Friday, December 31, 2010
columnar illustrations were always in black and white) which, as it happens - I think be design - bears a marked resemblance to the chap himself. This guy was extremely well-read, known for his dislike of cant of any kind, sharp and very, very funny. I only knew him in the last 20 years of his life and towards the end he did rather lose interest in what went on. This puzzled me at first until I realised that by the time you have reached your 90s you will most certainly not have heard it all, but you will most certainly have heard a great deal of it. And as many of us have a very bad habit of repeating - regurgitating would be more accurate - what we have read and largely misunderstood, hearing some piece of mangled wisdom or a misquoted mangled witticism for the umpteenth time must get more than a little tedious. So he did get a little morose in his final years, although he and his wife managed two annual trips go Cornwall until the year he died.
. . .
Most certainly there are enough lively and quote-worthy centenarians to go around - more than enough for most industrious hacks to track down to obtain the necessary quote - but I feel that does put a rather phoney gloss on the issue. For example, almost four years ago, my stepmother suffered a very severe stroke and is now housebound. It happened when she had just turned 70, and the irony of it all is that compared to many her age, she was extremely active, spending all day gardening in the gardening seasons and taking her two dogs for a walk twice a day - one walk always being a long one, usually on the moor. She didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink a lot and she eat healthily, but suddenly had a stroke.
. . .
I’m sure we all know ‘old Jim’ or ‘old Susan’ who put man and women half their age to shame, they’re so active. But then I’m sure, if we’re honest, also know among our acquaintance many who, in attitude and outlook, have rather more than one metaphorical foot in the grave. I personally get thoroughly fed up with those around my age, and even younger, who wallow in nostalgia and bemoan how it’s all gone to the dogs and why, oh why, can’t they right a good tune these days! More acerbic - for which read wilfully critical readers - might now ask in that case, what on earth am I doing earning my daily shekel in the employ of a certain newspaper, to which I would reply: it’s very simple - I’m earning my daily shekel, and their shekel is as good as any one else’s shekel. And anyway, all that ‘golden age’ bullshit is nothing but an extremely successful marketing strategy. (Incidentally, it has occurred to me more than one: was there ever a golden age of golden ages? Is so that must have been a hell of a time.) As for successful marketing strategies, isn’t it about time the Guardian came up with one. I read the other day that it had sold off the Manchester Evening News to the Trinity Group, which strikes me as extremely daft beyond the call of duty, given that the Guardian hasn’t turned a profit in over 300 years and was wholly subsidised by the MEN and other local papers in GMG Regional Media. I have just looked it up and note the sale last March was for ‘£7.4m in cash and £37.4m in the value of a printing contract from which Trinity Mirror’, which I, who admittedly knows nothing about these matters, would have thought was pretty cheap. The remaining part of the Guardian Media Group is said to have ‘a strong portfolio which has to be in the right shape to achieve’ the goal ‘of securing the future of the Guardian in perpetuity’.
By the way, many cite ‘the Scott Trust’ as proof that at the heart of the Guardian beats a liberal conscience which eschews turning a profit as its prime motivating principle. The Trust itself claims the Trust was set up to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian’. Well, not quite: it seems the Trust was established as a means of avoiding pay death duties which the then owner of the MEN felt could cripple the company. It has since been wound up and a limited company, The Scott Trust Limited, is now in charge. So bullshit isn’t just the sole preserve of the right-wing press.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tweedledum and Tweedledee - note the ‘twee’ - gather on The Archers messageboard. And an invitation to all living ‘abroad’
It all started quite innocently when, to help out a colleague who was subbing a piece about The Archers and was having trouble checking when one particular character was introduced, I volunteered to post a message on The Archers site asking for help. My message was headed ‘Urgent reply needed’ (and the fact that I had written it all in capital letters seems to have moved many Archers fans to fury) and I asked:
‘When Usha Gupta/Franks first join The Archers [sic]. A speed and accurate reply would be greatly appreciated.’
The first response (from Dusty Substances) came within minutes and though it wasn’t helpful, I can see the guy’s point:
‘No idea but I’m guessing you are post from a pub quiz? Dx
I replied that I wasn’t, but that a piece was going in the paper and we wanted to get things right. That was when there came the squall in what became a rather minor, though entirely redundant storm. Ermintrude wrote:
‘So the DM are doing a piece about a character who hasn’t been heard of for six months?’
I suspect even non-aligned readers of this blog will detect Ermintrude’s somewhat censorious tone and might accept my contention that had I said the Guardian, The Independent or even the Daily Telegraph was the paper involved, that tone would not have been adopted.
Dusty Substances returned with the answer we wanted:
‘1991 – according to The Archers Encyclopedia’,
but after that it all went downhill pretty quickly, although I must confess that my response to Ermintrude was not particularly diplomatic (but then why should it have been?)
‘Thanks for the 1991. As for the cleverclogs reply about an article concerning a character who hasn’t been heard for several months, it is a round-up of what has been happening over the years. Doh!’
But I sense that even without my reply, the mere mention of the Daily Mail made it open season for all the Mail haters out there: for this came from Dr Toad Leg:
‘High profile investigative journalism about how immigrants are taking British jobs perhaps?’
And on it went. Within a few messages the various sins of the Mail were raised such as its alleged obsession with house prices and the causes of cancer, until by Message 17, from some idiot who calls himself Marjorclanger, we get the usual prejudiced bullshit by people who are not quite as bright as they believe themselves to be:
‘Acerbic and to the point, not a fluffy poster then? Probably not a wind up IMO now. I stand illuminated and confirmed in my prejudice about most journos. Long live campaingner and debunkers, eg the child abuse in the Scottish Islands that wasn’t. As for all the other stuff written on the back of press releases or last night celebrities, well it fills the pages and passes the time.’
After I was accused of being snide and had responded that a quick visit to the Guardian messageboard would illuminate posters what real hatred is all about, Majorclanger came back with:
‘A pity the Mail doesn’t go into such rough places!!! Lord Snooty and his pals from the La La Dem land would perhaps be STTC if the worm ever turned.’
What was – is – the guy talking about? But one thing one can conclude from his entry is that he is most certainly no Conservative or Labour supporter.
That was Message 21, and by Message 27, my sordid past finally caught up with me when BorchesterBolshevik, also not an ardent supporter of either the Tories or the Lib Dems, I should think, judging from his moniker, informed the other posters:
‘All the previous posts across the various BBC message boards seem to suggest a Daily Mail reader rather than a writer.’
After Auntie Rednosed Clockwise had accused me of being either ‘a fantasist or a troll’, miladou also went on the attack:
‘On the other hand, the poster is running true to journalistic type demanding that other people provide him/her with information IMMEDIATELY, rather than doing some actual research.’
In reply I pointed out that posting my query on The Archers messageboard was ‘research’, but as I had also addressed Auntie Rednosed Clockwise as ‘dumbo’, the post (Message 36) was subsequently removed by the ‘moderators’ at the Beeb for breaking house rules.
And so it went on and on and on, interminably, rather fruitlessly and utterly pointlessly, a booing and baaing of which Tweedledum and Tweedledee would have been proud. Whether I was Tweedledum or Tweedledee I shall leave it to the reader to decide. In Message 46 saffronlilly posted a link to this blog, which meant my reading figures went up tenfold in a matter of hours, which rather pleased me. (Such small things do.)
In Message 51, Chris-mas Kettle of Ghoti even suggested I didn’t exist (or something). He/she wrote:
‘For some reason, a person wanting information after seven in the evening for a piece that was purportedly going into a daily paper the following day struck me a high quality end-product of male bovine. Therefore I assumed that this poster was not being quite accurate in his assertions. However, if someone can be bothered to look through the rag in question tomorrow and find out whether it has anything about TA in it, that is up to whoever wants to do it.’
That struck me as a pretty lame ending to a rather grand ticking off, although the poster managed to establish his/her bona fides in that he/she didn’t read the Mail!
The whole thread meandered on until the current Message 151 (in which Organoleptic Icon wrote: ‘I think vegans run more towards “bloodless” ’ which only goes to show how nonsensical these threads can become.
. . .
What strikes me from these and other entries on the board, as well as the names posters give themselves, is how ineffably twee it all is. And I don’t like twee very much. I’m more a vinegar man than candyfloss.
The of-so-funny names of posters, all presumably self-imposed, are always a fair guide to how people regard themself, and it would seem this bunch think of themselves as rather a humorous lot. Oh well.
