Friday, September 30, 2011

Out of office, Labour can be as wacky as it likes. And one for hacks to chew on, then spit out as worthless

The standard view is that once out of government and into opposition, political parties are able to breathe a sigh of relief, stretch themselves, once again drink too much and indulge themselves in all manner of off-beat behaviour in the certain knowledge that it doesn’t at all matter, that nothing matters for a year or two because no one is taking a blind bit of notice. They are, for the time being anyway, yesterday’s men and women. For the older ones, the outgoing PM and his Cabinet, it might sting a little, or even a great deal, not having the chauffeur-driven sedan and no one touching their forelock any more, both metaphorically and literally, every time they brush past on their way from one important meeting to another. But for the former party grandees there are the compensations: a berth in the Lords for some, several journalistic sinecures perhaps, a well-paid directorship or two (and we are talking of Labour as well as those fucking fascist nasty Tory cunts - I would hate to be ambiguous here). The older ones can also look forward, now that the pushing and shoving of political life is over, to easing themselves gently into the role of eminence grise and that of a man or woman whose informed opinion should be sought by those with the money to seek it. They will even allow themselves a degree of indiscretion, spilling the beans a little on the past failures of colleagues.
For the younger ones, the former junior ministers and ambitious MPs, opposition is the time to make their mark, to climb the party’s greasy pole and get down and dirty in an awful lot of boring, though utterly necessary, manoeuvring, so that when the party to whom they lost power in turn finally loses the plot - as, of course, eventually they always do - they are in prime position to present themselves for selfless public service, knowing that the old guard is well out of the way and regularly getting pissed in the genteel bars of the Lords.
But before that grand moment comes, there is a year or two of hiatus before the real jostling for power and position within the party begins. Most certainly it is going on in the background, indeed, it never stops, but as far as the public is concerned they can relax a little: after all no one is taking a blind bit of notice as the public knows this lot will be in no position to form the government for five years at the very least and so they have nothing to lose.
So it was with Labour after May 2010. The Coalition government was formed here in the United Kingdom by the Conservatives, who won most of the votes, and the Liberal Democrats who were buggered if they were going to form a coalition government with Labour. (Although they often seem appeal to the same constituency and like to present themselves as the ‘caring party’, the Lib Dems and Labour hate each other just a little bit more than the Conservatives and Labour hate each other. So despite a little virtual flirting with Gordon Brown after the last election - which was all nothing more than strengthening his hand when it came to bargaining with the Tories - Nick Clegg plumped for coalition with the Tories as we all knew he would.
Labour needed the break. Like the Tories in 1992, they were knackered, not just out of ideas, but out of puff and, to push a phrase more or less to utter breaking point, out of sorts. The problem the Tories had in 1992 was that everyone - Labour, the Lib Dems and, crucially, they themselves, confidently expected them to lose the election, which would have meant a few quiet, relaxing years in opposition and time to top up the personal coffers and take the wife to that lovely little hotel in Dorset they used to visit before they married and where she gave him his first blow-job. As it turned out, the bloody electorate played silly buggers and re-elected the Tories for another, utterly miserable, five years in government, which caught everyone on the hop and persuaded everyone, as if they didn’t already know, that you simply cannot trust the voters.
So now it is Labour’s turn to drop their guard and come out with all the wacky things they privately believe but, as a rule, are too wise do support publicly.

. . .

