Wednesday, November 23, 2016

They’re all bloody biting the dust (though me liking them has nothing to do with it, honest): RIP Leon Russell

I was looking up something entirely different on YouTube and came across a posting of Leon Russell’s A Song For You, one of my favourite songs and a love song which, for me at least, knocks several hundred other love songs into a cocked hat. I have previously featured it and various cover versions in a post (and here it is) in I which moaned about how a great song can be massacred in the wrong hands, but this isn’t another burst of self-publicity. But that isn’t the point: while on YouTube I noticed in a comment on Your Song a cryptic ‘RIP Leon’ and variations thereof (you know how inventive people get when they are sincere). ‘Leon Russell dead’, I thought, ‘can’t be.’

Well, yes it can. A quick Google confirmed that he died at home in his sleep ten or eleven days ago on Nov 13. Well, that's Leonard Cohen up the swannee, and there were others this year I am sure, but to be honest I can’t be arsed trawling through the net looking for examples, and I have to say Lenny Cohen popping his clogs wasn’t for me the Upset of The Decade.

But Leon Russell is - well, was now - different for me. For one thing he kind of operated in the shadows: no star, no ‘celeb’ he, but a highly respected and always interesting musician, songwriter and singer. Here are three of my favourites for you Leon if up there your rapping with God and want to be reminded of what you did and hofw some of us liked it a lot. First of all here is A Song For You: if it doesn’t persuade you that it is purely from the heart and sung for just one person (presumably the woman who was or became his wife), I shall be astounded.



His singing might not be to everyone’s taste and his voice (like that of Ray Davies, Donald Fagen and Bob Dylan, and I’m sure others you could tell me about) is distinctive. Well, better distinctive than to sound like bloody everyone else. Here’s another great song:



And a third, which might be a little more familiar. It’s been often covered, not least by George Benson and, sadly inevitably it seems, by The Carpenters who good ruin the fucking Second Coming, I’m sure. It has also been pretty much murdered by David Sanborn - too, too schmaltzy - and Kenny Rogers. One version I’ve come across by Nile Landgren - who I have never heard of - gets a little closer to doing the song justice. (PS Just looked him up: he is a trombone player. Well! Christ, they are everywhere. But at least he can sing and has taste.)



Leon Russell was special. He was never a ‘big name’, but he was highly respected by other musicians and singers and the rest of his industry.

I first came across Leon Rusell when he organised the famous Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour, but I didn’t take much interest. His was just a name I heard associated with it, I have to say one of many names I heard at the time and never gave a second thought to. Then later, again I can’t remember how, I came across his LP (as we called them then, and a damn sight easier they were to use for rolling a joint than a sodding CD, and as for trying to roll one on an MP3...) Carney, and I was hooked and have been buying his stuff ever since. Not all of it but a lot of it.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned Mr Russell was a one-off. There will be others of course, I always insist that there always will be greats many of them no yet born. But that doesn’t mean we can’t tip our hats to Mr Russell and that bloody strange voice.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My brother and sister arrive and I am urged to calm down. Oh, and I clear up confusion about my alleged communist past, a past which, if anything, lasted no longer than it takes to tick a box

In view of what you are about to read, I must immediately concede that these are my views and naturally one-sided, though how you can set about getting the other side is not immediately obvious.

. . .

It is my birthdey next Monday - I shant say how old I shall be, but it won’t be 24, 34 or even 44 - and not only has my sister come across from Germany to visit our stepmother and help me celebrate it, but my newly retired brother-in-law is also along for the ride, as is my brother who, for reasons none of us can fathom and still baffle us all, left my stepmother’s house abruptly while on a visit 23 years ago and has not been in touch since. Well, now he has broken the ice and has seen her again. Doing so in the company of our sister most probably helped in that he might have calculated her presence would ease any situation in which there was any awkwardness. In the event there wasn’t.

I know my stepmother, who is now 79 and pretty much housebound after three strokes, is glad that contact has been re-established, and the whys and wherefores of my brother’s original departure and long absence can be left to another day, which is to say need trouble no one ever again.

Knowing what was going on in his head when he flaunced out - though I, who was also visiting, was elsewhere when he did, so whether it really was a ‘flaunt’ or whether his leaving was far less dramatic I can’t say - is still a mystery, of course, and he won’t say even though I have asked him many times over these past 20 years. But, of course, now it no longer really matter.

