Monday, June 11, 2018

So THAT’S what displacement activity is! Well! I must ring all my friends and tell them, though I can’t do it quite yet as I really, really must get on with sorting out that hairbrush. And then there’s the bloody bog roll roller – sticking again. So I might not manage to ring around to later today or maybe tomorrow

Well, it’s been ten weeks since my new life started and I’m slowly getting used to it, although it hasn’t quite gone to plan. But that is no bad thing as surely being intent on sticking to a plan, however noble that plan, is arguably the antithesis of relaxing, and boy do I intend to relax. It’s just that my idea of relaxing is not simply cracking open a bottle of Rioja on the stroke of noon and settling in to watch flat-racing on the gogglebox

Writing was the essence of that plan, and that part of it I have adhered to, though not quite to the timetable I had mentally set for myself. And nor have I yet begun my next project properly, though I have done some work on it.

An application I have been using and found to be very useful is Scapple, though there are others like it and it is available for both Macs and Windows, so a file can be saved to, say, Google Drive or Microsoft’s One Drive, and then work on pretty much anywhere on a desktop of laptop if you have the app installed and access to the internet (to download the file, obviously, then upload it again with any changes you have made ready for you next session.

The idea is not original, merely one which has been transferred to the digital realm: you jot down – I suppose that should be ‘jot’ down a series of ideas and thoughts on what you want to write, I suppose you are brainstorming yourself, and then connect them in any way you choose. It is useful, if only because it can give you a slightly better overview of what you have in mind and helps you marshal your thoughts better. Here is a screenshot of it, with work I have already done. It is just a jpeg of a screenshot and I hope to God you can’t read any of the notes:

A few weeks ago, I was at my sister’s in Germany for my niece/goddaughter’s wedding, and when I came back I didn’t quite feel the same as I had when I went out. I was conscious again of having projects and feeling obliged to do something. Well, I did and do, but that slightly irritated me.

My original plan to be out of bed at dawn, down in my shed (picture at the bottom now that I have a new table and have rearranged the furniture a little to make it more amenable and be tipping away on my keyboard as though there were not tomorrow. Incidentally, I can’t think why I had the desk where it was before, and anyway, I no longer have that desk, but shan’t go into why not as it has caused something of a slight rift between me and my stepmother who more or less implied I was trying to con her out of it if not steal it outright. That hurt, although her friend and neighbour Jill suggests she might slowly be getting a little dementia. Who knows, but that is by the by).

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I am, at least, putting in about four hours, even if it means I am going to bed a little later than I expected. My last post here touched upon the slightly mysterious suspicion that my father was not, as he had always assured me, a BBC man who just occasionally helped out MI6, but that it might, just might, have been the other way around. The last post was the first part, and I promised a second, but that will have to wait, as I have something else on the go.

. . .

I read a novel, which had been one of my set texts at college, and which is regarded as ‘a masterpiece’ and the writer ‘a genius’. So when I read it and increasingly thought ‘what’s all the fuss about, this isn’t all that brilliant’, I was a little bemused and embarrassed even. I mean who was I to judge that a man regarded as one of the world’s great writers was maybe not all he was cracked up to be, at least going by the novel I was reading.

In fact, I was so bemused and embarrassed by my apostasy, but on the other hand so sure that that was really what I felt, that as soon as I had finished the novel, I began reading it again. But even on two readings I can honestly say I am not at all convinced.

So that is the ‘something else I have on the go’ and I am doing quite a bit of work on it. I shall post it all here when it is finished. And once finished, I really shall get down to the main thing.

The other thing which I have finally been able to do is get into learning to play the guitar a damn sight better than I have so far. And even though I say so myself, the lessons – with a Paul Berrington in Padstow – are paying off. Some might feel what we do – scales, modes, arpeggios and musical theory – is all a bit dry, but I’m having none of it. For one thing my playing is because more flexible, or rather my fingers are becoming more flexible and my playing, by and by, more fluent. It really is early days yet as far as being as good as I want to be, but I feel I’m slowly getting there.

Other things on the horizon are another swift trip Bratislava to be measured for my new tooth which will be combined the night before I fly out – just for the say, by the way – with a drink and perhaps a meal with an old friend.

I have, though, discovered what ‘displacement activity’ is. I thought I knew, although I have never before used the word, and when I came to settle in to write this entry, it occurred to me. So I looked it up and it is spot on for what I want to describe.

Quite simply my day runs like this: I wake up, often quite early, turn over and and sometimes manage to go to sleep again. I finally get up between 9.30 and 10 and then, in theory there is nothing to hold me back. But it is then when I discover all kinds of things to do except shift across here to my shed and get stuck in. At 10.30 there’s coffee to be made, online newspapers to be read, perhaps I might go into town to buy something, then there’s time to be passed deciding what to buy when I go into town (today it was a guitar stand – Paul would be proud as using one means thereis far less chance of you guitar crashing over and getting damaged).

Then, at some point there is my stepmother to be visited down the lane – a duty I am increasingly putting off as after that incident with the table I am not all that keen on seeing her. And then, of course, it it lunchtime, and although I don’t eat lunch, I do tend to drink another pot of coffee. Finally, I might shift over to where I am sitting now and start. And the very odd thing is once I start, I wonder what all the fuss was about. But now I know: displacement activity.

But all in all, it’s rather pleasant. I would urged everyone to retire, whatever age you are. The only downside is that sooner or later retirement ends in death. But then so does life itself, so it ain’t that serious.

Pip, pip.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Weddings, spies, dads who might or might not have been spies, lunch with aunts, dancing in the moonlight (although there wasn’t any in fact on the night) - it’s all too, too much. (Part One - The Teaser)

Back from a very pleasant few days at my sister’s in the far North-West of Germany (as in ‘pretty far North’ but ‘very far West’ - you couldn’t get closer to The Netherlands without getting very wet wading through a stretch of water called Dollard which is also the estuary of the River Ems/Emse). I was there for my niece/goddaughter’s wedding and the baptism of her second child, Klara. Booze, as always, flowed freely, though that is not to say it was some kind of bacchanalia, with many folk getting rat-arsed and some even disgracing themselves, just a steady flow of whatever you wanted and then some.

Flew there eight days ago from Heathrow after visiting a friend in Eastbourne (and being rather taken with the town and local countryside) and would liked to have stayed longer in Germany, but I had arranged to be back at Heathrow airport at around 3pm last Monday to meet my son who was returning from six weeks in Central America to drive down home together. As far as his little trip is concerned - he only turned 19 three days before he returned - he told me all kind of stories, and I asked him not to repeat some to his mother. She is something of a control freak and clingy to boot, and his accounts would have so scared the shit out of her that she would never have allowed him out of her sight again.

That, of course, would have been impossible, especially as he is due to start a university course at John Moore’s University in Liverpool in September, so simply keeping schtumm about this, that and t’other seems the most practical solution.

. . .

There were two events which marked my stay a little. One was looking up a distantly related aunt, Helma B. and the other was a spontaneous dance-about with my nephew and his girlfriend and their friends in the fields beyond my sister’s farm which began at about 2.30am and ended at about 4.30am, though I stayed up, saw the sun rise, chatted for many hours to one of my niece’s schoolfriends, and then finally hit the sack at about 9.30am. (I woke and got up at 2pm and felt like death).

At the dance-about - I can’t think what else to call it - I played the music from tracks on my iPhone (not Mahler, Beethoven, Berg, Bach, jazz or The Boswell Sisters, none of which would quite have had the club oomph demanded by the dancers) and one of the guys there just happened to have a small but powerful bluetooth speaker with him, why I really don’t know. As the seven were, apart from my niece’s younger brother, all her and her husband’s friends, I don’t believe any were over 30 and one or two might even have been under 25. I, of course, am neither.

What I especially like was that our dancing into the dawn - literally - simply came about and was spontaneous. You couldn’t plan anything like that. Outside on one of the many grass areas around the barn wedding guests, many with young children between two and seven years old, had set up their caravans and tents and close by was a roaring fire around which ‘the young ones’ had been sitting with a guitar or two singing songs. Not my scene, so I was inside sitting around a table with 12 of the older generation (as quite possibly one of the oldest of the older generation) having a laugh, having a drink, chewing the fat and generally enjoying life.

We had started the reception with Kölsch und Häppchen (nibbles). This was then followed by Sekt and at the meal we had red or white wine, and on it went, with the parents of young children taking off to put them to bed and I and the 12 others sitting round that table. I mention the booze because at some point when I was off somewhere, my brother-in-law poured everyone a stiff gin and tonic, each glass followed by another. Me, I stuck to wine, and although I was round when the gin was on offer, I wouldn’t have had one: I’ve had far, far too many bad, unpleasant hangovers in my time to ever want another.

At some point I wandered out to the fire, saw that das Volksliedsingen was still in full force and returned. I am hazy on the details - despite my disclaimer about not taking the gin on offer, I wasn’t exactly sober - but in the meantime all the other old farts had pissed off somewhere, presumably to bed. A little while later, I wandered out again to find the young group reduced to seven and doing very little. That’s when I took out my iPhone and struck up, for a starter, with Innocent by Alexander O’Neal. Give it a listen:

Innocent - Alexander O’Neal

At some point the bluetooth speaker appeared and the music got louder. A young mother emerged from one of the caravans and asked us to turn it down - I’m sure she really meant ‘off’. The group was about to break up when I occurred to me we could easily carry on simply by moving away into a field, so we all walked, or rather danced, our way several hundred yards up a path and carried on. And on, and on and on. It was full daylight, though the sun

hadn’t yet come up, when everyone seemed to decide they were getting rather tired, so we drifted back to the farmhouse, where I decided I wasn’t all that tired and could do with another glass of wine and a cigar.

