her many times again when she and Michael came to stay in one of the two holiday cottages my stepmother owned, often at Christmastime. Michael died in 2006 and apart from seeing her in Cornwall when she came to visit, I also used to visit her at home in Naphill Common and take her out for a meal. And as I say, she was always the best possible company.

Perhaps the most notable thing about her was that despite her increasing age she was somehow, in the best possible sense of the word ‘girlish’ – enthusiastic, fun, amused, laughing – not ‘girlish’ in that calculated way some women are which always sets my teeth on edge. And being an artist, and she drew and painted until she died, she knew a lot about art and I could always pick her brains. She and Michael never had children – perhaps she was already too old by the time they married – but I am certain she would have made a good mother.

She was a Roman Catholic, but I don’t know just how attendant she was. But rest in peace, Susan, and please forgive me for not keeping my promise to see you again earlier this year.

This is Susan in the St Tudy Inn near where I live when I took her to
supper there a few years ago.

. . .

I mention that Susan was a Roman Catholic and, like me, what is known – or perhaps what was once known – as a ‘cradle Catholic (NB Dec 01 correction: In fact she was not, I have been told, but was a convert). But whereas she kept her faith, I ‘lapsed’ years. But even the notion of ‘lapsing’ irritates me.

This is, perhaps, putting it rather too brutally, but the Roman Catholic church, as opposed to the faith, could teach a thing to each and every totalitarian party, not least the communists. For the RC church will insist that my apostasy has nothing to do with reason but is just a falling away and that I might well, in time, see the light. Thus the ‘lapse’ is merely a temporary state: I shall, once I have regained my reason and am once again given grace, ‘find my way back to the church’.

To be frank, although I say I am irritated, I actually don’t give a stuff either way. If that’s they way they want to play it, good luck to them. And I must also point out that I am not one of that curious breed the zealous atheist, someone who is so consumed with ‘not believing’ that they almost make it their life’s work to persuaded each and every believer that they are horribly benighted and then some.

I take a different view: if someone has a faith, whether it is RC or that of any other christian denomination, or perhaps follows the Jewish or Muslim creeds, is, perhaps a Hindu, or a Buddhist, good luck to them. There are inestimable instances where someone’s faith has given the sucour and solace, and I am the last to deny them that or even to see anyone else try to deny them that. Good luck to them and may their God be with them. It’s just that – well, I don’t have a ‘religious faith’. That doesn’t mean I have no faith, though. I have faith in much, just not anything laid down by a creed.

At the wedding ceremony last week there was a Catholic mass with all its invocations to a ‘Lord’, a ‘saviour’ and all the rest, but it does nothing but remind me of Doctor Who on TV, with with British readers will most certainly be familiar and foreign readers might well have heard of. In Doctor Who a great deal is made of the Time Lord and all the rest. I simply cannot see any distinction whatsoever between the christian devotions to saints, its sacraments, its practices, its ceremonies and the rest and those ‘heathen’ and ‘pagan’ practices it derides so much.

But I stress again, if these give solace and comfort to anyone in need in some way, good luck to it all. It’s just that I can’t pretend for the sake of pretending. It is the organisations and institutions I abhor.

A few years ago, I visited St Peter’s in Rome and exploring the labyrinth which is the heart of the Roman Catholic church and seeing the wealth there, I felt almost physically sick at the hypocrisy of the claim that it was all ‘for the glory of God’ when it was and is so obvious to me that it is merely for the glory of those men – not women, not, no, not women in the RC church – who run that organisation. I have over the years read up a little on the history of the christian church and noted is schisms and power play.

The first schism was barely a few hundred years into the existence of christianity when the western church split from the eastern church (or vice versa, as lord knows who split from whom) and it is, to me at least, blindlingly obvious that it the battles and disagreements had nothing to do with faith and everything to do with power – who should be calling the shots. Well, count me out.

Writing this I am even conscious that someone disagreeing with me might demand that I come up with better arguments as to why I hold those beliefs. Really? Well, read again what I have to say. But none of the above should be taken to mean that I don’t believe in Good and Evil: there is most certainly Good and Evil abroad in the world and it doesn’t take much of an intellect (which is why I am able to comment on it) to see how the monotheistic faiths can come up with the notion of ‘the Devil’.

Each and every one of us will be familiar with both good and evil. We will all have come across it: the gratuitous evil which seems to have no cause. But also the gratuitous good folk do, the sacrifices they make for others. So don’t write off what I have to say as simplistic nonsense.

I find the christian churches attitude to women abhorrent and blame my RC upbringing, which although no super-strict was pretty mainline, for my own – and very private but deeply imbedded and wholly unfair – attitudes to women. Despite my intellectual condemnation of that attitude, I am still uncomfortably aware that there are faint echoes in me that ‘women are somehow second-class’, that ‘women don’t quite matter as much’ and all the rest. And without sounding too dramatic, I don’t just not like that part of me, it really does distress me. A confession.

PS Her funeral is next Tuesday, my 68th birthday, at St Teresa’s om Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A short trip to Cologne to see my nephew wed his Polish squeeze (and a good opportunity to slag off the Roman Catholics, something, though, only we 'cradle Catholics' are allowed to do)


Here with my son, Wesley, for my nephew’s wedding. Just a brief visit, flew in today, wedding tomorrow, fly out again tomorrow, then home for him and work for me, but worth a post (I think – perhaps I should leave it to you, my reader, whether or not it is worth it).