That the past is often left acknowledged but largely undisturbed because no one has yet found a way to alter what happened in the past leads me quite neatly into another account, of conversation last night at a tasty meal prepared by my brother-in-law. It involved, in no particular order, the EU, the UK’s departure therefrom (aka Breakfast to those who make a point of using cliches) and what the future might hold. Actually, the question of what the future might hold was pretty much only raised by me, and I raised it because discussing that future and what might be done to salvage a pretty messy situation is rather more crucial than raking over the past (though I wouldn’t bet on those in the British government and the EU who will decide the ways and means by which Old Blighty says ‘adieu’ then ‘fuck off’ will pay any attention whatsoever on the views of four middle-class know-alls sitting around a supper table in darkest North Cornwall).

I found many aspects of the conversation deeply stimulating and was asked on more than one occasion - more then eighty or ninety, in fact - to calm down a little. My sister, half-Human, half-Vulcan like me, but who has lived in Germany since 1979 when she and her family weren’t living, because of her husband’s postings, in the Philippines, Istanbul and finally Warsaw, has become more Vulcan in her ways than English. Her husband, my brother-in-law, now, as I say newly retired, is fully German, a nice chap, held valued and important jobs with the chemical firm Bayer and was rewarded appropriately and generously, so he and my sister are not exactly on their uppers. That, in this post, is not particularly relevant, but I add the detail to try to give a little more context.

What is relevant is that my sister sometimes seems to resort to brilliant insights, which is another trait - in her and others - I find deeply frustrating, because insights seldom come to me, except when I am on Colombian marching powder. (Whether or not I do so, too, I would, of course, not know — we all shine a little brighter in our own eyes than the eyes of other, and as I pointed out above this account is by its nature one-sided.) When, for example, you drop your car keys at the kerb, then in your
haste to retrieve them, inadvertently push them beyond redemption into the nearest drain and some bright herbert intones ‘Well, you shouldn’t have done that. People who act in haste always live to regret it’, not for the first time do you wonder whether the persistent use of platitudes shouldn’t be regarded as sufficient justification for manslaughter.

The conversation was about sausages, and if my sister and brother-in-law didn’t repeat umpteen times if not more that ‘Britain was silly to stop eating sausages, very silly indeed’, I’m a Chinaman (or Chinese as I have recently been told to call them, Chinaman now being thought racist). It’s true, but my view is that at this point is that nothing can be changed and it’s an unhelpful contribution when you are speculating what the best future might be all round. Then there came, again more times than I could count, the observation that ‘the sausage eaters didn’t have a plan’.

Well, no they didn’t and very stupid of them it was, too, not to have one. But almost six months after the die was cast in the referendum, as a contribution to discussing (as I wanted to do) what might well happen in the coming years, it really doesn’t cut the mustard. Neither does: ‘They’ll regret it, they really will, when imports start costing a lot more.’ Yes, chaps, they most probably will and a truer word was never spoken. But can’t we move on a little? Just a little? But, no, we couldn’t.

Eating  patterns have shown that unexpected support for sausages came from what are often called ‘Labour heartlands’ in the north of England. The support was unexpected because notionally Labour is ‘pro-EU’. Conversely, support for fish fingers was strongest in more affluent areas of the country, such as London. Oh, and the wisdom was that fish fingers were tastier  in ‘areas where people are more educated’, leaving unsaid, but well articulated the obvious conclusion about areas where Leave was more prevalent.

Those voting patterns seem to agree with anecdotal claims that migrants from EU member states where arriving from countries where average wages were and are far lower and who were prepared to accept work at pay below the British going rate but higher than what they would be getting at home (which was the whole point of their migration). The upshot was that, anecdotally, British workers in those poorly paid areas were given the choice of accepting that their wages would be cut to what the immigrants were prepared to work for or to sling their hook to make way for someone who was. This, not very surprisingly, lead to resentment (and rather wild claims of xenophobia).

I mentioned this at table, and was startled to hear from my sister and brother-in-law that ‘ordinary people’ simply don’t - or rather didn’t - understand the implications of Brexit and should not have been allowed to vote on whether or not they want to stay in the EU. That decision should be left ‘to the politicians’. I felt a little queasy (and even had the temerity to ask whether they thought ‘ordinary people’ are qualified to vote in general elections, though that question was diplomatically ignored). There were also suggestions that certainly migration was unhelpful for some but they should consider ‘the greater good’. Easily said, of course, if migration doesn’t mean you might also be invited to buckle down, kowtow or sling your hook.

At another point I suggested, or rather wondered, whether the apparent rise in popularity of various right-wing groups and politicians - in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Denmark - might not change the dynamic of the present rather fractious relationship between the EU and Britain - in view of Brexit - and, given the alarm among achingly liberal eurocrats by the rise, bring about a mood in the EU that a compromise with Britain might be preferable to the EU losing the stabilising influence of Britain. My suggestion was shot down in flames: ‘There can be no compromise.’ Actually, given the vehemence of the response from the United German Front, I’m inclined to render it in this written account as ‘There can be no compromise!