The other remarkable thing is the almost atavistic loathing many of the posters have for the Mail. Why exactly? It makes no sense. Surely to goodness they know – being the bright, intelligent and well-informed people they are or, at least like to think they are – that all the Mail does is to tell its readers what it thinks its readers want to hear?
All the papers do that, even the saintly Guardian (which this year surprisingly didn’t indulge in a seasonal bout of redundancy of its staff). Independent readers want to be reassured in their conviction that because we are all burning fossil fuels as though there were no tomorrow, the world will go to Hell in a handcart unless we do something! Now! The Guardian readers want to be reassured that the Tories are still the scum they always were. Times readers like to be reassured that being horribly middle-brow isn’t half as bad as they fear. Telegraph readers want to know that most certainly there will be further wars. And so on.
One final point: it might have struck some of you that my view of hacks is pretty similar to that expressed by many on the messageboard. But there are two important provisos. 1) I come at it from a completely different direction, and my general complaint is that hacks, with one or two honourable exceptions, are self-centred fuckwits. And, more crucially, 2) it’s all very well for me, a hack of almost 37 years standing, to slag off my colleagues and compadres, but I won’t stand for having some fucking civilians do it. Ever.
. . .
My best wishes for the New Year to all who don’t have the good fortune to live in Blighty. A look at the stats for this blog show that one or two people in New Zealand, The Netherlands, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, France, South Korea, Slovenia, Turkey, Russia, Japan, Germany, Poland, the Czech Repulic and China have all dropped in at some point or other, so you know who you are. I like to think they all stopped off for more than a brief time, but there’s no way of knowing that. Oddly, so far no one from South America has dropped by, but I don’t think there is anything sinister in that.
Courtesy of one particular reader – and because this reader values ‘comfort’, I shall only say he/she lives and works ‘abroad’ – the scope of this blog might broaden. For this reader informed me that were they (‘they’ being the modern way of getting around the ‘he/she’ dilemma) to recount some of their experiences in the country they at present call home, no one would believe them. So I invited them to send me accounts of those experiences which, if suitable – this blog operates a ‘no one over 18 policy’ as it does not want to risk being taken seriously – I shall publish. That particular reader can be reassured that I shall treat all their submissions with discretion and that, if they wish, they can cast their eye over what I plan to publish to avoid any indiscretions.
I should like to extend that invitation to everyone else who lives abroad. We Brits are always only to happy to learn what is going on in foreign parts, especially how much they envy our way of life. If you want to take up the invitation, please get in touch with me via this blog, I shall reply from a different email address to ensure communications can remain private.
As for the reader I was initially addressing, I trust that sofa will not prove to be too lumpy, and I should be interested in hearing whatever you have to recount, however outlandish it might seem. Remember, we here in Britain have to put up with people such as Richard Branson and Jeremy Clarkson, so outlandish really doesn’t bother us.
Monday, December 27, 2010
The Archers: urban fantasy or just pie in the sky? Baby give birth to Elton John, plus the joy of self-delusion
My colleague said she had tried the BBC Archers website but couldn’t find the relevant page on the character (she should have tried a little harder) so as I already have an account with which to log onto BBC messageboards, I volunteered to post a question asking for an urgent reply. Well, for some reason that was a red rag to a bull (or rather a lot of them) and an excuse for a general slagging off of the Mail, newspapers, journalists and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Many, if not most, of the messages were pretty illiterate, many faux clever and almost all confirmed my suspicion that a great many Archers fans are a self-regarding bollockheads who are only too pleased to subscribe to an urban fantasy of rural life.
Although I work in London for four days a week, my home is in North Cornwall in a part of the country which could not get more rural, and believe me the rural life portrayed in The Archers is a kind of fantasy. It’s not that we don’t have gays – we had a gay publican – and it’s not that we don’t have drugs or any of the other problems portrayed in The Archers. But it's that we simply don’t have the sheer concentration of ‘issues’ aired in the soap. My brother-in-law is a beef farmer and another brother-in-law is a dairy farmer and both, although unlike in their interests (one is in the process of teaching himself the accordion) are pretty typical of farmers in our neck of the woods, and they are not interested in ‘cutting their carbon footprint’ and discovering ways of recycling. On the other hand this is exactly what libs up and down the country would like them to be interested in. What is so galling about The Archers is that quite apart from indulging itself and its listeners in a fantasy world, it runs a mile from the real world of rural life.
So, unfortunately, almost everyone I know is in favour of foxhunting whether they admit to having voted Tory or Lib Dem in the last election (and ironically I am not and also do wonder why so many people get their jollies by blasting shotguns at birds in the sky). But you do not hear that particular aspect of rural life aired in The Archers. So, dear Archers, fans in your urban towers, dream on.
In fact, given the recent spat with several Yanks on the IMDB message board, I am making something of a habit of upsetting idiots. It's all rather encouraging.
. . .
The breaking news of the day is that a baby in California has given birth to two men and that the three of them are destined to live happily ever after. The science of it all is still a
bit vague as there is no previous evidence of a baby giving birth to anything. (Strictly speaking, I should say previous reliable evidence as there is evidence that a baby born 2,000 years apparently ago gave birth to what, in time, became an overweening corporation worth billions of pounds which sold punters around the world the promise of everlasting life. That promise should not be mistaken for the pledges made by numerous lotions which claim to cure male pattern baldness, make your dick twice as long, or to make you irresistible to women – or men if that’s your bag – as they are apparently just a tad more respectable.)
The baby has announced it will call its offspring ‘Sir’ Elton John and David Furnish. There has already been a great deal of controversy over the news – quite apart from the unprecedented science involved – not least because the baby is denying completely that it was merely gaining two fashion
accessories which will be trotted out at showbiz parties and premieres. The three of them, the baby insists, will live as a ‘normal family’ and any suggestions to the contrary will be referred to its lawyers who will threaten such a legalistic shit storm if the allegations are not withdrawn that suicide by the guilty party would be the lesser evil.
In response to the news, forward-thinking organisations around the world (but not Nick Clegg apparently, who claims he has other things on his plate) insist it is every baby’s human right to give birth to two men if it so chooses and suggestions that it is merely an combination of consumerism and an unhealthy vanity which has taken a step too far belong in the Dark Ages.
. . .
The mutual shilly-shallying on The Archers messageboard reminded me once again how innocently prejudiced are many people who wouldn’t think of themselves as prejudiced in a million years. Many people bang on about the Mail being ‘full of hate’ and ‘racist’, yet, as I pointed out in one of my post on the messageboard, if you want the full Monty of hate-filled splenetic fury, just visit the Guardian messageboards where you will get more than you can handle. I remember once coming across a post hoping that ‘Thatcher will die of cancer’ and various observations along the lines of ‘Tories? Hanging’s too good for them. They should be dragged through the streets bollock naked, then hung drawn and quartered’. Yet I suspect that, if questioned, those who post such drivel would regard themselves are rather intelligent liberal types who see themselves as ‘broadminded’ and who ‘care’, though about what is rather vague. I suspect that, at the end of the day what they really care about is being thought well off by their peers.
If I were to write – and I think I have recently – that our capacity for self-delusion is infinite, the obvious riposte is ‘your capacity, too?’ and I would be obliged to agree. The trouble is that by its very nature quite in what ways I am deluding myself will always be rather hard for me to spot. To others it might be blindingly obvious from one hundred paces, but were they to tell me, I should imagine I would find it hard to believe I am guilty of what they suggest. If I had more integrity, I would undoubtedly spend the next ten to fifteen minutes reflecting on in what possible ways I am deluding myself. But, to be honest, I can’t be arsed. And I suppose admitting as much is a kind of integrity in itself. An example of self-delusion might well be how all the self-appointed great and good in Britain have, as one, united behind the cause of Julian Assange. Yet to my knowledge none of them has said a dicky bird about Bradley Manning, the young U.S. Army squaddie who made it all possible, but is now looking at 200 years in chokey for daring to upset the American establishment.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Were anyone to ask me whether I believed in God, I would honestly reply that I did, but I would leave it there and excuse myself from any subsequent discussion. As for Christianity and Roman Catholicism, well, we went our separate ways years ago, and I somehow doubt we shall ever be re-united. But there is no denying that celebrating Christmas was initially based on the Christian religious festival which marked the anniversary of the birth of the chap Christians believe to be the son of God, though you’d be hard pushed to be reminded of that in Britain at least (officially utterly godless). I know Christmas in Germany is rather more of a religious festival, and I suspect the same is true of the U.S. where a far greater proportion of its citizens attend church every Sunday. But even in those two countries the overarching imperative is to buy, buy, buy and bugger the consequences. But why, given my views on Christianity, do I find that so offensive.