In time I was joined by a schoolfriend of my niece, a very interesting chap, chalk to my cheese, who was - is - completing an engineering Phd at Cambridge but who is obviously far more interested in following a philosophy degree course, and in that very German way (and undoubtedly also Austrian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, French and Dutch way, so let’s just settle on European) ‘wir haben diskutiert’, though at this juncture I would only be vaguely able to recall the broad outline of what we were talking about. I was urging him - to be blunt he was young enough to be my son or even grandson - to stick to engineering as a day job and take a philosophy course on the side, urging him not to let slip through his fingers the young woman he is so obviously keen on, and I don’t know what else.

Finally, one glass of wine too many, we decided to call it a night. I went to make myself a mug of coffee in a kitchen already full of sisters, nieces and great-nephews and nieces - it was, after all 9am - and discovering there was no sugar, I announced I was off to Holland to buy some more at the supermarket in Bad Nieuweschans (by half a kilometer closer than those in Bunde, but they wouldn’t have been open on a Sunday morning). At that point my sister asked me to hand over my car keys, and to my credit I did so without a peep. So I couldn’t have been that drunk.

. . .

More interesting was a lunch I had with Helma B. She is nominally an aunt in that generations ago her family and my mother’s family (which then lived in the same town as Helma, Papenburg) intermarried. But in that neck of the woods (and in many other German necks of the wood) Verwandschaft is loose and but pretty much always celebrated - the Germans, or at least the ones I know, are nothing if not sociable. So when I first met her, in about 1961, I was ten and she was 29.

Her father - who will play a central role in the rest of this entry and who I have mentioned before - one August Löning, owned and with his wife Johanna ran a draper’s in the small - then smaller - Emsland village of Lathen. He also owned what was known as das alte Wehrhaus. That was nothing to do with Wehr as in ‘force’ but as in a ‘weir’ across a river in this case the River Ems. It was where, in the 19th and early 20th century the Wehrmeister lived, the man who worked the weir. Latterly, a new weir had been built further down the river and the Wehrhaus was used as a weekend retreat by his extended family and, in this case, my father and his family.

My father and mother and my sister, then about five and my younger brother, then just over one, spent a few weeks there during the summer of 1961, and I was farmed out to stay with Helma - then ‘Tante Helma’ - and my older brother with the family of her brother-in-law Josef Meyer, who owned the Meyer-Werft, then a large shipyard and now considerably larger. Mind, in those days I knew nothing of wealth and to be fair the people in that neck of the woods, das Emsland and Ostfriesland, are very down to earth and egalitarian. It’s one of the things I like about them. But that is all just background.

In a previous entry, one about a very short trip I made to Freiburg in October 2010 for the 65th birthday of my cousin Paul Meyer, Josef’s oldest son, I mentioned how I was rather bemused when Paul, jocularly, referred to my father as der Spion (the spy). I had over the years gradually come to know that my father had, in some obscure ways or another and in his words ‘helped out’ with the British security service, more usually known as MI6, but as far as I was concerned he was first and foremost a BBC journalist. As he and I grew older, I obliquely questioned him about what had done, but it never went beyond ‘helping out a little’. And that, as far as I was concerned, was that. He had ‘helped out’. That’s what he told me and that is what was the case. But chatting to Helma over our lunch last Friday, she told me something which cast a completely new light on it all, and then some.

NB A friend who reads this blog and who I saw and stayed with in Eastbourne the evening before I flew out to Amsterdam and then travelled on to Germany for the wedding, let slip that my blog entries are ‘too long’. Well, perhaps they are, but I take the view that no one is in the slightest bit obliged to read my ramblings and can quit at any time they like if they get bored halfway through. So you are warned, because this one, this entry and because of this, the second half to it, has quite some distance to go. I suppose I could always, a la a fucking gogglebox drama series, throw in a few teasers to keep you hooked - of if not ‘hooked’ at least keep you reading - but I’m buggered if I’m going to do that. Sorry (though not really, I’m just being polite in the way we middle-class, public-school educated twats were brought up to be, an upbringing furthermore which is not to be disparaged: I can spot an antique sherry glass at 50 paces. Can you? No, thought not). Where was I?

. . .

My father had always been interested, if not even obsessed, with the military, and although he didn’t become a professional soldier like my Uncle Pat (latterly just ‘Pat’, after whom I was named and with whom I seemed to have so much more in common than with my father that we always got on very well), he joined up after taking a ‘wartime’ degree at Kings College, Cambridge, at sometime halfway through the war. He enlisted with (he told me once) The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and took part in D Day, when he - born on March 21, 1923 - was only 21. He received a ‘field commission’ and, I seem to remember he told me, at one point he was the youngest captain in the British Army.

He was always very gifted at languages and soon he was transferred to the Intelligence Corp, tasked with interrogating captured German soldiers. A little later he was attached to the French forces - he spoke German and French - and at some point was involved in a motorbike accident and at another received a piece of shrapnel in his cheek which was never removed. But that is all by the by.

When the war ended, my father, like all other students who had taken a two-year wartime degree, was offered the chance to return to university for a third year to complete his course. He didn’t bother, so he didn’t actually have a proper degree and when I graduated (something of a fluke as I pointed out in a more recent post) I was the first Powell to get a degree. (My older brother had, by this time, already succumbed to the various mental troubles he suffered from all his life and, he told me, didn’t write a word in his finals. He just sat there for three hours each time. And he was ten times as bright of me.) Instead, in about 1946, he joined the ‘British Military Government of Germany’.

His job at first was to ‘mingle with the population and sniff out Nazis (and the socialising that involved - he was always a sociable man, which is why he was so attracted to Germany led him to meet one Elfriede Hinrichs, later my mother, in Osnabrück). Later he was employed on some British Military Government press commission, helping to sort out who might be ein tadelloser Nicht-Nazi (or something) and could granted a licence to set up a newspaper or magazine to operate in the British occupied zone.

The British, unlike the Americans who were intent on destroying Germany from now until kingdom come, took the view - the immensely sane and enlightened view - that if we wanted prolonged peace in Europe, a properly functioning and democratic German state under the rule of law was quintessential. How right they were, and so, for example, the old Volkswagen works was speedily revived by one Ivan Hirst, a Yorkshireman (thank goodness for Wikipedia) who saw the potential of the company, helped to re-establish it and thus helped to lay they foundations of the future West Germany.

. . .

I have now glanced below to the foot my screen and Bean, the word processor I am using to write this, tells me I am quite close to having written 2,600 words. Well, maybe I should heed the advice of Barry Mc. and not push my luck as much as I intended and end this blog entry here. But there will be a Second Part, which will - God willing - get to the point of the second half of this entry. So with that in mind here are a few teasers. I mean, shit, I’ve got to get you guys and gals coming back, surely to goodness.
  • Working for the BBC’s Caversham ‘monitoring service’, was my father really simply just another BBC drone working night shifts because the money was better or . . .
  • Those trips to Germany: was it my father who went there to see August Löning as Helma recalls - she says she first met him in 1956, but we didn’t move to Berlin until 1959 - or was it someone else as her now dead sister Irmgard told me?
  • The ‘anti-Nazi’ August Löning was not quite the liberal hero I thought he was until my chat with Irmgard, but an enthusiastic member of Stahlhelm, a rival far-right rival to the NSDAP. So why was he
    a founder member of the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU)? And what was this West German government in exile he, my father and - obviously - many others were setting up?
  • Why exactly was there a radio transmitter at Das Wehrhaus, operated (Helma tells me) by Heinrich, her brother and August’s oldest son?
  • Why did my father, a life-long anti-communist who later described himself to me as a ‘right-wing radical’ (whatever that means), campaign for the Liberal Party in the 1951 General Election? Youthful idealism or . . .
This and more will be looked at in the Second Instalment of This Blog. Tune in . . .

Not much any more to do with my niece’s wedding but, well, what the hell. Oh, and by the way, with the last word of this entry, it has now reached 2,925 words, as close to 3,000 as is barely decent. That’s as many as your going to get this side of Britain Has Talent - The REAL Story or The Kardashians Unveiled! Sorry (well, once again, not really). I could, of course, blether on to make it the full 3,000, but, well, what the hell. Let’s stick to 2,925.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Simply file under 'Will this do?' If you think that's a tad cryptic, read on to find out what the bloody hell I am on about

It’s odd: I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but each time I started it, the little I had written struck me as so ineffably banal that I deleted it all and packed up. The thing is, there are a number of things I want to write, including one particular post I want to write here, but I don’t feel I am ‘allowed’ to until I get this post out of the way. And what is it about, what startling insight shall I deliver today? Bugger all, simply that - as of today - 39 days into retirement I realise that those who say it will take a while to get used to it are right: it is and will.

Now was that worth the effort? Of course it wasn’t. Just think what you could be doing for the 40 seconds it has taken you to read that paragraph. But the odd thing is - and it is most definitely, though unfortunately part of retirement, well ‘my retirement - that I feel obliged to write this post (and obviously try hard to ensure it isn’t banal, though whether I am succeeding is anyone’s guess). I’ll try to explain.