My brother throughout this remained, as is pretty usual, rather quiet. He readily admits to preferring to sit on the fence in many situations, though why I don’t know. He is the youngest, is quite solitary, gay, prefers a low profile and was always a little thus. (I mention the gayness in case it does, in some way, have some bearing on his psyche. Perhaps, perhaps not.) But I also know from previous conversations with him in this and other matters that we agree more than not, and I was surprised that he didn’t speak out. Well, actually I wasn’t surprised given that he prefers a low profile. But I could see in his eyes that he was agreeing with much of what I was saying and it rather irked me that he didn’t speak out.

Anyone who has read my previous entries on the EU (and please don’t describe or think of them as ‘my previous pontifications’. That might be spot on, but I shall be very hurt) will know that my - I like to think - pragmatic view is that remaining in the EU would have been the sanest option, but - a huge but - remaining in a wholly reformed EU. I have long been fed up with the EU zealots who believe that every time the Jean-Claude Juncker farts, we should get down on our knees and praise the Lord. For me - to recap - the then EEC become EC become EU was a great idea which has slowly but inexorably gone wrong and will collapse in on itself unless there is drastic reform.

But such drastic reform was - is - unlikely while the the majority are doing rather well out of it, at the expense of others. And more to the point the majority in EU member states are sitting rather pretty at the expense of others in those same member states. For example, the overall unemployment rate in the EU was (according to this site) 8.6pc, although in the Euro area it was, not encouragingly higher at 10.1pc. Nothing startling you might think: 10.1pc is historically on the higher side, but the EU can live with it.

More illuminating, though, are the statistics for individual countries: The moon 23.4pc (pretty much one in four adults hasn’t a job), Mars is 19.5pc, Venus 11.4pc, Klingon at 11pc and France 10.5pc. All are at least 2pc higher than the EU average. And what is bringing that average down to 8.6pc. These figures: Slovenia 7.8pc, Bulgaria 7.7pc, Estonia 6.5pc, Romania 6pc, Poland 5pc, Hungary 5.8pc and the the Czech Republic 3.9pc. You might conclude that all those latter countries are running their economies rather successfully and providing jobs for many. But you might also care to consider that men and women from those countries have moved to work in richer economies such as Germany, The Netherlands and Britain and that their absence from their home countries rather flatters employment figures, that is if they were home, they might not be in work and unemployment figures would be higher. It’s a suggestion at least. As for Greece, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, things are not at all rosy, though I’m sure not all folk there are on their uppers.

Another startling revelation was that until last night, both my brother and sister remembered that in my salad days I had declared myself to be ‘a communist’. This was true, as the closest I have come to stop being a communist is taking a few pence from the nearest blind box. Then the penny dropped, and I told them where they had gone wrong: several things happened on February 28, 1974, in fact many thousands of things will have happened around the world and made the day memorable for many.

For me the day was memorable because on that day, a Thursday it had to be, the first general election of that year was held (the second was in the October) but also because in the late morning of February 28, 1974, I found myself in the dock at Dundee Sheriff’s Court accused of gummy bear possession. Although the lump of gummi found - a full ounce block as it happened - wasn’t mine, I had, in that convoluted way young folk think, decided honourably to carry the can for my then girlfriend who had dropped it and to whose previous boyfriend it had belonged. (She still did a little dealing on his behalf). It’s a longer story, but I shan’t give details here. And rest assured that these days I am apt to accept that ‘honour’ is largely, though not exclusively, for saps and dumbos.

More to the point, I walked away from court with just a £15 fine (£141.06 in today’s money according to the Bank of England inflation calculator) when, for reasons I shall explain in another blog entry I had, not unrealistically been expecting and bloody well dreading a spell in clink at Her Majesty’s pleasure. And walking away, I remembered it was polling day. Right, I thought, and went off to the polling station where I was registered (though I cannot at all remember registering, but I had) and looked through he list of candidates.