I really can’t tell you. I was, admittedly, brought up a church-going RC (and wanted to be ‘a priest’ until puberty came and I discovered ‘girls’. I remember often sitting in church, spotting a rather pretty girl, imagining her naked, immediately praying to God to forgive me, but even while I was praying, doing a little more imaging, so praying even harder - the whole thing is just thoroughly ridiculous) and for us Christmas was more a religious festival than for others. So perhaps echoes of that upbringing are the basis for my irritation. But irritated I most certainly am. The whole shooting match of Christmas advertising starts in mid-October, which spoils the whole run-up and when you come across Christmas puddings on sale at that time, you do wonder what the bloody hell is going on. Oh, well. I don’t for a moment imagine this is a new phenomenon. I think historians and archaeologist have long established that greed is millennia old. Certainly, the Victorians were pretty acquisitive, especially at Christmas. Just look at Charles Dickens’s novella Scrooge. (Great name, by the way.)
. . .
Christmas Day went off rather well in the Powell household. As I said, the extra money I have been earning putting together the Mails’ puzzle pages allowed my to push the boat out a little this year, so Wes got his Xbox and Elsie a - titchy - iPod Nano. Lord is it small, but she is happy with it. I went round to my stepmother’s to cook her lunch (she had fillet steak with chips and salad) and later we went up to see my father-in-law who chose to spend Christmas on his own. He is now a widower, although I can’t remember whether my mother-in-law died one year or two years ago. My wife’s family are rather an emotionally stunted bunch (my wife’s grandfather was something of a Methodist religious fanatic who would even allow alcohol in the house and who lived until he was 96 in his son’s household, which couldn’t have been easy for his son. It’s pretty much the case that mean don’t really come into their own until their fathers die - it was most certainly true in my case), so I stayed on for an hour after everyone else had left and he seemed to relax a little bit. Poor chap, he does miss his wife a great deal and doesn’t enjoy being on his own.
We didn’t stuff ourselves or fall over drunk, so in that sense it wasn’t a traditional British Christmas, although Elsie did make a point of watching the hour-long EastEnders Christmas special, which, as usual, was full of loads of shouting, crying, tears, unhappiness, recrimination, accusations and I don’t know what else. Why do people enjoy such garbage? I know I have admitted that The Wire, The Sopranos and Mad Men are soaps by another name, but none is filled with the unremitting misery which is fucking EastEnders. I just hope Elsie doesn’t grow up thinking that kind of lifestyle is normal or even usual.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
If I am right, and Scorsese did intend to leave everything completely ambiguous, then Shutter Island is a great film which pulls off a remarkable trick. If I am wrong – and my oppos on the message board are right and the whole film falls neatly into place at the end, it is merely quite an ordinary, not to say rather clichéd film, nicely filmed, well acted and so on, but, sorry, no cigar.
Well, both sides have been tooing and froing for several days arguing the toss. What I found so frustrating was the apparent inability of the other side (no one was on mine) to see my central point: I wasn’t arguing for one interpretation of the film over another, I was arguing that Scorsese had deliberately left everything unresolved, and not only that, but had constructed his film so that both interpretations held up completely at every point, although they are mutually exclusive. Well, they weren’t having any of that. And things got a little out of hand when I wrote, rather provocatively, that I wasn’t surprised they couldn’t quite cotton onto what I was trying to saying because – well, not to be overly delicate – subtlety was not a great American virtue. And I did add one or three more or less equally rude points along similar lines.
Well, none of this cut any ice at all, and my apparently gratuitous attack on the great U.S. aroused the other side to ever greater fury. That they expressed their anger in badly written, illiterate, badly spelled and often incomprehensible English should, of course, be neither here nor there, but I do find it pertinent. Years ago, I came across a dictum that ‘muddled writing betrays muddled thought’ and, mainly from my own attempts to write something, I find it to hold true almost every time.
All of us involved in this utterly pointless ‘debate’ are guys - or I am pretty certain we are guys - so this thing will run and run until one side or the other will fall off his horse utterly exhausted. Between you and me (and I hope to God none of the other side comes across this blog), were I to be totally honest, I think I am onto a loser, but I’m buggered if I’m going to give up quite yet without a fight. It’s just that I find I loathe anyone these days who uses that non word ‘awesome’, and although, to be fair, none of the other side has done so yet, they strike me as being exactly the kind who would and it can only be a matter of time.
. . .
Here in Britain we have a coalition government, unsurprisingly referred to as the Coalition Government (not the capital letters), which is made up of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It seemed to go well for a while, although one of the Lib Dem stars who landed a job in Cabinet, a guy called David Laws, and was hailed as being ‘brilliant’ - our newspapers are apt to do that kind of thing - came cropper within days after it was discovered that the man he was paying rent to (rent can be claimed on expenses) was his boyfriend. He resigned, although I suspect he was also rather glad his secret was out as it appeared he still hadn’t come out to his elderly parents.
Next came a scandal with Christopher Huhne who was discovered by the papers to be cheating on his wife with a bisexual feminist. Nothing much could be made of that, because Huhne came clean, left his wife immediately and, I think, moved in with the lady of his dreams.
Most recently, and in some ways most entertaining of the three although there is no sex involved, is the humiliation by the Daily Telegraph of Vince Cable. While still in Opposition - the Lib Dems never had a snowball’s chance in Hell of forming the government after Labour was ousted, but strictly, they, too were the Opposition - Cable was something of a darling of the Press. He was a former chief economist for BP and so could be said to know something about both economics and business, and was regarded as a safe pair of hands. That last virtue should be understood in the way that it is laudable that I have not once yet crashed a plane and have have a completely clean record in aviation. Oh, but I have also never flown a plane.
Just how ‘Cable’s’ hands proved to be was demonstrated a few weeks ago in the run-up to a vote in the House of Commons on
whether the fees students will be charged to attend university should go up to a maximum £9,000. The was government policy introduced by Cable himself, but that didn’t stop him revealing in a local newspaper which circulates in his constituency that he would be voting against the rise. (The Lib Dems had been against such a rise in fees while in Opposition, and were now being asked to go against their manifesto pledge to oppose it.) That made him look thoroughly ridiculous. But, extraordinarily, he has now managed to make himself look even more ridiculous. Two Daily Telegraph reporters (two young women, as it happens, chosen, I’m sure purely for their journalistic ability) attended Cable’s constituency surgery posing as two of his constituents. In the conversation which followed, Cable was excessively candid, boasting that he could bring the government down if he wanted to.
The following day, the Telegraph printed further candid comments by this former ‘safe pair of hands’ who, in his daytime job a Business Secretary was the chap in government set to rule on whether Rupert Murdoch should be allowed to buy up the parts of Sky TV he doesn’t yet own. After Cable pledged that he ‘would declare war on Murdoch’, his impartiality in the matter was, surprise, suprise, called into question. David Cameron didn’t sack Cable, and attracted the ire of his more right-wing MPs for not doing so, but removed the issue of the sale of Sky TV from Cable’s remit. In political terms that is more or less like removing Charlie Chaplin’s bowler, cane and moustache from all future performances.
The Telegraph pulled the same stunt on four other Lib Dems who are part of the Coalition governmnet, and naturally, all four were as candid and naive as only Lib Dems can be. One commented on Chancellor George Osborne’s capacity ‘for getting up one’s nose’, another ventured to suggest that David Cameron cannot be trusted (which will, ironically, go down rather well with the right-wing Tory doubters), a third compared the Tories with the South African government under apartheid, and the fourth doubted whether Cameron was sincere, another issue which I suspedt won’t greatly upset the shire Tories.
None of this, though, will rock the Coalition. In my view the Lib Dems need the Tories more than they need the Lib Dems. This is the first sniff the Lib Dems have had of power in almost 95, and were the whole arrangement to go up in smoke over the coming few months, the Lib Dems would not be looking forward to a general election: they opinion poll rating has slumped dramatically and is now scraping along at something like 9pc. Anyway, they want to get voting by proportional representation accepted before they depart the stage for without it they will be in the wilderness for another century.
. . .
When stood for the local district council a few years ago and went out on the stump, I came across a few hardcore Lib Dems and they were not nice people. Middle-class to a fault, the ones I met were self-righteous and intolerant of any other view as only the smug self-righteous can be. Despite their cuddly liberal image, they are said to be the dirtiest of the dirty during elections. Their big faultline splits them into right-of-centre Lib Dems and left-of-centre Lib Dems. At present the left-of-centre lot are rushing off in the direction of the Labour party, where they will be greeted with false smiles, used, then abandoned.