A day or two after I retired, I installed an app on my iPhone called, essentially nothing but a ‘to do’ list. In fact, I installed two other similar apps, but didn’t like them much and deleted them again. They are quite useful, or rather they are apparently quite useful, if you want to organise yourself. Once some task has been completed, you tick it off. The thing is that - surprise, surprise - I don’t get around to doing all of the things I list as ‘to do’, and then feel guilty about not doing them. Well, that wasn’t part of the plan: guilt? Fuck guilt, I don’t want guilt in my life. I shall keep on using it, because - well, it is useful - but I’ve got to get rid of things hanging over my head for several days - like this specific post - and feeling guilty that I haven’t got around to them.

As for retirement, my sister told me my brother-in-law took six months to get used to it. Then, a week or two ago, a friend of an acquaintance, a retired GP (family doctor) told me it took him bloody five years not to feel guilty about ‘not working’. Six months I can take, five years, and I shall be demanding compensation from whichever body hands out such compensation. Personally, I don’t as much feel ‘retired’ as somehow, for whatever reason, ‘off work’ as though at some point I shall be going back to work. Well, I shan’t, but bearing in mind what my sister said, I shall most certainly give it a while, at least six months. As for ‘five years’, well, sod that.

. . .

One of the things I intended to do and am doing (and actually started four or five months ago) is taking my guitar playing a little more seriously and, with that in mind, getting a guitar lesson once a week. I’ve played guitar pretty much for the past 54 years, though not at all well for many years, but consistently. I can bullshit as well as the best and could play several things in certain styles which might have people thinking ‘he’s not bad’, but the point is I knew I was not at all good and that what people heard was pretty much something of a con. To put it into greater context, I don’t actually want to sit around strumming ‘Michael Rode The Boat Ashore’ or anything like that. My ambitions are firmly in the jazz camp and although it is very unlikely I will ever get even a tenth as good as all those jazz guitarists I like, I can, at least, get to play better than have been.

So once a week, it is off to Paul Berrington in Padstow for a storm of scales, modes, musical theory and I don’t know what else, all of which I seem to understand while I am there and most of which is gobbledegook to me once I get home and start practising. Well, almost. Bit by slow bloody bit I am getting my head around it. My main problem, in practising guitar as in so much else, is applying myself. I say I have ‘played guitar for pretty much 54 years’ but actually when I pick up - well, make that picked up - a guitar, I would do a bit of this for 30 seconds or so, then a bit of that, then 30 seconds on a bit of t’other and this pretty much waste my time and make absolutely no progress. So for my the major objective is to learn to stick with it. (As in learning stickability, the admonitions of middle-class British mums since the middle class was invented? Ed).

NB Later (as in a few hours after the above was written while I was still in bed):

Sitting outside just now in a lovely spring sunshine drinking a morning mug of coffee, I realised, or rather remembered, what it is that ‘guilt’ is. I cannot speak for others, but I have long been aware that indulging in an ‘activity’, whatever it is, can superficially give the impression of, for want of a better word, ‘action’ or ‘achieving something’.

The unfortunate part for me was, and is, that I am fully aware that despite being ‘active’ - going shopping, noodling away on guitar, tapping away on my laptop to write a post like this, going to the gym or going swimming and until recently going to work and doing what I did there - I am not, in fact, achieving anything at all. So is this man neurotic? I can hear some of you ask.

Well, I don’t think I am, it’s just that there is a corner of me I simply cannot bullshit myself and that part is quite critical when I pretend I am doing something - by making sure I am active - but, in fact, have done fuck all of any worth (well, worth as in achieving the goals I have set myself). It’s like coming up against yourself and proving to yourself that you are not just another of Life’s Bullshitters. Doing my disabled stepmother’s shopping is worthwhile, certainly, going to the gym and going swimming are worthwhile, certainly, sitting down and writing a post here isn’t quite the most heinous of pastimes, but - in a sense - it is just ‘passing time’.

I put that phrase in brackets because it sums up a rather odd attitude to life, but one which many of us adopt. I first came across it when my younger brother, when he was younger still (he will be 60 in June) described life as ‘just passing time’, and I was oddly shocked and, I have to say, quite concerned. I could tell you more about my brother to try to give the phrase as used by him a little context, but shall do that another time.

My point is that we - most certainly I - are very capable of indulging in all kinds of activities - include going down the pub and watching TV - which often do nothing more than ‘pass time’. We somehow manage to persuade ourselves that ‘we have done something’ - ‘had a long chat about Brexit with Jim down the Royal Oak, you remember Jim, guy with the gammy leg, can sometimes be a bit boring but not always ‘cos there are one or two things he knows about, retired accountant, so he does speak a lot of sense on some things and more to the point knows what he’s one about, unlike some . . .’ and  can then convince ourselves the day wasn’t completely wasted.

That’s how one day becomes the next, one week the next, one month seems to take just two weeks to pass, and before you know it it’s Christmas again and you find yourself resorting that that hoary old platitude ‘Good Lord, doesn’t time fly!’ and your newly-born granddaughter is starting primary school, secondary school, university, off on a gap year. 

Perhaps I am neurotic, perhaps not, but I can say that there is that small critical corner of me whose quiet yet insistent voice asks ‘who the fuck do you thing you are kidding’. I opened up about my major goal in a past post but, for superstitious reasons, won’t repeat what I wrote. But it is still there and still looms over me quite uncomfortably. That is part of the guilt I feel. Years ago, I invented a small strategy to somehow counteract that kind of guilt when I had a day or two off but there were several things that needed to be done: I consciously ‘gave myself permission’ to take the day off and do fuck all. It worked. But the pay-off is that that can only be the occasional day and on days when such permission has not been granted, get stuck in!

On which note I can - happily - confirm that I have started on that major goal.

. . .

Is that enough? Can this be posted so that I have finally got that bloody ‘a month into retirement’ post nailed and out of the way so that I can get on with other things? Hmm. Usually, I write about 1,500 words, but so far I haven’t even reached 1,000, so I am in two minds as to whether to end it yet.

. . .

My son, not yet 19 for another 12 days, is knocking around Guatemala and other Central American countries for six weeks. He is due back two weeks on Monday. I have to say I rather admire him for what he is doing and how he has gone about it. I never ever thought he was some kind of slouch or in any way lazy and disorganised, but I was a little surprised and proud by exactly how organised he has been. He landed in Panama City, then took off to some resort somewhere - some island all backpackers go to - and has for a week or two has been staying in - I’ll look it up - San Pedro La Laguna, where he is a Spanish language school and living with a local family. And he’s loving it. He is here (althoug not at the hotel which Google Maps, undoubtedly in return for hard cash, have chosen to highlight:

He’s a sociable lad (which, if anything, he gets from me rather than his mother) and has been mixing with other travellers, and heard about the Spanish lessons and how the school has an arrangement for pupils to stay with local families. He was going to do it for a week, but then decided to stay for a two more weeks because he’s enjoying it so much and has adapted his plans accordingly. He’s due back on Monday, May 28, and I am meeting him at Heathrow airport when I arrive back from a five-day jaunt to North-West Germany to see my niece/goddaughter married.

As for my little granddaughter Olivia, she seems to be thriving. Here’s a picture of her, taken my my daughter, but given the expression on her face, I have added a facetious caption.

Well, that’s about it: 1,146 words and that’s your lot for now.

Monday, April 23, 2018

My thanks to one Neil Cooper, a philosopher, for doing what we should all to: encourage each other. Mr - subsequently Professor - Cooper brought about a one-off minor miracle in my life. And if you read on, you will see why I must also apologise to the good man, and do so now again, publicly

NB I have a little gizmo at the bottom of this page - it shows about the last four entries - which tells me (in some browsers) when the most recent 10/12 visitors arrived and from where they were visiting. Most recently, someone from ‘Hartley, Kent’ has been a regular visitor, so I invite you to get in touch by leaving a comment of some kind. In fact, I should like to extend that invitation to all visitors. Writing in isolation can be odd at times and it is nice to hear from people. Who knows, if we get on and you at some point find yourself in my neck of the woods down her in sunny North Cornwall, I might even agree to allowing you to buy me a drink. And you would then get one in return.

. . .

I have what might be called a ‘nominal’ university degree, an Ordinary degree in - possibly - English and Philosophy, and let me explain that ‘possibly’. I sat for an Honours degree, failed that, but was awarded an Ordinary. The Honours would have been in English and Philosophy, but I believe no such distinction is made in Ordinary degrees. This is how it all came about.

I have previously confessed that after I failed all five of my first year foundation course exams at Dundee University, I stayed on in Dundee after the summer term ended and set about preparing myself for the resit exams before the start of the autumn term.

As it turned out, I went on to pass four of the five exams and was able to continue with what a cynic might refer to as ‘my academic life’. But it would be misleading, in fact, downright dishonest, to suggest that I was spurred on to spend the summer learning from scratch the course material of a year’s worth of tuition in history, political science, economics, methodology (which is what they called philosophy in the first year) and psychology by a passion for being able to continue my learning and deepen my acquaintance with the work of Adam Smith and the subtleties of the difference between knowledge and belief. I simply wanted to make damn sure that come the autumn term I was still a student at Dundee University so that my bloody Oxford County Council grant cheque would arrive (and to the younger readers among you who are or were obliged to take out a £60,000 loan to fund their university education, all I can say is ‘tough’.

Life is not fair, and if you haven’t yet worked that out, you shouldn’t have opted for a college education). I now know, of course, that another reason for my spurt of academic zeal was to put off for as long as possible the moment when I would have to join the real world and earn my living.