There I spotted Joe McSomeone, Communist. I thought given what I have just gone through, you are getting my vote, Comrade McSomeone. And get it he did. The trouble is that when at some later point, a month, a year, ten years later, I told my brother or sister or both what I had done, they put two and two together and reached 15, or rather came to the conclusion that I had told the I had been a communist. To, to put the record straight, no I wasn’t, never was and never shall be. Pip, pip (and would a former communist say that?)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

So Trump’s next for the White House: did the birds fall out of the sky where you live? No, not here, either. And as Leonard Cohen has finally played his last gig, I give you one of his - co-written - songs, though mercifully not his version, but one by Holly Figuera O’Reilly

The dust has settled neither on the Brexit vote held almost five months ago, nor the US presidential vote last Tuesday which say Trump take the top prize and it won’t settle for some time. A colleague won £235 betting on a Trump victory, although as she placed her bet rather late in the day when they odds had considerably shortened, her winnings were not as great as they mighty have been; and rather more exciting is that a John Mappin, who owns the Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, North Cornwall, is now £110,000 better off after placing ‘a small bet’ (his words) at 20/1 last year. When I heard about Libby’s win, I could have kicked myself - I would have put a pound or ten on Trump (as the apparent underdog) but is just didn’t occur to me. Memo to self...

The reaction has been predictable: all the bien pensant folk are screaming ‘it’s just too, too awful, my dear’ and the bloody Guardian, never a slouch when it comes to trying to win Tit of The Week, even published a very silly piece that ‘Electing Trump: the moment America laid waste to democracy as we know it’ which for bloody stupid hyperbole takes some beating.

A certain Giles Fraser came out with the so far most outré feature I have seen on the matter of Trump’s election. Fraser is an egregious example of a peculiarly British phenomenon the ‘left-wing Anglican clergyman’, public school educated naturally - Uppingham - and who can always be relied upon by whichever newspaper employs the type to broaden an argument sufficiently to be acceptable to as many as possible (and, not to put too fine a point, to maximise sales).

He insists that ‘This election result is a terrific argument for monarchy’. This being the Guardian, which doesn’t want too many readers choking on their cornflakes, he does go on to slightly modify his contrarian position by insisting that he wouldn’t of course - well, of course not! - want our queen or anyone’s monarch to have more than zero executive authority, but the claim is left standing on the grounds that a monarch, ‘anointed’ by God (he is a sky pilot, after all) is a unifying force. Well, possibly. And possibly not. But making the claim does help the Guardian fill the acres of newsprint it is obliged to fill each day to keep the advertisers happy.

The Independent, the ‘paper’ chosen by bien pensant folk who find the Guardian just a teensy bit too leftie and who are, anyway, those kinds of snobs who very much enjoy being in a minority (the ‘Indy’ is now no longer a newspaper ever since circulation slipped inexorably slipped into minus figures and is only available online) was rather quieter on the hyperbole front, though it has done its damnedest to remain contrarian by insisting that Trump’s support came largely from disaffected blue-collar workers who felt neglected by the political establishment.

Trump voters jobless blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt? Not so, says a piece headlined ‘The biggest myths behind Trump’s win debunked’ and it goes on to quote ‘research’ - newspapers love research which gives their bullshit a patina of respectability - by Professor Eric Kaufman, of Birkbeck University, London. It all makes very convincing reading if you glance through it, but my very first thought was just how much care and effort can have gone into a piece of research conceived, carried out and evaluated within 36 hours of the polls closing? I rather think I would be inclined to take more seriously research conducted over a matter of months and then thoughtfully evaluated.

But then this is the world of newspapers. (I well remember as a reporter for almost six years the ease with which one could ‘get to know’ a subject for the purposes of writing a news story, only to forget everything within days. It was just a question of tracking down the right ‘experts’ whose knowledge of a certain matter - and a few pertinent ‘quotes’ - was sufficient to stand up the story the news editor had asked you to stand up. The trick was simply to ignore the expertise of the first few experts you contacted if they didn’t say what you wanted them to say. It wasn’t rocket science.)

The Daily Telegraph - yes, it does still exist - takes a pretty much sober line which reflects pretty much what it would like to happen. So one piece by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (no, I’ve never heard of her, either, but then I rarely read the DT) spells out (I imagine rather to the DT’s glee) that ‘Donald Trump’s message is spreading across Europe - and France could be the next domino to fall’. Could Marine Le Pen win the presidency of France next year? it wonders.

I would very much like to answer that question with a resounding ‘No’, but as I have been wrong twice - on Brexit and Trump winning - perhaps I should keep my trap shut. Moutet’s piece sounded the usual dog whistle’s for Telegraph readers and had remarkably little to do with Trump’s electoral victory. Pope Francis, it assured its readers who crave such assurances daily, is becoming a realist on the matter of immigration: just last week he had declared that ‘ “setting limits” on immigration “is not selfish” ’. And this from a man who had the cheek two years ago to celebrate requiem masses for drowned migrants. Fancy!