The outstanding wacky idea of these past few days was the suggestion by some idiot or other (i.e. a chap called Ivan Lewis who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lembit Opik, a former Lib Dem MP) at this week’s annual Labour party conference in Liverpool that all British journalists should be ‘licensed’ by the government and that if they behaviour in any way fell short of what the licensing committee deemed fit, they would be ‘struck off’. On the scale of wackiness, it almost scores a perfect ten. Leave aside completely the ethics of a democratic government deciding who should and who should not form that country’s free press, the true measure of quite how daft the suggestion is is the sheer impossibility of making a licensing system work. Whichever idiot is was spent the best part of three seconds thinking it all through. What, for example, would the state do with those bolshy individuals (of which, thank God, Britain has more than its fair share) who were unlicensed but still indulged in some kind of journalistic activity? What sanctions would apply? A fine? A short term of imprsionment if the fine remained unpaid, and most certainly it would? A longer term of imprisonment for persistent unlicensed behaviour? And what would constitute ‘journalistic activity’? Would this kind of blogging be regarded as such? Or would all ‘journalistic activity’ be tolerated as long as it did not touch upon a list of sensitive subjects drawn up by the government’s licensing committee?
And how exactly would the government stop ‘unlicensed journalistic activity’? Yes, it might impose fines, followed by imprisonment, followed by, for persistent and unrepentant offenders, the death penalty, but this would, in practice, prove to be cumbersome at best and a bureaucratic nightmare at worst. In the meantime, all those saintly types who now work for the ‘Indy’ and the Guardian and all those gin-soaked fornicators who now work for the ‘right-wing press’ - none of whom, irrespective of their politics, would for a second agree to the government dictating what and what they might not write - would rapidly form a thriving underground press.
Lewis’s suggestion has, unsurprisingly received a universal raspberry from members of the press of all stripes, ranging from Helen Lewis-Hasteley in the News Statesman to Tom Chivers of Her Majesty’s fascist press who writes a blog for the Telegraphy. I should, incidentally, mention that Ms Lewis-Hasteley is a case in point that the daft chararacterisation by many of the caring left-of-centre press and the nasty right-of-centre press (or the other way around, if you get my drift) is at best simplistic. Ms Lewis-Hasteley, or Helen as I shall call her simply because it is shorter, now writes for the New Statesman, avowedly left-of-centre. Odd then, if the simplicissimi are to be believed, that before she took up that job and agonised over the plight of the downtrodden many, she worked - very successfully - for the fascist Daily Mail (whose editor is widely believed to eat at least two babies for breakfast) as a commissioning editor and features executive.
Somehow, I don’t think a list of British journalists, licensed and regulated by the government, will see the light of day.

. . .

I have not previously come across Ivan Lewis, who, apparently, is Labour’s shadow cultural secretary. But not for long, I should think. Lembit Opik (once described by Private Eye as ‘the well-known anagram’) also has something of an odd history. He began his career as a Lib Dem MP showing some promise and was, I think, even considered by some of them as a ‘coming man’ (always the kiss of death). But as time went on, he made more headlines for his love life than as a politician and things started going pear-shaped. First, there was a longish romance with a Welsh TV weather presenter (who cut up rough as increasingly it didn’t ever seem likely to end at the altar and was eventually dumped). Then the youngish roue took up with a Cheeky Girl, one of two Romanian sisters who had a very minor pop hit and who then found fame as to Romanian sisters who once had a very minor pop hit. It seemed an unlikely pairing, and so the Cheeky Girl involved seems to have decided for she gave her beau Lembit the boot. What he does now I don’t know and care even less.
As for the ‘regulation of hacks’, it less of a chance of seeing the light of day than a snowball surviving in Hell. But never say never, so if, by chance, there does come a time when hacks are licensed by the government (with that nice Ivan Lewis holding the licensing committee’s casting vote), I want to make sure from the off that I am ruled out completely. I could and would never countenance being regarded as in any way ‘acceptable’ by anyone in authority. So let me say publicly: Ivan Lewis is a complete prat. That should it, if the guy has even a modicum of self-respect.