Prolonging my time at university by any means possible was why I realised a four-year ‘honours’ degree course rather than a three-year ‘ordinary’ degree course was preferable, but my performance in my first and second years was not stellar, to put it mildly, especially in English, and the chances of being allowed to join the English department Honours course were slim indeed. Note to would-be English degree course students: it helps if you actually read your set texts rather than base your knowledge of the notable themes, motifs, style and purposes of your course’s set texts on snippets you can scavenge from friends over coffee or beer in the Students’ Union. Well, it might work for you, but it didn’t work for me. But, dear reader, I managed it.

There was another oddity: whereas it seemed others hoping to be allowed to join an Honours course were invited for interview to outline why they thought they should be allowed to join, I wasn’t. I simply, one day, was presented with a form asking me what I would be studying in my third year: would I be taking the Ordinary degree course or the Honours? More in hope that with any confidence, I baldly stated that it would be ‘Honours - English and Philosophy’, and so it came about. To this day I have no idea why or how I carried it off, but carry it off I did and an extra year at college scrounging off the ratepayers of Oxfordshire was mine.

My performance in my third and fourth years was very much in my first and second years: not very good at all. I did read one or two set texts and did attend several lectures and tutorials, but rather fewer than I was expected to take. And although I did not read many of the set texts in philosophy, I did benefit from a gift of the gab of some kind. So although the essays I submitted to the English department were quite simply awful - a few years later I somehow came across one and could not believe that I had written such infantile crap, the work I did for the philosophers and my reasonably lively contributions to philosophy tutorials and seminars were not quite as embarrassing.

In the summer term of my final year, not having read any original texts by Sartre, Locke, Hume, Heidigger, Jaspers or, notably Aristotle, I spent long minutes in the university library in a desperate search for volumes of commentaries on the various works and their authors, any volume and the slimer the better, but, of course, I found few.

Those I did find were pretty useless because generally - apart from the fragmentary bits and bobs I had scavenged in one way or another - I had no framework of even rudimentary knowledge of the various philosophers’ works, so the commentaries were as much gobbledegook to me as the original works would have been had I bothered to try to read them.

I did, serendipitously, come up with one strategy. Dot Leitch, a pleasant student in my year from Berwick-on-Tweed was, like most of the female students, a great deal more conscientious in her studies and attendance at lectures than we were generally we guys. Crucially, she had been to every lecture on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics given by an admirable man, Neil Cooper, later Professor Neil Cooper, and this man had been rather good to me in my second year when I began to get panic attacks and that kind of thing.

His lectures were all at - I think - 10am from Mondays to Fridays. The point was that after I had hauled myself out of my bed at some early hour to attend his first lecture of the year, I didn’t attend a single one until the very last, at some point in the spring term. And even for that lecture I turned up late. Bursting through the door at ten minutes after 10am, I apologised for being late. He said this:

‘You shouldn’t be apologising for being late, you should be apologising for your presence.’

And that stung. It stung because I liked and respected the man, and pretty much there and then I decided that however much of a pig’s ear I would most certainly be making of my other finals, I would do as well as I could in the exam on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The trouble was, of course, well, I’m sure you are well ahead of me. This is were Dot Leitch comes in.

Since I was a lad I have always, for no good reason I can think of, liked banging away on typewriters. I’m still doing it now, except that we no longer use typewriters but desktop or laptop keyboards. And I possessed a typewriter, an old BBC typewriter my father (who worked for the BBC) had found for me. I did a deal with Dot: lend me your handwritten lecture notes on Ari’s great work, and I shall type them up and give you a copy.

Dot, like many young gals, had clear handwriting and here lecture notes were excellent. So I went through them line by line, expanding here and there where the thought was a little too syncopated, and thinking through what Aristotle had written. The second part of my strategy was equally simple: while I went through the notes and tried
to make head and tail of what the man was suggesting, I pretended that it wasn’t Aristotle’s system of ethics I was writing up, but mine: and I thought it through - obviously with the help of Dot’s notes - as though I had come up with the Nicomachean ethics. And, bugger me, it worked. The whole system made perfect sense to me and remained making sense until and while I took my that paper in my final exams.

By chance it was the first exam of all eight I was taking - four in English (and the good Lord knows what they were, but I can’t recall, except that I’m sure one was on Shakespeare) and four in philosophy - Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, aesthetics, existentialism and, I think, some kind of general paper. I think. But the Aristotle came first, from 9am until noon.

Unlike pretty much everyone else who walked out of their finals and spent the next two hours discussing and analysing with others what they had written, I simply spent pretty much all of the time playing pinball in the Students’ Union.

For one thing it seemed so obviously pointless dissecting after the event what you had written and what you had forgotten to write or simply fucked up, for another I just couldn’t be arsed. My attitude was what the hell, you can’t soak up spilled milk and put it back in the bottle, so why bother? Practically, of course, it relaxed me, although I now realise that was just luck. It was most certainly not the reason I spent close on one and a half hours playing pinball.

Crucially, on my way Cooper on the Perth Road. And he was delighted to see me, and burst out (though unlike above, here I must paraphrase): ‘Keep it up!’ It seemed he had already taken a look at our papers and - well, I can only report what he told me - I had done rather well, and most certainly better than expected. His ‘keep it up!’ worked wonders. I was under no illusion at all that I was some kind of genius but the combination of relaxing by playing pinball rather than bemoaning as all the others did where I had cocked up and Neil Cooper’s encouragement did wonders. I can only remember one other paper, that on aesthetics and, if I recall rightly, it was about metaphor. (That does strike me, now writing this, as unusual if not rather unlikely, but that is my memory). And again I simply pitched in, stopped worrying about what was the ‘right’ answer and let rip.

I can’t remember quite how soon the results of our exams were posted and we were told what degree we were being awarded, but when I went to the board where that information had been tacked up, my name was missing. I had not been awarded an Honours degree. A little later I chased off to find out what was going on. And this is what happened: the English department, terminally fucked off with me for not having attended lectures, very few seminars and tutorials and for submitting risible essays and generally treating them all like shit, failed me outright.

The philosophy department, on the other hand - and I had attended all their seminars and tutorials, if not all their lectures - were rather chuffed (I was told) with my performance and insisted that it should somehow be rewarded. Finally, both departments came to a compromise: give Patrick Powell and Ordinary degree. So yet again I had scraped through (rather like surviving on the Daily Mail for more than 27 years after any number of dropped bollocks and temperamental outburst). Oh, and then I understood, or thought I understood, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ehtics perfectly. Now, I haven’t a bloody clue and would struggle to say anything about it.

. . .

I began this post a day or two ago, left it for one reason or another, and am just about to finish it. Originally I intended to write about how I had just finished a novel by a Nobel Laureate, a novel regarded as, if not ‘his masterpiece’ at least ‘one of his masterpieces’, and how I was distinctly underwhelmed by it. In fact, I wanted to state clearly that I didn’t think it was very good at all.

I then intended to point out that if, on the one hand, it comes down to the literary judgment of the Nobel Prize committee who felt that this writer’s body of work over his liftetime was sufficiently excellent to warrant awarding him the prize, and, on the other, the literary judgment of a man who was not just relatively badly read (my scant knowledge of literature has been acquired following my habitual practice of scavenging) but whose ‘English degree’ was about as phoney as Donald Trump’s hair colour, it was a no-brainer: Nobel Prize committee 1 - Patrick Powell’s literary judgment 0.

Well, since beginning composing this entry and completing it, I have started to read the novel again. Immediately re-reading a novel after finishing it for the first time is something I have done once or twice before and I recommend it. I did it with Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier and I did it with John O’Hara’s Butterfield 8, and it is worth doing. My point is that I shall hold fire on my attack on the Nobel Laureate’s novel in question until I have finished reading it. I must admit that it does hold together a little better on the second reading, though I must also admit that - especially given its apparent ‘theme’ - I am still to be persuaded that this is ‘great literature’. I promise that once I have finished it, I shall post the entry as planned, but what I have to say might - or might - not be the same.

I can’t, though, end before once again apologising to - now Professor - Neil Cooper and thanking him from the bottom of my heart for his help and, above all, his encouragement. And tomorrow, I shall ring Dundee University to find out whether he is still among us. After all I am now 68, he was then at least in his late 30s so . . . But if he is, I shall see if I can’t track him down and pay him a visit.

And now to bed and I shall wish you all a bon mot, with no hint, as yet, who the chap was.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I am honourably discharged from Her Majesty’s Press, am handed the traditional tin of Werther’s Originals and can look forward to many years of peace and tranquility (well, someone’s got to and it might very well not be you)

Well, there’s no way to sugar the pill: I am officially now a pensioner and after serving in Her Majesty’s Press for two months short of 44 years, an ex-hack. (I was, for one reason and another - for one very practical reason, I have to say, apart from other less practical reasons - casting my mind back to early June 1974 when I turned up on the Monday morning at the office of the Lincolnshire Chronicle. But far more on that in a future entry. I worked my last shift last

Wednesday, spent a fortune on Wednesday night entertaining friends, son and brother, and colleagues at The Britannia, Kensington, to the drink of their choice and a variety of nibbles, buggered off down here to Cornwall on the Thursday, and my life is now my own.

To be quite honest, I haven’t - unusually I imagine - got all that much to say about it. I have been planning for it for the past six months, so I am not ‘in shock’ anything, and, crucially, I am well aware of the goal I have set myself, and I shall be taking that super-seriously. But apart from that, the only discernible difference between life now and life until 6pm last Wednesday is a curious and very welcome feeling of not having to rush: before when I returned from London on Wednesday night, Thursday morning and had just three days at home, there was always a list of things to do - my stepmother’s shopping, sorting out this and that - and until a job was done, I always had this feeling it was hanging over me. That has now gone.