‘Queen Europe herself, Angela Merkel,’ Moutet declared, ‘has spectacularly backtracked on immigration, declaring Germany’s borders closed again to to the refugees immigration she vowed to welcome only a year ago.’ The Telegraph also makes strong play of the fact that our British Prime Minister Theresa May was only
the tenth ‘world leader’ Trump spoke to after he was declared president elect. But then I don’t think the Telegraph much likes May, so that might explain that story (though as usual its cartoonist Matt produced a good cartoon to put the matter of a potential ‘snub’ in context).

This is all intended to convey to the toffs and wealthy pensioners the Telegraph likes to think read the rag it produces that ‘not to worry, things are becoming saner again’. Up and down the country in golf club bars the word is going out that ‘that man Trump, well, he might be a bit of an oik but he does seem to be what we need just now’. What to make of it all? Well, nothing, really. It struck me as remarkably foolish to pass judgment on Brexit - as both sides did - within hours, then days of the referendum result being declared before much dust had settled, and the same is true of Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States.

About the sanest piece I have so far come across and which pretty much sums up what I feel was by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Jenkins, who seems inclined to the Tory side of things, but usually strikes me as his own man, was editor of the London Evening Standard for two years and later editor of The Times for two years in the early Nineties.

I have to admit that two years is not long for anyone to edit a paper and the suspicion is that he didn’t really suit the proprietors. But that might well count in his favour - they all love a Yes man and are never to chuffed with someone who refuses to be a Yes man. I really don’t know what the score is either way, but I find I often agree with Jenkins’s views and he seems most often to strike a sober, down-to-earth tone. He most certainly does so here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/donald-trump-will-not-go-unchallenged when he declares that ‘Trump is not the worst and won’t go unchallenged’.

. . .

In view of Lenny Cohen popping his clogs, here is one of his songs. I can’t say it is a tribute for the simple reason that it isn’t. Apart from the years of my late teens and early twenties when I was apt to feel sorry for myself and played his first album to death, Cohen’s music does less for me than a bowl of cold porridge. And this song is not all his own work, but was written by Sharon Robinson, one of his occasional backing singers, who also does a great, rather jazzy version.

Cohen’s own version is crap (in my humble view - I understand convention insists we much add such disclaimers however insincere they are). This version is by a Holly Figuera O’Reilly, and I particularly like the jaunty, upbeat delivery which underlines the cynical pessimism of it all.

Friday, November 4, 2016

As the US sleepwalks to disaster (whoever wins next Tuesday) and Breakfast most certainly no longer means Breakfast, are you stupid or part of the liberal elite? Or possibly both? Or even neither?

Perhaps the good folk living on Rimatara don’t yet know it or perhaps they do know but don’t care, but the good folk here in the Western hemisphere look set to be in for a bumpy ride over the next few years, and quite possibly, depending upon what happens, and even bumpier ride of the next 40. Around five months ago, and by a whisker of a majority, the UK voters told the EU ‘look, it’s not you, it’s me, and I want out’ and that it was time both went their separate ways (though can the sex carry on?). And in four days we will find out whether the US has elected as its 45th president a man who can most charitably be described as the mother of all barroom lawyers, though apparently one with learning difficulties.

The departure of Britain from the EU, or ‘Breakfast’ as an increasing number of politicians and commentators have decided to call it, is old news and to a large extent the world - or at least most of us with an attention span shorter than that of a gnat - have moved on. The imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it that had been predicted by far, far too many Remainers (who really should have known better) didn’t happen, and though for fuckwittedness they were easily matched by assorted Brexiteers celebrating once again being able to stick one up Johnny Foreigner who within hours of the referendum result being published on June 24 began a chorus of ‘crisis what crisis?’

There were cheers in golf clubs and saloon bars up and down the country (though not in Scotland who these days take a contrary view on everything supported by the English) when the pound fell a great deal against the dollar, then fell a great deal more — before the vote on June 23 you could get $1.496 for your pound — as all those who voted to ‘regain control’, another of those vacuous phrases which sound great but begin to mean less and less the more you examine them.

Today, as I write, you can get just $1.244. I tried to work out the percentage fall, but after ten minutes have given up. I’ve never been good at maths.) Marvellous news, the Brexiteers cried, it means that our exports will go up and up and up and the economy will grow stronger and stronger and stronger. That imports will become dearer and dearer and dearer and everyday living will become ever more expensive is written off — if, indeed it is mentioned at all — as just one of those things and a reasonable price to pay for ‘regaining control’. (NB I realise that despite my best efforts, I have rather given away what I think about Breakfast, but I can assure you that what I feel about it is not at all straightforward. Here’s a teaser: although voted Remain, I wasn’t at all upset by the result. But more of that later.)