During the party conference season, I heard a radio report from the Lid Dem conference (held in Sepember when the Lib Dems had been part of the Coalition for four months) in which one activist was heard to say in all seriousness: ‘I didn’t vote Lib Dem to form the government.’
I often get the feeling that for most Lib Dems holding onto their principled purity is more important to them than being in power with at least the chance to put their ideas into practice. In that way they can always hold the moral high ground and condescend to the rest of us.
. . .
Apropos nothing, I was reminded the other day of two very colourful English expressions. I’ll ‘share’ them with you:
Wedding tackle: a man’s genitalia, his meat and two veg.
Five-finger discount: shoplifting.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
The ingredients: Assange is accused of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, but the charges are later dropped. He had reportedly asked to see the evidence against him, but none was provided. He reportedly asked the Swedish authorities whether he could
leave the country for Britain and they agreed. One alleged rape claim is being made by a campaigning feminist who had previously published on the web polemics urging women to ‘get even’ with men. She was the first woman Assange slept with in Sweden on a trip there. A few days later, Assange slept with another, who then contacted the first, and I must admit that the thought has crossed my mind that the first, the campaigning feminist was rather angry that Assange should have turned to a second woman so quickly. As to the rape allegations, here is an interesting article:
The new round of rape and sexual assault claims followed one Assange was in Britain, and Sweden then applied for his extradition and issued a warrant for his arrest. He has, I don’t think, yet been formally charged, but then I don’t think he can be until he is in the custody of the Swedes. Then, so the conspiracy theory would go, Assagne is extradited to the U.S. for a severe judicial bollocking before he is locked away forever.
There are reports from the U.S. that some congressmen are urging for the drafting of a law under which Assange can be charged. This seems to me rather arse-about-tip: it strikes me that revenge would be the prime motivation for doing that, which is understandly. However, revenge was never a principle in law.
Now for how it doesn’t really hand together: if the U.S. feels Assange has a case to answer, why not applied to have him extradited directly from Britain? They are seeking, in a ludicrous case, the extradition of a Gary McKinnon, another chap who upset them by hacking into the Pentagon website and thus demonstrating how poor its cyber defence was. In fact, hurt pride seems to play a major part in both cases, and it might easily be possible to show that America’s dented ego more or less drives its foreign policy.
Then there is also the fact that of all the European countries which might, in some theoretical conspiracy, be amenable to doing the U.S.’s bidding, Sweden, a liberal-democratic country with tendencies to left-of-centrism, comes rather low on the list. It is also quite unlikely that a campaigning feminist in that liberal-democratic country would feel inclined to help out the U.S. All in all, Sweden and the U.S. are unlikely bedfellows, and it does seem rather unlikely that they have entered into some unholy alliance.
Other aspects about the whole affair which strike me as rather odd are that Assange was held in solitary confinement while he was in custody in Wandsworth prison. Why exactly? Then there is also the angle that a certain Bradley Manning, the chap suspected of having provided Wikileaks with almost all of the batch of confidential cables, is in deep shit, far deeper at the moment than la Assange, but rather fewer people are getting their knickers in a twists about him.
On Radio 4’s Today this morning we had John Pilger, a prominent left-wing commentator of this parish and cheerleader of all things left, and Janet Daley, a prominent right-wing commentator and cheerleader of all things right. I’ve always thought of Pilger as something of a self-seeking prat who rather enjoys his status as journalism’s lefty. But on this occasion I am inclined with some of the points he made. But, damn it, I also feel obliged, in all honesty, to agree with some of the points Janet Daley made, although the piece on Today and the joint interview with both was rather spoiled in that two issues — Assange’s arrest and possible extradition to Sweden and then possibly the U.S., and the whole Wikileaks leaking were conflated, which didn’t lead to much clarity. For example, Daley made the point, one which on the face of it is quite reasonable, that just as journalists such as herself and Pilger are entitled to keep their sources confidential — and (although she didn’t say so this morning) just as Wikileaks is entitled to keep its sources confidential — so the assorted diplomats whose candid comments were published by Wikileaks are also entitled to some confidentiality.
I must admit that I have a gut feeling that Assange is being stitched up, although exactly how I really couldn’t tell you. And to put that feeling into perspective, I regard the guy as something of a pillock and Wikileaks, as far as some of its claims are concerned to be fighting the good fight, as a little more dodgy than they angels they profess to be should be. This one will run and run.
. . .
And what of Bradley Manning? Well, apart from knowing the guy’s name, I have just had to search the net for more details about him — apparently he is something of a computer whizz — which must speak volumes about the relative importance these two characters, Assange and Manning, have. One is ‘sexy news’,
the other isn’t. Why not? Perhaps Manning is better covered in the States — one report I found says that the ‘city of Berkeley (would that be the same Berkeley which has the famous university?) wants to proclaim him a war hero. Manning’s problem is that the U.S. really is the country where 99 year sentences for laughing at the president are commonplace — well, you know what I mean — so the future looks very bleak for him indeed. There was an interesting item on Radio 4’ PM programme last night claiming that a substantial amount of money Wikileaks had promised to donate to Manning’s defence fund had still not been paid. That, if true, only goes to show how much they value him.
. . .
I had included two pictures with this entry, one of Assange and one of Manning. From the picture I have found, Assange looks rather like an unpleasant sleazeball, and Manning looks like a naive idealist. We all know how photos such as these can be horribly misleading — there is any number of pictures of Adolf Hitler being nice to his Alsation dogs — so I merely make those comments in passing. But I know who I would prefer to spend a night in the pub with and it ain’t Assange. I really wish I didn’t feel he is being stitched up. But . . .
. . .
Finally, it is with a great deal of sadness that I have to report that Britain is back where it was last year, in snow hell, also ‘dubbed’ ‘by the nation’ Snowmageddon. But, do not despair, the world is heeding us in our hour of need: there have been food parcels from Siberia, several tons of socks from the good folk of Switzerland, the Austrians are saying special Masses and as I write there are very reliable reports that womenfolk the length and breadth of Scandanavia have formed knitskalga, the traditional knitting groups so beloved by the Swedes, Finns and Norwegians (though not, apparently, by the Dane who are far more concerned with writing petitions to the Vatican pleading for the immediate canonisation of Julian Assange), to turn out around-the-clock woolly sweaters in a variety of colours and sizes which will then be flown into Britain by the Red Cross (the Red Crescent will be making the deliveries of special halal sweaters to Bradford, Blackburn, Leicester and other towns where our Muslims brothers have taken up residence). It’s at moments like this that it is a joy to be alive.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
minutes of supercharged bollocks. (Thomas Beecham once observed that Wagner ‘had his moments - about one every 15 minutes’. Someone else said that you can listen to an hour of Wagner, look at your watch and find only five minutes have passed.) I would prefer to have my fingernails torn out one by one than be obliged to sit through one of his interminable operas, and I am not alone in that view (I heard a novelist called Susan Hill saw more or less the same thing on the radio just two days ago). What is supposedly great about Wagner’s music eludes me utterly. Perhaps I have cloth ears. Perhaps I don’t. As a rule I am more attracted to baroque music than all that Sturm und Drang Romantic stuff, and Wagner is that to a bloody T.
Yet I am also bound to admit that there are many who do feel he is great and that his music is great, and they flock along to a performance of one of his operas in their thousands and - very odd - enjoy the experience. Then, of course, there is the man himself, an appalling anti-semite, a parasite who until he finally began earning money when he became famous, was happy to live off others and have them pay his bills, a man who would often seduce the wives of those friends and colleagues, and a man who was insufferably vain and conceited who, literally, believed the world owed him a living. Unfortunately, none of that has any bearing on his music either way.
I mention this because I recently saw on DVD a film which I regard as great art, but which has divided critics and the public alike. The Daily Telegraph’s reviewer, Sukhdev Sandhu, wasn’t at all impressed and gives it just two stars. The Daily Mail’s film critic, Christopher Tookey, on the other hand, gives it an almost unprecedented five stars and cannot praise it enough. And I am firmly with Tookey. The film is Shutter Island by Martin Scorsese, and I would urge everyone to see it. What I think is so great about it is that it pulls off a trick which is fiendishly difficult to pull off. A clue: the very last line spoken in the film pulls the rug from under your feet and throws you right back where you started. And the line is spoken just after another line which is highly ambiguous, pointing the film both in one direction and its opposite.