We flew out from Bristol at 12.10 and arrived at the airport at 15.15 local time, and already there are a few ironies to report, highlighting how Germany is Germany,

The first: planeloads of visitors and Germans arrive by the minute at the airport – as you would think – and many, like us, use the train/S Bahn to get into the city. So why on earth there should only be four ticket machines as the airport train station catering for, in our case, about 100 people – if not quite a few more - is rather beyond me. And how is this an irony?

Well, the cliché is that Germany and the Germans are hugely and enviably efficient, but just how this purported efficiency has been translated in practice when it comes to allowing passengers to buy their tickets is not at all obvious. Our flight from Bristol took one hour and ten minutes – it’s not far – but once we had reached the four machines and joined one of the four very long queues to buy tickets, we had to wait at least 25 minutes to get them. Slow just wasn’t the word. Just why there are not fare more ticket machines there and perhaps even a window or two I really don’t know.

We got to our hotel, literally just a long stone’s throw from the central station and settled in. My son, who didn’t get in and to bed until (he tells me) about 5am this morning then immediately put his head down to catch up on sleep. I am not quite as tired, and fancying a quiet cigar and a glass of Kölsch, the city’s own beer, I took myself off looking for somewhere to enjoy both. And looked and looked and looked. It’s not that there weren’t enough pubs to have a drink in but as indoor smoking has been banned for I don’t know how long and as I couldn’t find a German pub/bar with and outdoors (as in tables and chairs on the street) I finally settled for the first outdoor drinking establishment I could find: a Thai restaurant which anyway deals more in takeaways than sitdown meals. And the Kölsch I ordered and am now drinking is sadly from a bottle, not on tap which is usually the nicest. Oh, well. At least it isn’t the end of civilisation.

. . . 

The wedding tomorrow is nearby, though across the rive at St Heribert’s (unlike me, my sister and her family have stayed true to the faith so it is a Roman Catholic mass and wedding ceremony. The double whammy is that my nephew’s bride-to-be is Polish, pretty much the Irish of Eastern Europe when it comes to Catholicism, although, of course, in that very sane way of theirs which is sadly still not acknowledged, Ireland has been rapidly putting as much distance as it can between itself and the RC faith (too many folk abused by priests and too many unmarried mothers in decades gone by treated like less than shit by the church and her officials and nuns for there to be much love lost).

(Just been tapped up for five euros – I’m not usually as sympathetic, especially as the guy only wants it for booze, but it seemed the quickest way to move him on and carry on writing. Shame is me.)

So although I’m not really looking forward to the ceremony – all that quasi-mystical Lamb of God stuff and saviour of the world bollocks sounds far too much like Doctor Who for me, Time Lords and the rest of it – I am looking forward to the do afterwards. In fact, there are two dos, one immediately after the ceremony at a brewery, with German beer and local tapas (it says on the invite), and then the reception afterwards. And for all their faults – as in every nation has its faults - the Germans do do a good do. I love them. Don’t know how long it will be going on for, but the following morning we shall have to be up early to catch our flight back to Old Blighty, bloody 11.10! Oh, well.

. . . 

And what else? Not written here for a while, so I’m sure there must be something to waffle on about until I have finished the second bottle of beer I have just ordered. Oh, yes, I’ve signed up to Alamy, the photo agency, though I must also tell you that anyone can do it. If pictures you submit are technically OK, have ‘context’ which of course means they want pretty bog standard pix rather than the kind of arty-farty stuff I have made my own, they will take everything.

I found out about it because a guy I work with has also been submitting pictures and told me all about it. Alamy want as many as you can supply – given the above proviso – because they more they can offer anyone coming their way, they more they will sell. Simple, really. To see what I am talking about, just visit the website – – then type in whatever you want to type in, the name of your home town, for example, and take a look at what’s there. Bog standard piccies of everything and everywhere, and I’ve decided that when I do call it a day at work, I shall l spend a few days taking loads and loads of pix and submitting them. And I should stress that anyone can do it. It’s just that the pictures must conform to their criteria, for example, if people are in the picture and can be recognise, you must get their express consent for the picture to be submitted. Similarly, anything which might be a trademark in a picture should be avoided.

. . . 

Köln was, and probably still is a very RC city, so as I write, at 18.15 – 6.15pm in old money – pretty much every church around as well as the Dom is ringing its bells. Old habits die hard. And I don’t doubt that when the time comes and I am a breath away from death, I, too, shall throw in the towel and cry ‘I was wrong, you are right, and please don’t send me to Hell!’ And here is an occasion to record the last words of one Voltaire, a sane atheist if ever there were one. He was on his deathbed when the local priest came to see him and pleaded with him to renounce the Devil and all his works. ‘Now,’ Voltaire is reported to have replied, ‘is not the time to be making new enemies.’ Boom, boom, though quite who was around to record those last words is not quite clear.

PS Just remembered one last thing, but I shall leave it for another post as the good lady is worthy a post all of her own: Susan Wharton, the widow of Michael Wharton, known professionally as Peter Simple, has died.