As for the coming US presidential election next Tuesday (November 8) it has so far been the accepted wisdom that being as Donald J Trump is a state-registered, card-carrying moron — and furthermore a moron who gives other morons a very bad name — Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrat nominee will walk it. Until recently, the polls showed her substantially ahead and even though, apparently, Trump is these past few days on an equal footing, that is because someone somewhere is not playing fair: inexplicably just a week before the election the head of the FBI has reopened the investigation into ‘her emails’ and that has rather dampened the enthusiasm of some voters for seeing Clinton as the next US president. As I write Trump and Clinton are apparently neck and neck in the polls.

This election is widely being billed as a contest between ‘the two most unlikable people on Earth’, and given the proviso that there are a great more candidates for that position, it does neatly sum it all up. Forgive me if I am wrong and being a tad too cynical but nothing I know about Hillary Clinton and nothing I have heard her
say persuades me that she is seeking ‘the highest office in the land’ and tenure as ‘leader of the free world’ out of a burning sense of wanting to serve the public. There is not even about her - as ironically there is about Donald Trump - that she wants to see things done in a different way. Almost everything about her shouts entitlement and there’s more than just a sneaking suspicion that she feels the office of US president is somehow hers by right.

Trump, of course, is another matter entirely. There is the assumption that as a billionaire businessman he really can’t be all that stupid, that he must know a thing or two about this, that and t’other. And that line is largely one he has plugged throughout the four, five years the presidential campaign seems so far to have lasted. He likes to make out that he will bring to running the country as president a business-like attitude and will get things done. So Trump as a move and shaker? Up to a point, Lord Copper. First of all he inherited a great deal of wealth from his father and although he did put it to use and can claim some business achievements, it seems that his business success is largely down to him allowing things to tick over rather from any gift for innovation.

Most certainly the list of businesses he has started which went pear-shaped is not impressive, which doesn’t say much for his skill as a businessman. Four of his corporations filed for bankruptcy, and although Trump apologists point out that filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is often merely a business ploy to carry on trading (or something), you do have to ask why those four businesses got themselves in such a state that they had to resort to such ploy.

Given that Clinton since the head of the FBI waded in last week with thinly veiled threats that he was ‘going to nail that bitch’, the chance that ‘the free world’ could really end up being ‘led’ by Trump after all becomes more likely. And given the United States’ baffling presidential electoral system, Trump might well be elected. But if, on the other hand, the top prize goes to Clinton, an already sour political reality in the US will get just that much sourer.

Arguably Trump only threw his hand in a year or two ago when various Republicans were jostling to become the Republican nominee began out of vanity. I really doubt he thought he might win the nomination, and perhaps even now, when he is taking a dump on the can and is all by himself with nothing but his thoughts and a handful of lavatory paper, he is still wondering ‘what the fuck is happening’. His candidacy, though, has proved useful in one respect: it has highlighted just how neglected by the political establishment a very, very large and disparate number of people feel in the US. The Breakfast referendum last June did pretty much the same thing in Britain, as did the surprising results of the EU parliamentary elections in just over two years ago.
. . .

There is pretty much everywhere what might be described as a ‘liberal elite’ or, alternatively, as a ‘metropolitan elite’ and I’m sure that, given that it will have been known be different names, there has been one for ages. For many folk both descriptions ‘liberal elite’ and ‘metropolitan elite’ are terms of abuse. But for some those descriptions are - quietly - worn as a badge of pride. And it was probably always thus. The self-regarding ‘elite’ might might not always have been ‘liberal’, but since Adam first rejected a Granny Smith and instead chose a Pink Lady, there will have been folk who think they are a cut above many others. Another word for them is ’snobs’.

Years ago when chatting to a colleague in the in-house bar of the Daily Express one Saturday night after our shifts had finished (we were working on the Sunday Express) she referred to ‘PLUs’. What are ‘PLUs?’ I asked. ‘People like us,’ she replied. Well, I didn’t much like her until then, and I liked her even less after that. I also remember coming across, in conversation with a young friend of my stepmother’s many years ago, the phrase ‘intelligent people like us’. I had previously regarded the young woman as rather silly, self-regarding and stupid, and her use of that phrase confirmed me in my judgment.

But make no mistake: there are a great number of people who do regard themselves, their views and their opinions as more than just a cut above those of the hoi polloi, but ‘more relevant’ and ‘more important’. And I’m sure none of them would be at all averse of being thought as members of the ‘liberal/metropolitan elite’.

Here in Britain we was a rather synthetic outcry when at the recent Conservative Party annual conference our prime minister Theresa May laid into the ‘liberal elite’, mainly from those already under suspicion of being members of that elite. This is how one Guardian writer reported on the speech. And here is the front page of the Daily Mail after May’s speech.