But these are early days. My send-off from work was rather touching: I was ‘banged out’ by pretty much the whole newsroom at the Mail (the whole newsroom because when one end of a newsroom hears a banging out has started, it joins in whether or not it actually knows who is being banged out). It is a tradition which started in the hot metal days of compositors etc and is not at all usual, so I was very touched. Very touched.

So that it is. As almost always happens when a hack retires, my colleagues designed a spoor front page and I shall post it here once I get hold of a pdf. So far I have ten printed copies, but not means with which to digitise them (they are A3 in size).

The timing has inadvertently become rather good in that my daughter is expecting her first child and it is due on Friday (April 13), though that is just a guide date. On Sunday I shall be up very early - in fact, I probably shan’t go to bed, to drive my son off to Heathrow airport to catch an early-morning flight to Madrid and then on to Panama, and then, after getting a few hours kip at my brother’s in Earls Court, it will be down to Deal in Kent to see a college friend. I actually met him a few months ago when the former drummer in a band he was in who eventually moved to America and the computer industry made his annual trip to Old Blighty with his wife, but until then I hadn’t seen him for about 37 years. He hadn’t changed a lot.

I shall be taking my electric guitar and a small amp, and what with that and the fact that he is an enthusiastic supporter of Jeremy Corbyn whereas I think Corbyn, the current Labour leader is a decent, but useless politician stuck in adolescent left-wingery, it might be a memorable trip. His wife is a painter and has her own studio, so I look forward to seeing her work.

In May, I am off to North-Western Germany for five days for my niece and goddaughter’s wedding, then in June and July there are two one-day trips - as in fly in and fly out the same day - trips to Bratislava for the work on my implanted front tooth to be completed. Around the end of July, I think there will also be my now annual trip to Bordeaux for the music festivals.

But that’s it, really, in November I shall be 69, and with luck, if I keep myself healthy in every way, I might have another 10 to 15 on Earth, so let’s see what the future brings. I must say that although my daughter’s pregnancy was unplanned, she is in a stable relationship with a nice guy, but more to the point I, who very much enjoys the company of children, rather feared that if, like many other women these days, she didn’t have her children until her late twenties or even early thirties, I would have popped my clogs rather earlier and would never has seen them. Well, now I shall see at least one.

. . .

On other matters, what with the various international spats and the discussions about whether World War III should be started this summer, or whether we should wait a while and first have several rounds of futile summit meetings followed by last-minute appeals from the Pope and other dignitaries to see sense before the killing stars, we shall, as the Chinese say, be living in ‘interesting times’. Talking of the Chinese, I don’t doubt that Emperor Xi Jinping is mightly pissed off with the latest turn of events in the Middle East as war is bad for business, unless that business is building weapons and the like.

There he is, attempting slowly but surely to create a world empire by peaceful means and the West rather tactlessly looks like fucking it up for him by getting all moral about a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian dictator Assad (and the Russians, who pull his strings) and threatening attacking Assad, when previously they had merely huffed, puffed and condemned like the best of them. Shouldn’t wonder if Emperor Xi doesn’t choose to take it on himself to act as a peacemaker to ensure business isn’t too badly affected.

But that’s it. Got a lot on today, so I shall wish you all the best.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Two milestones, a new child (though not mine) and some throwaway comments on ‘art’

The next three weeks will mark certain milestones in my life.

First of all, I shall be hanging up my eyeshade, pot of glue, em rule and the finest collection of pencils known to mankind since Alfred the Great and drawing a line under my life serving in Her Majesty’s Press a week on Wednesday (that’s Wednesday, April 4, in those who still deal in new money). By then I shall have fought the good fight of keeping the public informed of the latest diets, a motley and substantial body of opinions held by some of the shallowest minds alive today and generally helping to preserve and protect the Public’s Right to Buy a Newspaper for almost 44 years.

If I had the strength and purity of heart to carry on until early June, it would be a round 44 years, but fighting the good fight does take its toll. And anyway I read somewhere that if you are to retire (and live in Old Blighty), you are best advised to do it before the turn of the tax year which this year is a day after my capitulation on April 5. I have no idea why that is a good idea, but I’ll – for once in my life – go with the flow.

That Wednesday would have been my last shift for the week, so I shall make it my last shift for the year and, well, for ever. A statistic which still amazes me is that by then I shall have been working shifts for the Daily Mail for well over 27 years. I worked my first in September 1990 (and until December 1995 was also working shifts on other nationals). Quite how I haven’t been rumbled, and they most certainly had their chances given my long list of dropped bollocks and cocks-up (only a sub-editor would be prissy enough to write ‘cocks-up’ rather than the far saner, though strictly incorrect, ‘cock-ups’).

As I usual, I am organising a leaving-do and am going through the equally usual distress over whether I have been too optimistic about the numbers who might turn up and have ordered to much food, or whether quite a few will attend and I haven’t ordered enough. The folk I work with cannot get away from work until after 10pm, but I have invited others around the building with whom I am friendly and who don’t work that late and so shall be in attendance from 7.45pm on. Will the scoff the lot? Or not? These things make for worries.

. . .

The second milestone will come on or around April 13, the following week, when, God willing and there are no complications, I shall become a grandfather. My daughter is expecting a baby girl. She will only be 21 in August, and although in times gone by young women began having their children from their late teens to early twenties, more recently the trend has been for having them later, so I pretty much expected never to be a grandfather.

Well, now I shall, and as I have always like children and as far as I am concerned they can never make enough noise the sails – God willing, again – see set for a fair wind. It is, of course, always silly to count your chickens before they have hatched, and who knows, when the young lass is hitting her tweens and might by then have a sibling or two, I shall be in my late seventies, so perhaps I shan’t be to chuffed to have youngsters running around disturbing what, I assume, will be my afternoon naps. Let’s see. But if you have a heart, wish my daughter well (and, of course, all other young women about to given birth to their first).

In keeping with modern times, she is not married, but I am pleased to say she is in a strong relationship with a hard-working man who is just a few years older than she is. Still, I do sometimes wonder whether after all the spoiling my wife has been handing out she will is quite ready for the hard work. But then, if she isn’t, there’s not a lot she can do about it now. (As for spoiling, I spoil both of my children, too, but in very different way.)

A week later my son, not 19 until May 25, is off – on his own – to take a look around Central America. I can’t claim not to be a little apprehensive, in that trouble in the countries he intends visiting if often in the presence of a firearm, which is not the case in Bodmin and Newquay where he has so far been spending a little time. But …

He was going to go with two friends, but for one reason or another they both bowed out and he decided to go ahead with the trip anyway. Well, God speed (and take care).

. . .

That is pretty much all my personal news taken care of. I haven’t bought any more laptops or phones, so there is nothing to report on that score. What, as I think I have pointed out before, my retirement will bring is confirmation either way or whether at heart I am really only one of life’s bullshitters or not. I like to think ‘not’, but it is up to me, and only up to me, to prove the point. In a way I am rather looking forward to it.

Quite how my wife will cope with having me around all week, every week remains to be seen. To be frank she all too often gives the impression of barely tolerating me, and I am, unusually, I grant you, for once not exaggerating. I shan’t here go into too much detail (for one thing she would not be able to give her side of the story) but our marriage has most certainly not been a Cornish rerun of Romeo And Juliet. But then I suspect hardly any marriage is. I do all too often get the impression that she regards me as little more than her means of making sure the bills are met, but maybe I am being too cynical. And maybe not. But what the hell. I shall be 69 on November 21 and with a bit of luck I could have a good ten years ahead of me, so it is up to me to put it to good use.

. . .

Driving back from The Brewers Arms in South Petherton where I usually drop off for two large glasses of wine before carrying on my journey, many different things occur to me which I think might be worth exploring in this blog. To explain that a little, I find that I am not a great thinker when it comes to ‘thinking’, and that I hone my thoughts and beliefs far more in debate (preferably with someone I don’t agree with) or by writing (as in this blog).

For example, last week I went to the workshop of a – I think rather good – potter called Paul Jackson, of Helland Bridge, to buy a wedding present for my niece and goddaughter who is getting married on May 26. In the event I didn’t buy something (it was to be a plate because plates are more easily carried in a suitcase than another piece, but a, well, jug). Here are a few images of some of his work.

Among other things, I like his colours.

I am that curious sort who prefers his art to be wholly useless and just something to be enjoyed. And unlike Seth Cardew, who I used to visit in Spain but who died last February, Paul’s pieces are just that: pieces which exist solely to be themselves and exist. Yes, there are other approaches to art, but that is mine.

I mention Paul because we spent some time (and were later joined by his wife) talking about ‘art’ and I found myself again expounding on my rather contrarian views on ‘what art is’. I think I might have mentioned this before, but my view, my conviction, in fact, though a conviction which flies wholly in the face of accepted notions, is that everything produced, from the plastic arts, to the literary arts to music is ‘art’. But that most certainly doesn’t mean that it is necessarily per se worthwhile.

The distinction comes when we consider individual ‘works’ in themselves. So I am far, far more inclined to making a distinction between ‘good art’ and ‘bad art’ as opposed to the current and contemporary view of ‘this is art’ and ‘this is not art’ and that the judgment is made by experts. If nothing else my approach if far more manageable and, if this doesn’t sound to naff, far more democratic. I do so hate snobbery in any and all of its forms, and the ‘art world’ is chock-a-bloc with such snobbery.

