Saturday, June 18, 2011

Why we might forego a silly season this year as the world heats up, but don’t East Anglian dwile flonkers and the Duke of Portland’ shyness can step up (courtesy of Ben le Vay).

Traditionally, for newspapers August is the ‘silly season’ when news becomes so thin on the ground that they - or the skeleton staff who hold the fort - are reduced to reporting incidents of ducks taking to skateboarding (‘skateboarding ducks’) and that kind of nonsense. Admittedly, such reports might appear indistinguishable to the naked eye to what appears in the rest of the year, but as a rule, when you get into detail, they are far sillier. For example, any duck found skateboarding in any month which is not August will be found, on further investigation, to be nothing but a common or garden duck. A duck caught skateboarding in August (and newspapers are adept at catching that kind of thing on camera) will, on further investigation, be found to be fluent in French and one of Princess Margaret’s former lovers.

This August, I suspect, will not be a silly season. It might today seem like a long way off, but August 1, as of today, is just 44 days away. And there is enough bubbling under to make August not just not silly, but downright interesting. For example, in Argentina the country’s president Cristina Kirchner is stirring the pot marvellously over the ‘disputed Falklands’. Why? Well, there’s an election coming up and Kirchner wants to be re-elected. More to the point, my sources in the Ministry of Defence (Ships and Rum) complain that the recent defences cuts mean that should the Argentineans decided to invade the Falklands again, not only could Britain not get a fleet together to defend the islands, it would be hard pushed even to send a strongly worded telegram. An Argentinean writer memorably described the Falklands war in the early Eighties as ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’, but sadly that neck of the woods is now a little more important what with various oil companies drilling for oil they suspect might lie just offshore.

Then there are the bloody Greeks who, creative as ever, are coming up with ever more exciting and innovative ways of going bust in the certain knowledge that no one will let them until their own plans are in place to avoid as much of the flak as possible. Germany (quite rightly in my view) wants the money markets to share the pain, but the rest of Europe is fighting shy of that rather as one fights shy of standing up to a bully. This morning, it seems, the appeasers have finally persuaded Germany to stand down and accept that Greece should get another dollop of moolah just to keep the show on the road. At this point I might be inclined to advise everyone to bite on the bullet, face the music and stop dithering, but unfortunately the fall out from doing that would be so horrendous for Joe, Jose, Johan, Jacoma and Giorgio public that it isn’t worth contemplating. There’s the old joke about the traveller in Ireland who asked for directions and was told: ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here.’ But that is exactly what we have to do. We are here and there’s nothing we can do about it. But given all the euro crap that’s been flying around, you do wonder why Croatia, or rather, the Croatian government is still so keen to join ‘the club’.
Or how about Syria. How long can that go on? Something's got give, either way. They say Turkey, which does a hell of a lot of trade with Syria, is both trying to persuade Assad to go a little easier (kill fewer people?) as well as keep on good terms with the Syrian regime. One commentator remarked that it is very possible that Bashir al-Assad is not quite the man in charge he is assumed to be, but being manipulated by the army and security forces, who have rather too much to lose if the regime collapses. The Assad Jnr we have now was not the Assad Jnr his dad had marked out as his successor. The old dictator had groomed his oldest son Basil to take over, but he was killed in a car crash in 1994, so there had to be a change of plan. The second son - and current president - Bashar was living in London studying ophthalmology (well, makes a difference to chicken farming which was Heinrich SS Himmler’s vocation) when his brother was killed and was recalled to base to become a trainee dictator.
Then there’s the question of whether the Syrian army really stay together. There have been reports on the radio that enlisted men and officers are defecting, but there are comparatively few of them. That one will run and run, too.

In view of all that, so much for a silly season this August.

. . .

Talking of silliness, I can’t resist the opportunity to plug a very amusing and comprehensive book by my friend and colleague Ben le Vay called Eccentric Britain. The title say is tall. If you have ever wondered whether dwile flonking (attempting to hit a member of the opposing team with a dishcloth soaked in beer) really does go on in rural pubs in East Anglia, if you would like to visit a museum of cornflake packets, if you want to read all about the fifth Duke of Portland who was so shy, no one but no one was allowed to look him in the face, if you want to visit a memorial to British pigeons who are regarded as heroes of World War II - if, to come to the point, you want to find out a lot more about true Brit eccentricity, get the book. It is published by Bradt Travel Guides and you can get hold of a copy here at Amazon.

This is Ben’s most comprehensive guide to eccentricity hereabouts, but he has previously written books on eccentric London, eccentric Cambridge and eccentric Edinburgh. It’s also available at (as they say) all good bookshops and, undoubtedly quite a few bad ones. Do get a copy. Not only will you keep yourself amused for hours but Ben would get a bit more money.

. . .

The major news this morning was that ‘the Americans are in talks with the Taliban’, presumably to end the war and get the hell out of Aghanistan. That would be no bad thing, of course, but who is asking for the talks and who is agreeing to them? That should give us a fair idea as to who thinks they are losing and who doesn’t think they are losing. That won’t be lost on the Taliban.

Incidentally, as far as I know the name ‘Taliban’ is perfectly useless, being used, as it is, to describe such a disparate group of people. The one thing they have in common is their desire to get U.S., British and other Nato troops the hell out of their country. But apart from that the different groups have nothing in common. They range from journeymen fighters who just want to earn a living and will fight anyone if the money is right, to would-be warlords who know a great route to power when they see one, to out-and-out radical Islamists to the kind of opportunist you’ll find the world over.

One new element in the equation might be, though, the hope and courage would-be Afghan reformists get from the so-called Arab Spring (as we are now obliged to call it - those damn sub-editors), who might not feel inclined to buckle under if and when the Taliban demand all women return home and stay there and reinstate all those vile, supposedly Islamist, punishments for a variety of offences.

. . .

Courtesy of Spotify, I’m listening to a few tracks from my salad days. While listening to She’s Gone by Hall & Oates my daughter - who is 15 at the beginning of August - asked me - who is 62 in November - what’s that? I told her it was pop. She was probably asking because as a rule if I play music in is usually baroque, jazz or Dave Fiuczynski. That’s not pop, she informed me. It is, I said. It’s not, she replied. I gave up.

One of the tracks on my playlist is Money’s Too Tight To mention - not by that ginger-haired twat Mick Hucknall, but by The Valentine Brothers, compared to whose version drinking shampoo is more preferable to Hucknall’s version. Anaemic, fake, soulless, plastic - that’s Hucknall and his bloody band.

Ah, now another of my favourites is on - Joy And Pain by Maze. There’s a great alternative version by Frankie Beverley and Kurtis Blow.

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