 But there can be no doubt at all that a large number of those on the Remain side do see themselves as being rather brighter than your average Joe, and it all came tumbling out when a majority of those who voted in the Brexit referendum went for Leave. Tony Blair — yes, he is still around and still hasn’t cottoned on that no one, but no one except dictators in the Caucasus want anything to do with him — has already called for a second referendum, presumably in the hope that the result will be different and a year ago was even crass enough to suggest that the public were simply too stupid to be relied upon to make a sensible choice on Brexit. That will most certainly have qualified him to become a leading member of the ‘liberal elite’. And without wanting to sound hysterical it is a rather shorter leap from Blair’s view to deciding that not everyone can be trusted to vote in an election and therefore shouldn’t.

While we here in Britain have been agonising about Breakfast, there has been astonishment in the US that Trump is still gaining support. But we shouldn’t be so surprised: there really does seem to be a groundswell of revolt against those — call them a ‘liberal’ or ‘metropolitan’ elite if you like — who think they know better than the ordinary Joe. And many of those pro Trump not necessarily pro Trump at all: essentially they are anti Clinton and what they perceive she stands for.

Me, I voted Remain — though I must repeat that it was through gritted teeth — and rather smugly reassured folk who asked me what the outcome referendum outcome should be that Remain would cruise home and then some. I even posted as much here in this blog. I mention that, though, because when I heard the news, I surprised myself by not only not really caring, but even detected in myself an element of ‘good, now this might well shake up the EU and bring it to its senses’.

The trouble with the whole issue is that ‘facts’ about the reason for Brexit support are hard to come by, and don’t bother consulting your newspaper: you’ll get as much, or rather as little, unbiased opinion from the saintly Guardian as from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph (and it is worth recording that at least in the run-up to the vote the Mail was staunchly Leave whereas the more mealy-mouthed Telegraph hedged its bets right up to the line).

What is true because voting patterns were recorded is that support for Brexit was stronger in the North of England and in ‘working class’ and traditionally Labour parts than in ‘the Home Counties’ and London (where, one assumes, most of the ‘liberal/metropolitan elite’ live. And there was anecdotal evidence that what had largely upset many in those areas was not that ‘foreigners’ were ‘taking their jobs’, but that ‘foreigners’, that is EU citizens from former Soviet bloc countries where average wages are far lower than in Britain, were taking jobs at wages which were substantially higher than in their home countries but below average for Britain. The upshot was to depress wages overall, and Brits reported being told to take it or leave it — if they didn’t like the wage offered, there were plenty of EU migrants only to happy to take the job.

I have been working on this entry for the past two days and yesterday we heard that our High Court has ruled that Parliament must have a vote on Brexit, i.e. that the Government cannot constitutionally use the ‘Royal prerogative’ and simply declare UDI, sorry invoke Article 50. But as this entry is already over 2,240 words long, surely my two ha’porth on the matter must be kept for another time

. . .

This is apropos nothing. A few years ago, I spent two weeks on Mallorca and took loads of photos. I dicked around with one of them for a bit, then uploaded it for an entry here. But the entry was not written and the draft has been hanging around for no very good reason since then. I can’t even remember what it was supposed to be about. So I thought I might simply publish the picture, have done with it and forget all about it.



Saturday, October 15, 2016

As the blog says, nothing much about very little. I was going to write about liberal/metropolitan elites, but somehow sidetracked myself. But I least by the by I have learned a new word

When I moved to London in 1990, at first commuting weekly from Cardiff where I had been living and working, then eventually shifting all my few possessions up to The Smoke, I was not - as the current cliche is - ‘in a good place’.

I had very vaguely - very vaguely indeed - been planning to set myself up as a freelance photographer, but getting the boot from my job as a sub-editor on the South Wales Echo for one cock-up too many (see this entry for part of the reason why) hastened things, and for about ten months I had scraped together a certain kind of living taking pictures, selling features to Wales on Sunday and working sub-editing shifts on the Western Mail (until its editor, one John Humphries - Geoff Rich without the heart, was one memorable description of the man, which, though, will mean nothing to anyone reading this unless you knew Geoff Rich - heard about my sacking from the Echo and banned his chief sub from giving me shifts. Incidentally, looking up John Humphries on the web to make sure I got the spelling of his name right, I notice he has reinvented himself as a gardener and writes a gardening column for Wales Online. Odd. All I can say is that I wouldn’t like to be a flower in his garden.)