As a parting thought I shall leave you with the observation that a Picasso is only worth the several million it can command at auction solely because some sap or other (usually to show off how much moolah he has and that he can afford it) is willing to pay several million for it and outbid anyone who threatens to spoil is bout of boasting.

If the consensus were somehow to gain ground as to be the overwhelming consensus that Picasso ‘is OK, but most certainly not the great artist we have so far seen him as’, just watch those market valuations plummet. Here’s another example: we now know that the renowned sculptor Eric Gill was not just a paedophile but an incestuous paedophile. Does that have any bearing whatsoever on how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the art he produced is? Of course, it doesn’t, and it would be cant to suggest otherwise.

Several years ago, the British potter Grayson Perry (I’ve only seen his work in pictures and never in real life, and I can’t say think it is ‘better’ than Paul Jackson’s, i.e. I prefer Paul Jackson’s) gave the BBC Radio 4’s Reith Lectures, and in three on subsequent weeks, he tried to ‘define’ art. Well, by his own admission Perry didn’t manage it, but there was a anecdote he retailed which does slightly illuminate what I am talking about. He recalls how he was once talking to a New York art dealer who sold pieces to the very rich and asked him whether there were any works he found he could never sell. ‘Yes,’ the dealer told him, ‘ anything which is too big to get into the lift of an upscale Manhattan apartment block’. Seems like a throwaway anecdote but it on just a little reflection it does tell us rather more than we think about the ‘worth’ of art.

Pip, pip.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

‘Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock’. Funny, then, how folk still try

I was at primary school in Britain, the Sacred Heart School, in Station Rd., Henley-on-Thames, which moved to Greys Hill, both in Henley-on-Thames, from September 1954 to June 1959. I can’t remember being taught any history there. In fact, I don’t think any primary school teaches history, except, of course, at the Dick and Dora level of ‘the Vikings were a ferocious, warlike people from the cold North who drank much mead and wore helmets with horns, even in bed’. After that it was a year at Steubenschule, in Berlin-Charlottenburg, just down the road from where we live in the Olympische Straße, then three years at Das Canisius Kolleg, in Berlin-Tiergarten.

If we were taught history at the Steubenschule, it must have passed me by, because I can’t remember any of it, and all I do remember of history at Das Canisius Kolleg was that it was Ancient Roman history (though don’t hold me to that).

At The Oratory School, the Roman Catholic branch of Reading gaol and run by Her Majesty’s Department of Justice and Punishment in Woodcote, Oxfordshire, I arrived at 13, one of only two lads of my year’s intake of 42 who had not been to prep school (and who was thus wholly unprepared for the unmitigated discomforts which awaited me – cold showers, I can tell you, do not build your character, they are merely concrete evidence that most public schools would prefer to spend their cash on sherry, fine wines and a log fire in his study for the head than fuel for the boilers to keep the boys warm).

Crucially, they had all, I assume, been taught British history for several years and will have covered topics such as the Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain, the invasions by the Vikings, William of Normandy’s grab for power, rule by his sons, Matilda and Terence (or was it Stephen? I can never remember) and the Plantagenets, because they weren’t half as baffled by lessons about Henry VII Star Court Chamber as I was. Baffled is putting it mildly, and this went on for a year, my first, in the fourth form. Then, when I began my second year, we all started the term by being asked whether we wanted to study ‘arts’ or ‘sciences’. ‘Arts’, Oratory School-style in the mid-1960s – it was not the paedagogic colossus it is now (at least according to its website and prospectus with its vague references, wholly unsubstantiated, that the Oratory is ‘the Catholic Eton’. Yeah, right) – consisted of Spanish, history and geography. ‘Sciences’ meant lessons in chemistry, physics and biology.

At 14, I equated chemistry with messing around with chemicals (and I was not entirely wrong on that matter), so I opted for ‘sciences’ without a word of advice or consultation from a parent, and that choice defined the course of the rest of my education. I have to say that studying chemistry, and in time coming across the concept of ‘entropy’, lead me to an interest in philosophy – I was rather taken with the possibility that you could discuss and debate ideas – but crucially there was no more history. There were a few brief history lectures in my first foundation year at Dundee University – there were, in fact, several history lectures a week for three terms, but I wisely very soon took to sleeping until noon, then idling away the afternoon in the students’ union coffee bar – so history played almost no part in my life until – well, there is no better way of putting it – I had grown up a little.

Our first year at Dundee was concluded with exams in all five foundation year subjects: methodology (a kind of philosophy for infants), pyschology, economics, political science and history, and as I had spent all year in bed, in the bar, in pubs, at parties and feeling sorry for myself, but had dedicated no time at all to my studies, I naturally failed all five. Those like me who failed were given a second chance at ‘resits’ and as far as I was concerned those resits were a lifeline. For one thing, and this frightened me more than anything else, dropping out of university would mean that I was to be obliged to forgo my grant cheque and ‘work for a living’, and I can’t stress just how much that put the fear of God in me. So I did something which to this day is for me a source of personal pride: as an achievement it might not rank up there with developing the Theory of Relativity or laying down your life for you country, but by Christ was I proud!

I didn’t go home that summer but stayed in Dundee and from scratch – and I mean from scratch - studiously learned the syllabus for each of the five subjects. And come the resit exams I passed four out of five. I missed out on psychology, but passed that at a second resit at the end of the Christmas term. My grant cheque was secured: three more years of ligging around at the state’s expense (or strictly the expense of Oxfordshire County Council). It was about this time that I discovered I was able to claim ‘travel expenses’. Why these, too, were being handed out I can’t even begin to guess, but claim them I did and very welcome, too, were the pounds which trickled into my bank account.

To sum up (a summing up which might please those who get rather fed up with my discursive style), until several years ago when I began to read up on history, all I knew was a few odd facts about Romulus and Remus - they were twins, brought up by a wolf and Romulus eventually murdered Remus - and that Henry VII (the father of Good King Hal/that murderous bastard Henry VIII) operated something called ‘the Star Court Chamber’ through whose offices he put the fear of God up pretty much everyone and then some, and kept the throne to which he was probably no even vaguely entitled.

By the way, I am no expert, but given what I know, I am far more inclined to the suggestion that Richard III wasn’t the nasty little bastard who stole the crown from his nephew, and that the story is most probably Tudor propaganda designed desperately to justify Henry VII own usurpation and the monarchies of his son and granddaughters. There is a related suggestion, which is quite plausible, that the princes in the Tower were not ordered by Richard but by Henry VII who knew that while they were alive, his position would always be insecure.

. . .

I can’t remember when I became far more interested in history, but I did. My subsequent autodidactic assault on the subject had nothing to do with ‘being ashamed’ of my lack of learning as my hang-ups lay elsewhere entirely. The fact was and is that I find history fascinating, though I am more one for reading of the actions and

behaviour of the men and women from history than the facts and figures. It is the psychology – I use the word in a more general sense – of historical figures and of their motives which interest me and how the affairs of state and not least the innocent deaths of tens of thousands might be a consequence of, for example, that so-and-so was a conceited, bone-headed fart who refused to take good advice ever.

Facts – the years when such-and-such took place – are important, yes, but broadly as far as I am concerned their purpose is to give context and to provide a framework with which the ever-growing body of historical knowledge you acquire can be ordered and kept comprehensible.

I am not too proud to admit that I am a minimalist when it comes to academic reading. My strategy is to get the bare bones in place and more and more of the flesh can come later as and when. So over the years I have read, taking a splatter-gun approach, slim volumes on the French Revolution, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the Plantagenet, Treveleyans very, very, very useful and readable Shorter History of Something Or Other, the origins of the First World War – well, you get the picture.

A very honourable mention should go to the left-wing historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Of The United States, which had a curiously profound impact on my thinking and which made me realise that intellectually I am a socialist. That I am not one in practice is down to the rather mundane, though serious, point that here in Britain the Left is as adept at fucking things up as the Right is at feathering its own various nests. (NB I suspect that were I German and living in Germany I would now be supporting the SPD, the country’s social democrats, though they, too, are, like Labour here in Britain, are going through a rough patch.)

. . .

I’ve just spent a few minutes trying to track down the exact quote, and finally found it. It is from the one-time reporter, playwright and scriptwriter (The Front Page is probably known to you) Ben Hecht who observed that ‘Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock’. Well, I am not about to launch myself on another rant against the press, journalism and all

the rest. I tracked down that quote because it does neatly, though obliquely, sum up a modern dilemma – and by ‘modern’ I mean contemporary to whatever the age, from the dawn of time to now, 16.18 (4.18) on Sunday, March 18. We know what has happened in the past, but to be honest our understanding of what is happening now, whether that ‘now’ is today, this week, this month or this year, is patchy at best. We need perspective and information to understand what is going, events must be put into context and related to other events before we can truly claim to know our age. That is why Hecht’s observation is pertinent.

Today Vladimir Putin is standing for election in Russia and no one doubts the the whole shooting match is rigged and that Vlad will be re-elected as president. That is a fact, but what the consequences of his re-election will be are impossible to know, and it will be several years, or more probably decades before we – well, not me, but others – can know and evaluate.

Six days ago in China, The People’s National Congress abolished term limits on the presidency and vice-presidency which means that the country’s current president, Xi Jinping, can call the shots until he dies in office, decides to call it a day or is forcibly removed. As Xi will be 67 in two months time and as Chinese men and women seem to live remarkably long lives, he might well be calling the shots for another 15 to 20 years. Putin will be 68 later this year, and although the life expectancy of Russian males is just over 64, Putin is a teetotaller and so might expect might also expect to live – and lead Russia – for another 15 years.