Shutter Island has been criticised for being obvious, with many claiming they spotted ‘the twist’ after a mere ten minutes. Well, if they did, they weren’t paying as much attention as they thought they were. What I feel is unique about Shutter Island is that there simply is no conclusion, no resolution. And to produce a film which has none, but which still leaves the viewer - well, this viewer at least - feeling that he has not been cheated is a remarkable achievement.
. . .
OK, I will admit that I’ve heard - on the grapevine, that kind of thing - that musically, Wagner was in some ways innovative and that there is some ‘magic chord’ which he came up with which - well, according to some, music was never the same again. (I bet it wasn’t). The point is that despite my crude, opinionated, ever-so-right-of-centre outlook (see entries passim), deep inside me beats a tiny liberal heart which quite often persuades me to be just a tiny bit more open-minded than I care to be. And at this moment, that liberal heart has persuaded me to concede that in musical history - I’ll put it no stronger than that - Wagner is said to have been something of a milestone. There, I’ve said it. However, that doesn’t in the slightest alter my view that his music is nothing but a god-damn awful racket and if a never again heard a single note written by him, that would still be too soon.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Dick and Dora guide you through the euro crisis, why China now thinks Marx wrote a crock of shit. And have a good laugh at a silly name
And on it goes. Spain is now in the firing line of government bond speculators with the ‘yield’ on its bonds rising. This has led the credit ratings agencies to lower Spain’s status, which, in turn, will force up the interest it is charged to borrow money. I had only a vague idea what ‘yield’ was until a year or two ago when I came across a very clear explanation. It was this: a government bond promising a (say) 4pc interest is sold for £1. That means that after one year it will pay back £1.04. That is if things are going well. But if things are going badly and those who hold the bonds fear they might not get their money back, they will play safe, sell them now. However, those they sell to will know the score (that the seller is playing safe and wants to sell – it’s thus a buyers’ market) so they can offer less than £1. Say, for example, they buy at 80p, when the bond matures they will still be paid £1.04, which is a damn sight more than 4pc of the money they stumped up. Thus the bond is ‘yielding’ more. And so when the headlines read that ‘yields’ on government’s bonds are rising, you know things are bad for that government. Of course, the risk those buying the bonds are taking is that the government might become so insolvent that it cannot afford to cough up the cash it owes: thus the usual equation, the higher the risk, the better the prospect of making a good profit.
A consequence of falling bond prices is, of course, that when that government wants to borrow more money and issues more bonds (all too often to pay off debts it already has – you thought only individuals can be that daft), it will be obliged to offer a higher ‘return’ – a better interest rate – merely to attract buyers. And if those new bonds are also eventually offloaded at a lower price than their face value (a ‘discount’), the yield will be even higher. It is that kind of downward spiral Spain now soon find itself in.
I must apologise for my Dick and Dora mini lecture in economics. There will be some of you for whom this kind of financial jargon is second nature and who will regard my exposition as something of an insult to their intelligence. But there will also be others who are like me – who can be slightly bewildered by it all and who need to understand it from the ground up. All too often in the past I have thought I understood something, only to discover when I was asked to explain it to someone else that I merely thought I understood it. That is something of an acid test: if you can explain something clearly and succinctly to someone else, the chances are you know what you are talking about. If, on the other hand, you find yourself stumbling, usually within just ten seconds of starting your explanation, be honest: you didn’t understand it at all.
The problem is compounded in finance (rather than economics) because a fair degree of deliberate obfuscation goes on to put a rather better gloss on matters. If you read about a company being ‘highly leveraged’ or ‘highly geared’, just substitute the words ‘owes a lot of fucking money to a lot of fucking people’ (delete the gratuitous expletive if you like, it’s all the same to me) and you will have a clearer idea of what is going on. Of course being ‘highly leveraged’ and ‘highly geared’ sounds a lot more stubenrein than being ‘deep in fucking debt’, although what puzzles me is that the only ones kidded along by such euphemisms are those who are of no consequence whatsoever (i.e. you and I). Those who are of consequence – lenders, investment banks, hedge funds and rival companies – aren’t fooled for a moment.
. . .
Also in the firing line, apparently though surprisingly, is Belgium. In its case, the awful and cynical ‘money markets’ out to wreck the EU (as some believe. Do they wear black masks and carry six-shooters strapped to their waists?) are concerned that, as silly as it might sound, the country doesn’t actually have a government. Obviously, someone somewhere is making some decision, probably a legion of Belgian civil servants, but if push came to shove and ‘government-level’ decisions were demanded by the European Central Bank and possibly the IMF, the phone would ring and ring and ring, but remain unanswered. Not a happy state of affairs, though one which has carried on for six months. Because one credit rating agency has shifted Belgium’s rating down from stable to negative, it is now being seen as possible future candidate for an EU bailout. Given the country’s lack of leadership, it is an irony that the
EU’s headquarters are in its capital and that it was one of the ‘project’s’ original cheerleaders. Oh, and a former Belgian Deputy Prime Minister (in a time when the country was still capable of agreeing who should form the government) is the first European Council president Herman Van Rompuy (a name which to British ears sounds rather silly. A cheap shot, I know, but I can rarely resist cheap shots. Here’s another, that old joke: name three famous Belgians other than van Damme, Simenon, Herge and that painter chappie everyone knows. You have as long as you like, longer if necessary). The media, never shy about either cheap shots or catchy acronyms in new habitually referring to the defaulting nations as the PIGGS – Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece. My view is that it is not a question of whether the euro will collapse into several rounds of recriminations, but when. Anyone who is even on nodding terms with a knowledge of the German psyche will know that the nation’s goodwill – as opposed to its government’s goodwill – and its willingness to substitute the riotous lifestyle of southern European ne’er do wells is not infinite. And I really don’t blame them.
Van Rompuy rather blotted his copybook a few weeks ago when he announced that the EU faced ‘a survival crisis’. Yes, Herman, I think we all know that, but the trick is for a politician to brazen it out until the water is already lapping around his ankles. Anything else, and the crisis just arrives a lot sooner. Must try harder.
. . .
Ironically, the ‘banking crisis’ had absolutely nothing to do with fundamental economics or sophisticated ‘financial instruments’ or any of the other hi’falutin, virtually incomprehensible jazz that high finance resorts to in order to throw us off the scent. It was nothing but the lowest scummy human behaviour of turning a fast buck while the going was good. On the back of the insane rush to allow everyone and his pet goat to ‘get onto the housing ladder’ before prices rose any further, mortgages were handed out like sweeties at a children’s party. But it wasn’t what caused the crisis. The debts – I can’t remember the bullshit phrase used to avoid using the term debt, but I do know it involved the weasel word ‘collateralised’ which can mean anything but actually means nothing – were bundled up and sold to others – and a nice commission was earned on the sale. But don’t feel sorry – not that anyone does – for those who bought them, for they only bought them up in order to do exactly the same: they divvied up all the debt they had bought, repackaged it, a bit of this with a bit of that, then they, too, sold them on – and they, too, trousered a handsome commission. And so on it went for several years. They all knew that at some point it would have to stop, but they also knew they would not be obliged to pay the bill. And so it was: ‘Our banks,’ the governments pontificated, ‘are too big to fail. If they fail, we fail, and we cannot afford that.’ And so they were bailed out with taxpayers’ money, although the taxpayer wasn’t ever consulted. Had he done so, the response would most certainly have been – though couched in more diplomatic language – ‘look, this is far, far too important to concern the little man. We know best.’ Unfortunately, they didn’t ‘know best’ when the scam of providing anyone with a mortgage who was prepared to tell the right lies was at its height. Despite many, many warnings – articles in the printed Press and any number of TV documentaries providing clear evidence that the mortgage industry was well out of hand, the government – in this case Labour – did nothing. Why, it will have asked itself, spoil the good times. People feel wealthy, so why be honest and spoil it by informing that that borrowed wealth is no kind of wealth?
I am quite prepared to concede that in his analysis of capitalism (or what I know about it, gleaned from here and there, the backs of cereal packets, that kind of thing) Karl Marx was spot on. We’re I think he came unstuck was in his prognosis – that capitalism will collapse in on itself – and in his suggestions for an alternative system. And my that conclusion is backed up by an impeccable Marxist body, the Communist Party of China. They, too, seem to have decided that making everyone middle class (except for the saps who must stay working class to service the middle class) is the way to go. And in the process they are busy creating the next world crisis. For when China’s housing bubble burst, it will be very bad news for us all.