Come the turn of the financial year in April 1990 and yet another of Britain’s financial crises, work dried up. It was as though the tap had been turned off. It was actually quite startling. No one wanted to spend any money. Until then I had been doing as well as I might have hoped and working hard. From April on there was virtually nothing, most certainly not enough to live on, so by June I did what I actually should have done ten years earlier and rang the Fleet Street papers to see whether I could get any shifts as a sub.

At the time ‘Fleet Street’ was still a notion in the industry and several papers were still located there or nearby. Now, none are, and ‘Fleet Street’ will mean as little to most as ‘Grub Street’. And you haven’t heard of Grub Street? Didn’t think so. If you are interested read New Grub Street by George Gissing to give you an idea. I struck lucky on my first call, to the Daily Express and was given several shifts. Other shifts followed on other papers and very soon indeed I was working seven days a week, here, there and everywhere. And that was a good thing, because I was once again suffering from one of the bouts of depression which have blighted my life and keeping busy was a tonic.

For whatever reason, I have never liked London, though to this day I can’t tell you why. But in 1990 and the few years after when I was feeling pretty low and the depression didn’t lift, I especially disliked it. Given the sheer size of the city and the spiritual state I was in, I felt very lost as though the city were sitting right on top of me, and I was keenly aware that in the grand scheme of things, I was utterly, utterly insignificant, rather like one grain of sand on a beach is indistinguishable from the billions of other grains.

Ironically, of course, that is pretty much all we are, insignificant, except that, thankfully and praise the Lord (Mammon, if need be and that’s your schtick), none of us is aware of it. Thankfully and for most of our lives we have family and friends
and, above all, company; we have a job or are otherwise usefully employed doing something or other, and so our lives have what is conventionally regarded as ‘meaning’. But ask the old and lonely how much ‘meaning’ they feel their lives have and you will not be heartened by the answers they give you. I must admit I didn’t really get to know London very well, because given the times I worked, from early afternoon until midnight and later, there wasn’t much time left over to get to know it. Even now I don’t see any of the city or its people and life.

Driving up on a Sunday morning, working a shift; working a double shift on the Monday and Tuesday, then a single shift on the Wednesday before jumping back into the car and driving westwards down here to North Cornwall doesn’t give you a great deal of time to hobnob with the Queen or get down and dirty in the nightspots of Hackney or wherever London’s cool go to chill. But even though I am hardly on even on a nodding acquaintance with the city and its people, I have to some extent become familiar with some of metropolitan attitudes.

I’ve always thought that to enjoy London you must be young, well-off and preferably both. OK, you can enjoy it even if you aren’t necessarily well-off and are obliged to count the pennies if long-term debt isn’t our bag, but being young is pretty much sine qua non. Come the early squalls of middle age and most folk hitch up and settle down and move to where rents and house prices are cheaper (although ironically doing so means they will spend more on commuting).

Some, of course, stay but then they can afford to. I was three days ago talking to a well-known Mail columnist with whom I’m on chatting terms and asked her where she lived. I knew it was in North London, but didn’t exactly know where. Hampstead, she told me. But then she is single - again - has no children and will be on a generous contract, so Hampstead is where she can afford to live. She’s in the minority.

. . .

I meant in this entry to write about what is called ‘the metropolitan elite’ or ‘the liberal elite’ and how I am devastated that to this day it has not occurred to anyone to ask me to join. I would most certainly turn down the invitation where it to be made, of course, but it would be nice to be asked. I intended to start off by writing about London, then gracefully segue into eight hundred words of pithy prose about that elite.

Sadly, I lost my train of though a little earlier on and, despite some frantic searching these past few minutes, I am not at present able to lay my hands on it again. So rather than write something which would forced, I shall leave that until another time. Sorry. Try again in a few days time (you not me. Your luck might be in).

. . .

I’ve just come across new word: idiolect. Just before posting this and returning to my browser, I was sidetracked (as invariably we are by the net) by piece about Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize in the Guardian. That’s where I came across it. The piece, which you can find here, is rather silly in that the Guardian features editor obviously thought the paper had to write something about Dylan and obviously felt that Armitage, a poet, might be the chap to do it. But I would rather he or she had gone for someone who truly liked Dylan from the start rather than Armitage, whose line is rather throwaway.

Here’s an excerpt: ‘Maybe in Dylan I recognised an attitude as well, not more than a sideways glance, really, or a turn of phrase, that gave me the confidence to begin and has given me the conviction to keep going.’ And maybe not. The piece seems to shout ‘I really don’t know a great deal about the man, but I could do with the money, so let’s go for it’. Shame.

Anyway idiolect: I have never before come across the word and as is a racing certainty I shall now hear it used several times over the coming few days. I wonder whether I have an idiolect? Be great if I did. Fancy!