As I say, we can’t at all know what the future will bring – although there is always any number of experts being lines up by the media to tell us – but I suggest that in or around the year 2033 there might well be a great deal of unwanted trouble in China or Russia or both as murderous gangs of rivals fight for control of their country now that their dear leader has popped his clogs. And I can suggest that because throughout history there have been wars, both national and civil, when an all-powerful ruler dies and has not, often merely for reasons of self-preservation, arranged of his power (it’s rarely her power, isn’t it) to be passed on. While he is alive, any possible rivals will be culled or otherwise neutralised, so there is usually a free-for-all once he breathes his last.

The same rather shambolic ‘knowledge’ of what will happen to the UK come the end of next March when it leaves the EU is also threadbare in the extreme. Both the Leave and Remain sides have made and continue to make prognostications, but as far as I am concerned, no one has a clue who Britain will fare economically and thus socially. Yes, we can guess and call those guesses ‘forecasts’, but at the end of the day, stripped of their fine clothes and the reputation of those who are guessing, they are still nothing but guesses.

There’s the very well-known quote by the Spanish philosopher George Santyana, one which is so well-known, in fact, that it is in great danger relegation to the status of cliché, that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. I don’t doubt it is a very true observation, but I suggest it is also rather pointless, more the stuff of conversation at middle-brow dinner parties and first-year political science seminars than anything else. Why? Even those who do ‘remember the past’ still fondly imagine that they are the exception, that by repeating the actions of those who have gone before they will get away with achieving what others have failed to achieve.

Here’s a point in case: after World War II when the ‘British Empire’ was in its death throes, every one of its colonies demanded independence. And why not? But at the time there were many in Britain who counseled caution and patience. The colonies were not socially, economically or politically mature enough for independence, they said. I don’t doubt that many who spoke out along those lines did so merely from venal motives and wanted the white man’s good times to carry on rolling for a while yet. But there were others whose counsel was pure and impartial: they well remembered the past and did not want to condemn those colonies seeking independence to death, misery, famine, dictatorship and hopelessness. Their concerns went unheard and what did occur from the first years of independence for many subsequent decades? Why death, misery, famine, dictatorship and hopelessness for the vast majority of the people who weren’t in with the dictator and his cronies. The past was repeated anyway.

. . .

As I say, it is the human behaviour of past historical figures which I find most interesting: people are people are people. Kindness, hate, greed, love, altruism, self-sacrifice – everything we know about people is pretty much eternal. It matters not a whit whether they wore powdered wigs, covered themselves in woad, liked REM or Beyonce, eat with chopsticks. So if we try to understand the actions of people in modern terms, we are halfway there.

Yes, there were differences, for example, the stranglehold the Roman Catholic church had on Western Europe until the Reformation (though that stranglehold then merely shifted hands) was very much a factor in the political decisions, the what is possible and what is not. Then there is the gradual, the painfully gradual, emancipation of women, but at the end of the day, folk farted then, shagged then, got drunk then and laid down their lives for their fellow man then as now.

Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose: accepting that has helped me enormously in my splatter-gun reading in history. As for Henry Ford’s ‘history is bunk’, that is best understood in that I don’t think he meant it literally. I like to think he was urging us to look to the future rather than ever delving in the past if we want to achieve anything.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Which finds me in Slovakia to get that gold tooth (or, to be frank the rather cheaper aluminium one, times being hard and all that). As for bumping off hacks, well, it seems Slovakia has a bit of form

Bratislava, Slovakia

I’m here in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, which was from 1918 until 1993 a part of Czechoslovakia, and is now a stouthearted member of the European Union and, bar the very occasional political murder (of which more later ©Geoff Levy) of a troublesome journalist or other, a bulwark of democracy and human rights in the former Soviet bloc. As those who have bothered to read my previous blog entry might recall, I am having trouble with a very loose front tooth, or rather was having trouble, so read on.

This morning I kept an appointment at the Smile Clinic (in the Heiniken Tower, honest) this morning for the first stage of having it replaced with an implant, which might strike some, though not all, as an unacceptable bourgeois luxury, but given that here it will cost me only around £1,334 to get the one tooth replaced whereas back in the self-proclaimed centre of civilisation known as the United Kingdom quotes I obtained ranged from £2,300 (from Denzil Tremaine of Tregillick, who also dabbles in car mechanics and installing gas boilers at keenly competitie prices, or so he told me) to well over £4,000, I think the case for travelling East makes itself.

To trip here got off to a rather fraught start after I thought I had set my alarm for 4.45am to get to Heathrow for 5.30 and the departure of my flight at 7.05, but had not. As luck would have it my brother, with whom I lodge in Earls Court and who for some reason rises at 5am every morning for his breakfast, roused me in time to dash to the airport. I made it to the departure gate with 15 minutes to spare after the usual hassle at security where I was instructed to strip twice and then explain why I has carrying a hunting knife strapped to my leg. My simple explanation that I always carry one, if nothing else to cut up birthday cakes with less hassle than the short 3in plastic knife folk at work prefer, was not accepted and I had to surrender it. Still, I can always get another.

As it turned out, our flight arrived at Vienna airport a full 20 minutes early, and why I really don’t know. Perhaps the pilot was on a promise. Who knows? At the airport I was met by a driver who took me the 63 kilometres to Bratislava. Why Vienna rather than Bratislava airport some of you might be asking. Well, simply because for whatever reason far fewer airlines attempt to reach Bratislava than Vienna and trying to obtain a return flight was far easier if I flew to Vienna.

After the initial work – I shall return in three months to get the gold tooth I have chosen to replace my wonky loose one inserted – I took a detour back to my hotel, and walking around Bratislava, Slovakia, this morning looking for my contact Vasily (I’m also here to swap Saturday Morning Kitchen secrets with those blackmailing bastards from the FSB, commercial secrets far outweighing military/intelligence secrets in the modern age as Putin’s murderous

henchmen are incredulous at just how successful the BBC is these days and want to know exactly why) I couldn’t help – really I couldn’t, as all signs, road signs, street names, shop signs and the rest are in some inscrutable language with all kinds of dots, dashes, accents, slashes totally alien to this son of Albion – recalling all those excessively cheesy 007 James Bond films from the 1960s until the present day.

Freedom came to the good Slovak folk in 1993 (which, in James Bond film terms is eight 007 films ago, rather as disaster areas are measured as how much they resemble the size of Wales) but still the past lingers on. In those films all women were either sexy, seductive, attractive twentysomethings who either betrayed 'James’ or fell in love with ‘James’ but either way were shot dead for doing so, or, far more likely, grumpy and dumpy babushka types.Well, I can’t comment on the women (or rather I could but shan’t) but Bratislava is a many ways rather like those cheesy films.

There some 21st century towers of all shapes, i.e. not just up and down and rectangular), quite few dull apartment blocks, some a tad shabby, many not at all, and then near my hotel, in Stefanikova) loads of 17th and 19th buildings which shout Central Europe and which make this son of Adam want to see far more of Central Europe. Just saying.

While writing this last bit a little earlier, I cheap joke did occur to me, that I for the duration of my stay, I should get my head shaved, put on a few kilos and wander round in a tracksuit to fit in with the locals. But even I admit that would be in poor taste, not to say a quip at least 20 years beyond its sell-by date, so please, dear reader, consider it ‘not made’ and that I am a man of morse sophisticated wit (well, on a good day).

Truth be told the little I have seen of Bratislava, which is just the walk from my hotel, the Loft Hotel, in Stefanikova to the clinis and back with that small excursion to the old town, reminds me on many ways of Berlin, and were it not for the, to me at least, rather alien spelling of Slovak words, what with the plethora of accents familiar and less familiar, I might be anywhere east of the river Rhine.

My return trip to have the gold tooth fitted will entail two treatments, one for a mould of some kind to be made of, well, I suppose my mouth and the part of my chops where the tooth will fit, and then another a week later to have the tooth put in. The decision to be made is whether to make two return trips or just the one, eight-day trip, spending the time between appointments (which has already been set for June 20, a day which appealed to me as soon as it was suggested in that on June 20, 1953, the folk of East Germany staged an uprising against their communist government.

(NB While looking up the exact year on Google, I discovered that there was also an uprising – also known as a demonstration - in Paris on that date in 1792 when the people peacefully tried to get their king to play along with the Legislative Assembly. That one didn’t work, either. The East German uprising lead to even more repression and the Parisian uprising lead to the Reign of Terror.) I think I’ll make it a week-long trip and see if I finally can’t hook up with Vasily (the head of the FSB’s Internal Cooking Secretariat, believe it or not, and if you ever met Vasily, you would realise how desperate they are to get good operatives. No wonder they made such a cock-up in Salisbury the other week!).

. . .

As for the murder of a journalist, Jan Kuciak, who was apparently getting to close to discovering the truth about corruption at high levels – take a look here – my comments have already been overtaken by the resignation of the prime minister, one Robert Fico, more here.

Kuciak’s colleagues were not just indignant and sickened but unfazed and, at risk to their own lives and some are now under police protection, they decided to go through Kuciak’s unfished story, check it all again and publish what they had. You can read an English translation of it here. And given what I have to say in my previous entry, you might care to bear in mind how I was careful not to apply my admitted broadbrush generalities about hacks to everyone (although I should stress that no hack has, as far as I know, been bumped off for writing dodgy punning captions to a pointless array of pictures. Well, not yet, anyway, perhaps standards will tighten a little lethally. Who knows. RIP Mr Kuciak.