. . .
It was off to Hamburg yesterday morning for the funeral of an aunt, my mother’s sister, then back to Blighty again last night and in bed by 7.45pm to finish watching Shutter Island, which is very, very good. Although the occasion was very sad, it was good to see my two cousins again, my uncle and my cousins two extremely attractive two daughters. It reminded me once again how I feel more at home doing things the German way and how in many ways I think I might be more German than English. Having said that though, I should also report that my nephew, the son of a German and my half-English, half-German sister spent a month and a half working in England last summer and told me one of the aspects he likes about England is that it is, by and large, freer and easier than Germany. Years ago, another German, a journalist who had settled in London, told me that what he particularly liked about England was that he could mix with and include in his social circle anyone he chose and liked. In German, he told me, he, as a professional, was obliged to stick to those like him. I merely report what he said. I cannot claim to know what he is talking about because when I actually lives in German, I was a young teen and wouldn’t really notice these things. I suspect that in some ways, were I to live in Germany, my attitudes, behaviour, and loud mouth would go down like a lead balloon.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Nichi Vendola, the latest ‘coming man’. Gay, poet, communist, catholic - he pretty much covers all the angles
Driving up to London this morning, for my weekly stint hunting down rogue commas on the Mail’s features pages and ensuring all traces of humour are removed before publication, I was listening to the latest edition of Radio 4’s Crossing Continents, one of the many radio podcasts I download onto my iPod and then never listen to. Actually, that isn’t true. I do listen to some, but there are many which never get a look-in and are deleted unheard after several months.
That edition was a profile of a ‘coming man’, a Nichi Vendola, the current governor of Apulia, and thus one of Italy’s ‘coming men’.
(Incidentally, I am bound in honour to exclude many BBC journalists from my many rants against hacks. Perhaps it is because of the nature and history of the BBC as a broadcaster, but its foreign correspondence are, almost to a man and woman, journalists whose work I admire. Especial mention should go to those correspondents who work in dangerous parts of the world: names which come to mind are Hugh Sykes, Lyse Doucet, Barbara Plett and Olga Guerin, but there are many, many more. Their advantage is that as BBC radop is under no commercial imperative to bump up the listener figures, they can get on with the job with the minimum of bullshit.)
But back to Nichi Vendola: all I know of the man is what I heard this morning, and as far as I am concerned it is far too early to tell whether of not he is a good egg. That, of course, has no bearing whatsoever on whether he will successful in his aim to become Italy’s prime minister.
He is usually described as a gay poet who was once a communist but is now a catholic. He has twice served as Apulia’s governor (and is now in his second term) and it seems many on the left in Italy hope he might revitalise them. He is very popular with the voters, and as a gay activist getting himself elected governor of what is described as one of the most conservative of Italy’s provinces is some achievement. He joined Italy’s Communist Youth Federation
when he was 14, but has now renounced its excesses, although he seems to be rather clever in appealing to all sides. Thus in the programme he is quoted as being in favour of ‘globalisation’ because the proletariat are all over the world and if they are to be helped to throw off their shackles, it must be done ‘globally’. He was quoted as saying that the exhortation was not ‘workers of Italy unite’ or ‘workers of Western Europe unite’, but ‘workers of the world unite’. Very superficially what he says makes a certain sense, but dig only a little deeper and analyse it just a little more rigorously, and it turns into a certain kind of nonsense, if only because the word ‘globalisation’ and the notion behind it refer to world trade, and when people use that word, they are most certainly not engaging in Marxist dialogue but something which would have infuriated Marx. I might, of course, be very wrong and that encouraging ever more globalisation is top of the list of every left-wing group’s agenda. On the other hand, our Nichi might well be talking complete bollocks.
Vendola was profiled in Bari, where, as I have said, he commands a great deal of support, and then the reporter (Rosie Goldsmith, who spent a week with him) followed him to Turin, where took part in a conference of politicians and businessmen, and the Milan, where he endorsed the candidate his party is putting forward to contest the election for the city’s mayor. In Turin, according to Goldsmith, he was treated like something of a rock star. But the verdict of many of the businessmen whom he addressed was that he is a fine speaker who eloquently defined the problems faced by Italy, but was rather short on possible solutions. In other words, he talks a great game.
Back in Bari, there was other criticism along similar lines: that he is not actually very good at the nitty-gritty of local administration, and that much of what he does is done with one and a half eyes firmly on the politics. So, for example, he is opposing the privatisation of Apulia’s aqueduct (said to be the largest in Europe and vital for the region), even though in doing so he has put himself on a collision course with Berlusconi’s government. Well, there’s no harm in doing that if you are a politician who wants to make a name for himself on the national stage. But the criticism was that the aqueduct is in dire need of repair and maintenance which would cost far more than is available from local funds, but which would be adequately paid for if it were operated privately.
Then there is Vendola’s now very public Catholicism. How he manages to square that with his communism is not at all obvious, but it does go down well with the folks on the ground. He is quoted as saying ‘the most important book for a communist like me is the Bible’. Sounds good – but what does it mean? Not a great deal, I suggest, and would seem to be part of the group of vacuous soundbites of which claiming that ‘globalisation’ is necessary to boost the lot of the proletariat is another.
Describing the man as a ‘poet’ is also reckoned to be rather effective, as it conjures up sensitivity, emotion and creativity. But when politicians are described as ‘poets’, it is all too often forgotten that there are bad poets as well as good poets. And when an Apulian publisher was asked for his candid opinion on Vendola’s poetry, he pleaded to be allowed not to comment. And that is rather an eloquent response in itself.
But I am not Italian, and for all I know Nichi Vendola is a great guy who will, in future, play a leading role in ensuring the country’s trains start to run on time again. And perhaps he, too, might fall victim to the curse of the ‘coming man’.
Friday, December 10, 2010
High jinks from our young, and the young grow old: plus ça change . . . Oh, and the day I almost started my own riot
The first things which must be said is that, despite the claims, this was not primarily a demonstration against the planned fees but an opportunity to try to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the Conservatives and their Lib Dem catamites, who have agreed to keep keep them in power. For the fact is that Conservatives are not popular with young people, they never have been and never will be. And if our students and would-be students are so upset at being charged for their university education, why did they so meekly acquiesce when the charges were first introduced by Labour several years ago and the principle was first established that from now on they must pay? There was barely a peep out of them. But then the fact is that, broadly, Labour, as the party of the left, are the good guys, and the Tories, as the party of the right, the bad guys. The Lib Dems are, as always, an irrelevancy. (Incidentally, it was suggested today on the Week In Westminster (Radio 4, on all good radio sets) that perhaps the Tories are using the Lib Dems as fall guys for many of the unappetising decisions which have to be made. To which I reply: does the Pope shit in the forest? That’s where Brian Cowen and his buddies went wrong. They didn’t form a coalition with the Lib Dems.)
But it’s a fact of life that the young tend to the left and as they age, faced with a mortgage, loans, keeping up with the Joneses, career-building, unexpected pregnancy and other assorted ‘life event’, they invariably drift to the right. You, my dear reader, whoever you are and wherever you are reading this, know as well as I do that in ten years time the vast majority of those rioters will be boring fucks with mortgages and aspirations who wouldn’t dare rock the boat even if their life depended on it.
It is certainly true that those few who most enthusiastically took to smashing up the roads ‘to demonstrate their displeasure’, do not need an excuse to turn violent. Years ago, I had personal experience of such people and it was not pleasant.
I was at Dundee University and something of a layabout. I wasn’t an anarchist or a druggie or a politico or anything like that, but I was not a model student. I didn’t take part in demos (fighting apartheid was the big cause then) and the lefties thought I was right of the centre, whereas those on the right thought I was a lefties. I was, in fact, neither. The one principle which guided my life was anything for a laugh, and if a toke or five on a spliff was involved, so much the better.
One day Tony Benn came to the university to give a speech in the big lecture hall of the social sciences building. Benn, who might still have been calling himself Anthony Wedgwood-Benn – I can’t remember – was a Labour minister and thoroughly disliked. Although these days he is Mr Cardigan and everyone’s favourite elder statesman and reasonable to a bloody fault, in those days he was regarded by the Tories as a dangerous socialist, but, ironically, regarded by leftie students as an establishment stooge and not left-wing enough. Anyway, I have absolutely no idea why, but I organised a spontaneous ‘demo’ of about 15 people, and we sat at the back of the lecture hall banging our fists on the desks and chanting Give Peace A Chance. It was quite ludicrous that I should have been the ringleader because I didn’t have a political bone in my body. I was just having fun. But word spread and we were joined by others until the group at the back had almost doubled. I can’t remember what happened to the meeting, although we might well have brought it to a premature close, but I do remember my gaggle of 30 or so protesters returning to the students' union where we were joined by others who had just heard of the escapade.