Coincidentally, on my way to the clinic this morning from my hotel, I walked past a church and the array of candles and flowers you can see in one of the links I have posted, although I didn’t investigate.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The lowdown on hacks (or, at least, my lowdown, but if you come across others, remember: taste it, don’t swallow it)

It is often the little things which get you thinking, and a slight tiff with a colleague – an insignificant tiff at that – got me thinking about the many comments I have made about journalists, hacks, reporters and sub-editors. But first of all a little background.

A few posts ago, I wrote about my tendency ‘to rush’ (you can read it here, and looking it up just now to get the web address, I was surprised  by a long ago it was) and how it has caused me all kinds of problems, not least professionally. The essence of the job of being a sub-editor (US copy editor) is attention to detail, and a tendency ‘to rush’ mitigates against any such niceties. To be blunt, throughout my career – I like to think ‘career’ would be more appropriate as it has certainly not been a case of my diligently setting about climbing a professional ladder and the quote marks will make the word more honest – I have dropped bollocks, a great British phrase whose meaning, even though you might not be acquainted with it, I’m sure you can guess.

The practical upshot is that at work – on the features subs’ desk of the Daily Mail – those in charge have taken to treating me with caution: I am apt to introduce literals into copy as easily as spotting them and removing them. And that, I’m sure you will have gathered, is a professional Achilles heel. The irony is, however – and please bear in mind that I am making the claim, so I might well be kidding myself – I am in some ways a better, often far better, sub than many I have come across. The trouble is that all too often I shoot myself in the foot which obscures the good work I can do. Ah well.

It is down to ‘rushing’, and as I pointed out in the earlier post, that is to this day, to this moment writing this entry, ‘rushing’ is a tendency I have to fight all the time. All the time! It is ongoing. It is not just in the matter of writing – I am inclined to try to do everything sooner rather than later: when I walk, I now consciously try to slow myself down, because – well, what’s the rush? When I look up the chords to a song and set about teaching myself a song, I am again apt to rush it all, which means I create difficulty for myself and the process seems harder than I thought.

The ‘why’ I rush is irrelevant – perhaps it has to do with being the second-born. Perhaps there is another reason entirely. What is relevant it the fact of ‘rushing’ and how, when I am doing something I want to do well (such as writing) I very consciously have to work against it. Sometimes I succeed. Often I don’t. An example: I have just finished writing 1,800 words and thought it would be a good idea to read through what I have written to make sure it all hangs together. But, Christ, was it a struggle not to ignore that admirable suggestion and just post this crap.

The tiff, the disagreement, is rooted in the suspicion that although I might be good at some things, in others I can be – which means I am not necessarily always – a liability. There was a little more to it than that, but that, too, is irrelevant here. But that tiff got me to thinking and finally led to me sitting down and composing this blog entry.

. . .

We hacks, and by the way, on April 4 I shall be working my last shift and then finally retiring so come April 4, I shall no longer be one, I have often suggested are a strange breed. But now I shall come clean: I suspect we are no stranger than doctors, lawyers, accountants, office workers, dockers or anyone else. What, I think, marks us out is the nature of our work and industry.

For example, I have heard colleagues jokingly, of course, refer to members of ‘the public’ as ‘civilians’. By referring to them as such they are implicitly setting themselves apart from other members of the public and suggesting that they are, in some way, special, even though the description of the public as ‘civilians, is pretty much a joke. But the fact is hacks do in an odd way see themselves as apart and something special.

For example, a newspaper consists of many departments doing certain jobs, of which the editorial department – us – is just one. (I can only pontificate about newspapers and the newspaper industry because that is the one I know. I suspect journalists – hacks – in the broadcasting media are very similar, but I have never worked in radio or television so I shall refrain from generalising too much.)

Apart from the reporters, writers, sub-editors and photographers who supply copy and pictures or work on copy and pictures supplied, every newspaper depends on many other departments doing their job well: the advertising department, promotions, the circulation department, those in production further down the chain. Then there are the editorial assistants, the wages department, the personnel department and these days ‘systems’, the bods who make sure the computer system is working 100 per cent. And the whole operation would, to a greater or lesser degree, grind to a halt if something goes wrong in any one department.

If it were not for the adverts the paper carries, there would be no paper. The cover price brings in a comparative pittance. The ads bring in the money which pays for the whole shooting match. Related to them are the bods working in promotions. And if the computers go down, well watch out, and watch out well. It spells disaster. The Mail, for example, but this will be true of every other national paper, has contingency plans to move as much of the operation elsewhere if and when, for example, there were a terrorist attack on Northcliffe House.

To get to the point: all departments – though especially the advertising department, the money-bringers must work efficiently in tandem, must do its job well. But the editorial department has this odd, very odd, conviction, that it is the beating heart of the newspaper, without which, well, sine qua non. This is taken further and lead to the conviction that if the editorial department, or a member of it, wants something done, who is doing the doing is expected to drop everything and attend to the request from editorial. ‘We’, the bloody-minded conviction is ‘are in a position of primacy’. ‘We are what keeps this whole shooting match going. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Producing newspapers is, if only my colleagues would see the light and agree with me, a symbiotic process.

Without advertising, for example, there would be no papers. Certainly, there would be news sheets of a kind as some folk are addicted to scribbling – I am a case in point - but their circulation would be minimal and the price asked of the public to buy that news sheet would hardly cover costs.

What this editorial conviction that ‘we are the beating heart’ has means is that many, though not all – I propose myself as an exception – hacks are oddly self-centred. The profession, by its very nature, also seems to attract mavericks, and here I don’t claim to be the exception to the rule. Organising hacks is akin to trying to herding cats. Try it. Try herding four, five, ten cats. You will get the feline equivalent of two fingers (US one finger).

Hacks also have a tendency – the self-image they have is part and parcel of it – to what I can only describe as ‘bullshitting’. (NB It was an example of such bullshitting which caused the tiny tiff earlier tonight, but it would not just be pointless but boring for me to go into detail.) Now I am the first to admit that I love, just love bullshitting. But I must also add that one of the few principles I have, and one which is important to me, is ‘bullshit for fun, not for real.’ The trouble is that many journalists do not share that principle.

An example: journalism, journalists insist, is ‘a vocation’ and somewhere along the line was introduced the idea that we ‘break into journalism’, that it is supremely hard to land yourself a job working as a journalist (another NB: I have to this day never described myself as ‘a journalist. I always say, when asked what I do for a living, replied that ‘I work for a newspaper’. Just saying).

Well, tell me, do nurses ‘break into nursing’? Do plumbers ‘break into plumbing’. I don’t believe they do, but using the phrase ‘breaking into journalism’ is useful in that it somehow marks out the journalist as ‘something special’, something out of the ordinary, folk who are not like the ordinary joes who sells us bread, legal advice, bus tickets or who bandage a broken leg. We are assumed by the public to be ‘more in the know’ than they are, and as that assumption adds a welcome sheen to the otherwise drap life of many hacks, they are not inclined to contradict is and set the story straight.

. . .

I began a previous paragraph by promising to get to the point. Well, now I shall.

Journalists – some of them most certainly – to do a vital job, the job the world thinks we all do. They are most certainly not all ‘bullshitters’. A reporter visiting a refugee camp and reporting on the awful conditions there; a reporter trying to get to the bottom of a civic scandal, a story of bribery in political circles; a writer inveighing against the corrupt regime he or she is living in, the reporters ‘merely’ chronicling the doings of the local council, parliament, what really happened to cause a disaster deserve our respect. And many, many the world over often die trying to do a vital job. Take a look at this website, which I have often highlighted and drawn attention to.

But then there are the rest: the writers compiling lists of the newest ‘must-have’ espresso machine, face creams, sub-editors writing punning captions to a series of photographs demonstrating how some celebrities resemble this

or that vegetable (a favourite of the Daily Mail). There was talk on the desk today – and to be fair we were horrified – of how the Mail has published pictures and stories of a former soap actress who has fallen on hard times and taken to the bottle in a big way. She is a mess, but, the paper has decided, a mess which would entertain its readers.

The story even mentioned the several awful strokes of fate which have recently befallen her, but the paper had no compunction whatsoever in still parading her misfortunes for the benefit of many of its – let’s call a spade a spade – brain-dead fuckwits.

So tell me, how do the journalists working on this ‘story’ of an alcoholic actress stack up against their colleagues working in authoritarian and totalitarian states – in Russia, China, the Caucaus, some South Americn counties, in the Middle Eatss – who are often quite literally risking their lives trying to get ‘the news’ out? Answer: they don’t. But tell that to the hacks prepared to turn someone over without a second thought.

. . .

To be honest the main point of this entry is to allow me to let off steam. Actually, that is not the main point: the main point is that despite my poking fun at others in my profession, I want to make it clear that I do have a lot of respect for many earning their crust as members of ‘the Fourth Estate. They, though, seem to be working elsewhere in the world.

As for ‘earning their crust’, claiming working in journalism is ‘a vocation’ is all too often used as an excuse to pay provincial hacks working in Britain a piss-poor wage, and that practice has now spread to the national papers when it comes to re-imbursing newly recruited staff. Given London rents and costs, £20,000 a year is fuck-all, but that is what many of my younger colleagues are paid when they start. In years gone by landing a job on ‘a national’ was rather lucrative, however lowly your editorial position was, but no more, no more, no more.

So there you have it: a soon-to-be-put-out-to-pasture hack lets rip. Oh, I shall carry on with the bullshitting but please remember one of my few principles: bullshit for fun, but not for real.