And then I noticed something quite odd: the good-natured gaggle had subtly transformed itself into something quite different. It was now a rabble baying for more trouble. It was a mob. It wanted blood. And it was very ugly. It was no longer a group of individuals but an entity of quite another kind and there was absolutely nothing good-humoured about it. I remember being rather stunned by this very sudden transformation. As the instigator of the original disruption, it had, after all been, my group for a short while, but now I wanted nothing to do with it. I left there and then, and can happily report that those I left behind could think of nothing else to do, and slowly the mob went their separate ways. But it was very odd and it did teach me something about humankind.
. . .
It is standard journalistic practice to blame ‘a violent element’ when protests such as the one yesterday spin out of control, but I believe it is very much the case. It’s a sad fact that 90 per cent of us are sheep who can be led and manipulated with frightening ease. The Communists and the Nazis both made use of that. There need not be many, but those few are not like you or I. Several years ago, four or five were jailed after turning to quite sickening violence, ostensibly acting on behalf of animal welfare. Prince Charles and his darling lady wife Camilla (the ‘Duchess of Cornwall’ – I am dearly hoping that at some point in my life - though I am running out of time - I will be offered a knighthood so that I can turn it down) were being driven through London to some premiere or other (probably not Les Miserables) when they were caught up in the protest and their car was attacked. Apparently, someone managed to get his arm into the car and punched Camilla in the stomach. What exactly does that have to do with protesting against the rise in college fees? Every country has these lunatics, people who simply want to get violent and don’t need an excuse. If you are angry about being charged tuition fees and want to demonstrate that you disagree with the Government’s decision, smashing the window of the Roller Charles and Camilla are being driven in and punching the good lady in the stomach strikes me as a novel and, ultimately, futile way of putting forward your argument. You are more likely to persuade the neutral bystander that you are utterly uninterested in the issue at hand and merely want to perpetrate a little gratuitous violence. I am something of an openminded chap and always willing to be proved wrong but on this one I think you might feel inclined to agree with me.
unpleasant night out for our future king and his missus as the locals get very restless
. . .
Being a fully-paid up member of the cliché industry, clichés are dear to me (at the end of the day, come rain or shine, when all is said and done, clichés are worth their weight in gold.) We hacks are always urged to ‘avoid clichés like the plague’), but the truth is that they are our lifeblood, our stock in trade, and to ignore them would simply be stupid. It’s not that they simply make our lives easier (it ain’t easy being original, so I’ve long ago given up trying to be) but because the public is familiar with them, they are comfortable with them and expect them.
I like to think that a cliché is not just a phrase, but that the notion of clichés can be extended to include our behaviour. So it is surely something of a cliché that a businessman should screw his secretary and marry her after divorcing his wife. Or that some of us guys ‘fall in love’ with the first girl they screw. (In my case it was my second, Sarah Hunter. She jacked me in after a while and, as is the way, I was devastated. She went on to screw a trendy psychology lecturer, a real tit call Martin Skelton-Robinson and then his wife. You might put it down to sour grapes that I should describe him as ‘a tit’, but anyone who calls his newborn son ‘Judas’ is a complete tit in my book. I should add, perhaps in mitigation, that this was at the end of the Sixties.)
I suppose what I am getting at is that just as a phrase becomes so hackneyed by overuse that it gains the status of ‘a cliché’, some behaviour is so predictably commonplace that it can gain a similar status. Thus, in the sense that I am suggesting, some attitudes can also gain the status of ‘cliché’. And, unfortunately, I am now at the age - 61 just under three weeks ago - where I am in real danger of having clichéed attitudes. In my defence, I am very aware of the danger and do my utmost to steer clear of them, but but as far as I can see, that is as futile as attempting to ‘steer clear’ of death.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh on those my age, but too many of us do seem to be living clichés. I would dearly like to exclude myself from that, but in all honesty I can’t. I have got to the age where new words and phrases are beginning to irritate me (e.g. we no longer ‘appeal against’ a decision, we simply ‘appeal’ it, which sounds wrong to my ears, but I am bound to admit that usage of that word has changed and that I am the one out of step. Then there’s the response people give when you ask ‘how are you?’ ‘Good’, they say, which just sounds plain daft to me. I would say ‘well, thank you’.)
All this is an almost excessively long-winded way of getting around to describing my thoughts about the modern take on giving presents. Yesterday my daughter - who is only 14 - texted me while she was on her way to school to ask me to buy her some Christmas cards to give to her friends - bloody 80 cards! 80! Then there is the amount of presents children get these days for Christmas. It is obscene. Three years ago, when we hauled out the sacks my children use as Christmas stockings to fill up again with small gifts, I discovered at the bottom of one a present which one or other of my children had not even opened. I try to instill in them the notion (which I firmly believe to be true) that the more you have, the less you value what you have, but whether or not the message is getting through, I really don’t know. When I was a child, we got one ‘big’ present from our parents, then something practical, like a pair of gloves. We would also get small gifts from grandparents and, perhaps, godparents. But these. The reason I started off this ramble with a reference to clichés was that surely it is a cliché to do what I am doing: ranting on about how ‘the younger generation’ takes too much for granted and how the whole ‘present-giving’ seems to have got completely out of hand? It has probably got a great deal to do with the fact that, for most of us at least, times have become ever easier over these past 60 years, with the recent - and now concluded - era of easy credit boosting the impression that we are all rather affluent.
Yet part of me still firmly believes that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’. The ‘younger generation’ is not at all that different to us old farts. They are simply younger. I dislike my two children more or less as a matter of course switching on the TV as soon as they get up, and tell them so. But all I hear when I tell them so if my father ranting on at me. And guess who also would have switched on the TV more or less as a matter of course were early-morning television available when I was young? Just the one guess, but I’m sure you’ll get it right.
. . .
I’m pretty certain that finding a Daily Mail cartoon funny is a sure indication that retirement can’t be long away. So it is with some shame that I admit that every so often one or two of them do amuse me. Not Garfield and not Fred Bassett, certainly, but Chloe, which sometimes has to be toned down a little to avoid offending the middle-aged sensibilities of readers (why is it that as people grow older, many pretend they never had sex?), The Odd Streak and one called The Strip Show.
I wasn’t at all struck on The Strip Show when it first appeared, but it seems to have gained confidence and can often hit the button. The strip below, which appeared last week, particularly appealed to me. It is a slow burner, but all the better for that. The key to it is in the discrepancy of price. When I first read it, I wondered ‘What the bloody hell is/are ‘dote/dotes?’.
If, after reading it, you’re still wondering, this strip is not for you. Another Strip Show strip I enjoyed a few months ago simply showed the exterior of a building, the home of The Double Entendre Club. Outside the main entrance is a sign which reads ‘Members only’.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Adams moves south as Tweedledum and Tweedldee blow it. And is Assange being stitched up? Just the one guess, please, but I'm sure you'll get it right
That occurred to me again tonight walking home and listening to The World Tonight report on the emergency budget in Dublin. Everyone is demanding an immediate election (although I’m sure Fianna Fail, who have even less to lose than they have to gain, will drag their heels on that one, knowing full well that each and every one of them will be out on his or her arse by the time the polls close.) After Brian Lenihan had presented the budget, the Opposition got up and, as is tradition, condemned it out of hand. It was then I remember thinking that Fine Gael, who accepted wisdom would assume would regain many seats and be a senior partner in any future coalition government, might also perhaps not be looking forward to an election quite as much as one might assume. And then it occurred to me the Gerry
Adams, who is nothing if not wily (and rather wistful in my picture), realised that Sinn Fein’s time might finally have come to score at the ballot box rather better than it has so far.
I’ll repeat that I know less about Irish politics than I do about nuclear physics and what I write is simple conjecture. But it would also make sense. In Britain, the Tweedledum/Tweedledee nature of our system has meant that first Labour would form the government, then it would be the Tories turn, then Labour again, for many years ad nauseam. That has all changed now that the Conservatives were obliged to form a coalition with the Lib Dems. Could the Republic also be facing a its own realignment in its politics? After all, the Irish might reason that one lot is as bad as the other, they’ve both screwed things up and allowed the bubble to blow up before it burst, and that the time has come to give Sinn Fein a chance. It already has many local politicians.
Adams, who is not getting any younger (is any of us?) decided some time ago that real progress towards a fully independent Ireland was more likely by democratic means, and standing for election as TD for Louth, believing that the voters are mightily fed up with the usual suspects might well be part of his game plan.
. . .
Why is Adams routinely referred to as a ‘barman’ or a ‘former barman’? Yes, I know that working as a barman was the only full-time job he had held down until he was elected to the the Commons ond the NI Assembly, but anyone who knows even very little about him will know that describing him as a ‘barman’ and implying that he sort of kind of, kind of sort of drifted into politics is complete bollocks. I suspect when he is described as a barman, it is done, when it is done, as a subtle – or even not so subtle – means of putting him in his place, of implying that he, and thus the ideas he stood and stands for, are rather jumped up and not worth taking seriously even for a moment. In the great British scheme of things, the job of 'barman' is not rated very highly. 'Oh, Blair, was a barman, but that was when he was a student in Paris, old boy, not the same thing at all.'
On the matter of the IRA, I must be a little careful. My dad could be moved to fury in a matter of seconds by any talk of what he and others referred to as ‘sneaking regarders’, so out of respect for my father I shall try very hard to avoid being seen as a ‘sneaking regarder’.
However, I can’t deny that what Adams, McGuinness and others were doing was not in essence different to what Menachem Begin did in the Forties, and what Hereward the Wake did many centuries ago. The problem I have with both the Republican and the Loyalist groups was that all too often too many of them were, whatever their political activities, also heavily involved in outright crime – drugs, robbery, prostitution.
To put my comments into perspective, I am obliged also to add that growing up in Berlin between the ages 9/10 and 13, the son of a German mother and attending German schools for four years, and then, when I came back to live in England, returned to the rather dismal life of a British public school (heating wasn’t turned on until November 1 however cold it got, and even then it was never enough. And the food was awful), I have never actually felt very British.
So the conviction that the provinces of Northern Ireland must forever be a part of Great Britain has never take root in my soul. (My brother Mark once told me of the old Soviet notion of its Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’. Hmm, I remember thinking, I would mind being one of those, and, to be honest, it is a description which gets quite close to how I feel. The only drawback is that it might seem a tad conceited to describe oneself as a ‘cosmopolitan’, especially as this ‘rootless coosmopolitan’ now lives next to a farm in the depths of North Cornwall with nothing but cattle and mud for neighbours. But all this is way of the track.)
. . .
As of earlier today Wikileak’s Julian Assange is banged up in some jail or other in London ready to face a court hearing as to whether he should be extradited to Sweden to face criminal charges. Those charges relate to one-night stands he had with two women in August, and both are now claiming that he is guilty of ‘raping’ them as ‘rape’ has most recently been defined in Swedish law. From what I have read, the sex he had was consensual with both women, that one of the woman more or less pursued him after seeing him on television, and the other woman is claiming that he purposely split a condom. That same women is also on record as urging her sisters to give the bastard men in their lives hell if they step just one inch out of line, or what the sisters regard as being the line. All in all the developments in the Assange/Wikileaks affair are as murky as murky can get.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. various excitable politicians (and, I don’t doubt, a great many rabble-rousing radio shock jocks) are agitating for Assange to be extradited to face ‘spying’charges. Some are even calling for him to be ‘executed’. This is all rather ridiculous, but also rather worrying.
I wasn’t particularly impressed by all the leaking of embassy cables and don’t think it achieved anything, except some light amusement at the embarrassment of assorted politicians. All the claims that it was the democratic empowerment of the people blah-blah, is, as far as I am concerned 24 carat bullshit. (Note to pedants: yes, I know bullshit can't be 24 carat, but you know what I mean.) The Americans looked particularly stupid given how unbelievably lax their security was, and they have obviously taken very badly being made to look very silly in the eyes of the rest of the world.
The revelation of the locations and details of various installations considered ‘vital’ be the U.S. was admittedly pretty bloody pointless, and if I had to sum up the whole affair in one word it would be ‘bollocks’. But having said that, I really don’t like seeing Assange well and truly stitched up. And that is what is happening.
He is now too high-profile to be grabbed in broad daylight by the CIA and flown off somewhere on one of those infamous ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights – so much for all the ‘freedom loving’ bullshit we get far too much of from the U.S. – and doing so would be impossible. But the rape allegations in Sweden, though they appear to have come about independently, will be manna from heaven for the U.S., and I don’t doubt its embassy in Stockholm will be squeezing Swedish government’s nuts without mercy to ensure Assange is extradited from the UK to Sweden so that the U.S. can then extradite him themselves.
I suggested earlier that had Assange been made Russia or China looks stupid, they would have had no compulsion at all of getting rid of him. The only difference with the U.S. is that it feels obliged to cover its arse and make itself out to be doing things correctly. But be in no doubt, it will not rest until Assange has been banged up somewhere for 99 years without parole. No one makes Uncle Same look stupid and is allowed to get away with it.
The BBC is reporting that he was refused bail. That, too, is odd, as there is surely little chance he will skip the country. But then he didn’t just make the Yanks look very silly. The Brits also looked pretty daft. I suspect pressure has also been exerted on Switzerland, which has reportedly frozen Wikileaks accounts.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Britain - and the Daily Mail's - class obsession (again) and what's Wikileaks up to now? Then there's the Guardian's singular brand of hypocrisy
Quite apart from the fact that the piece is crap anyway (the writer, David Thomas, who is called upon when the Mail want to publish a ‘humorous’ piece is to humour what McDonald’s is to cooking), it is rather difficult knowing from which direction it is coming. Is it ‘hooray, more of our rock stars are toffs’ or ‘boo, more of our rock stars are toffs’? And neither stance would sit comfortably with the Mail’s ‘we want to be middle class’ obsession.
As for the substance of the piece, it is full of bull. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones weren’t working class. Rock stars did not come ‘rampaging out of the back streets of industrial towns and the council estates of inner-city London.
Some might have, but most certainly not all. I would have thought that the parents of McCartney, Lennon and Mick Jagger would have been mortified – as only the middle class can be mortified – to be described as working class. Read the piece for yourself and decide whether you think it is bollocks or bullshit.
. . .
As for Wikileaks, the most recent revelations do rather question its motives. I have not yet read anywhere what it purports to be doing and what it hopes to achieve, but revealing the locations of vital installations ‘whose loss could critically affect US national security’ (according to the BBC) does strike at least me as rather odd. Is it in the public interest to do so. Wikileaks and its main man, Julian Assange, only seem to have access to confidential U.S. embassy cables, not any from, say, Russia or China. But it is fair to ask whether Wikileaks would be quite as industrious in publishing what had come its way were those cables to be Russian or Chinese, and also quite how long the chap would stay alive had he done so.
Say what you like about the Western world, but its security services aren’t quite as ruthless when it comes to ‘neutralising’ opposition as the SVR and, I suspect China. I think the only people who still claim to believe that the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was not murdered by the SVR in 2006 is, well, the SVR.
I’m not too sure what the Guardian is doing publishing every jot and tittle which comes its way courtesy of Wikileaks, including the list of ‘vital installations’. It like to portray itself as a journal of record which is on the side of the angels, but the truth is that however true that is or not, it is also a commercial enterprise jostling for position with other papers.
Technically, it is owned by a non-profitmaking trust, but quite how much that affects its commercial decisions is not clear. And I suspect that publishing all this stuff from Wikileaks will have got just as many cheers from the circulation manager, advertising staff and finance director as the assorted idealist who make up its editorial staff and readers. It is, after all, far easier to sell a half-page classified ad to a punter when you can assure him that because of rather spectacular editorial comment, a wide readership of that day’s issue is pretty much guaranteed.
. . .
I should like to point out here that I do not dislike the Guardian because I earn my daily crust beavering away as a sub on the Mail (whose editor is known to spit blood at the mere mention of that paper), but because that paper’s holier than thou stance does get right up my nose. For example, a standard ploy used by the saintly Guardian to publish prurient stories in all their salacious detail unearthed by the redtops (usally the Sun and the News of the Screws) is to do so under the pretext of ‘look at what those awful tabloids are printing now’. That allows its readers to get the full story as well as to maintain the condescending attitude to newspapers which they believe aren’t quite as ethical as the Guardian.
Fuck the Guardian. I do so dislike hypocrites.
. . .
Enough paragraphs, Barry?