Tweedledum and Tweedledee: which is which? You decide

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How a change of rules and new technology helped me realise I and rugger buggers can exist in the same universe. We don’t have to mix of course (which would be too much to ask of me)

Here’s today’s question: what do Finland, Luxembourg, Vanuato, Norway, Monaco, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guam and Tahiti in common? Give up? Thought you might, because it’s not obvious unless your answer was that vast majority of the citizens of those ten countries have two legs. Well, the answer is that they are all in the bottom ten in the International Rugby Union board’s ranking of national sides. Perhaps you would have cottoned on a lot sooner had I asked what New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England and France have in common - they are all in the top five and of all the many connections one might make between the five of them, being rugby nation would not necessarily come too far down the list. But what suprised me was seeing how many nations around the world play rugby. Monaco? Really? Surely the place isn’t big enough for a full-sized rugby pitch? Finland? Well, as sure as eggs is eggs it will be a summer game up there, unless they play rugby on skates.

I am something of a recent convert to rugby, despite being impeccably middle-class with quite marvellous manners to boot and charm most others would die for, and despite the fact that I shall never see 59 again. In fact, I used to loathe it, and, to be honest, there are aspects to rugby I still loathe. I suppose it would be more truthful to say I have become a fan of the game of rugby when it is played during the Six Nations tournament at the beginning of every year and, as now, during the World Cup, now being staged in New Zealand.

To clarify my earlier loathing (now downgraded to intense dislike) a little more, it is English rugby and its so-called ‘rugger buggers’ I dislike: their attitudes, their vastly
OTT – and for me wholly unconvincing – swaggering machismo, their apparent conviction that man was put on earth solely to get arseholed on beer when he is not actually out training or playing, and, if I’m honest, the fact that so many very fanciable women are rather taken with the ‘rugger bugger’. On that score the only way I can console myself – i.e. that there will not be a snowball’s chance in hell that those women would ever even give me the time of day – is that it is more than likely that they are just as stupid as the men and that any conversation between us when not restricted to the possible size of Lawrence Dallaglio’s balls would surely be over within about three-and-a-half minutes, if not sooner.

I am happy to point out that this intense dislike is solely restricted to English rugby. In Wales it is very much the national sport played by all, and although Scottish rugger buggers have more in common with their English cousins than their fellow Celts, I don’t find them half as irritating. For one thing, they often share their fellow non-rugger buggers Scots sense of humour. My loathing started when, at the age of 13, and after four years attending German schools the last three at a Jesuit college, I was sent to the Oratory School. I was unfeasibly innocent – I remember suggesting to my mother that one sure way to tackle world over-population, a contemporary concern in the early Sixties, would be if all men and women simply stopped shagging. She laughed but did not (and possibly could not) explain why my solution was something of a non-starter – and life at and English boarding school (oh, all right, public school) was not so much a wake-up call but a nightmare for this tender young lad. I knew nothing of ‘queers’, ‘stiffs’ and ‘wanking’ and after just a few days got very, very homesick. I know realise that all the other boys had also been very, very homesick at one point, but as I was the only one of two in my year’s intake of 40 who had not previously been to a prep school, my homesick came later on in my school career. Those poor saps had gone through it all when they were seven or eight and were first shipped out as the inconvenience many middle-class parents regarded them. Football – soccer, to you Yanks – was the game I liked and followed, but it wasn’t played at the Oratory. Rugby was, and the connection between English rugby and an almost blinding unhappiness was made. It didn’t help that at 13 I had reached my teenage weight, but not yet my teenage height and was rather chubby to boot. My first nickname was ‘Preggers’ – perhaps you can guess why.

So there you have it: the reason why I find English rugby, its followers and everything about it loathsome. There is even a certain accent which, whenever I hear it, is like a stab in the back. Irrational? Certainly, but then someone once observed that what distinguishes humankind from animals is not that we have the capacity to be rational, but that we often behave totally irrationally.

. . .

But I have come to appreciate the game a great deal more, and for two simple reasons. The first is the various rule changes which have made the game far more fluid. When I was forced to play the game – and occasionally watched it – you often had to guess what was going on as the ball would get lost for what seemed like hours in a pile of rugby forwards and mud. This made it all rather boring. But rules changes mean that union is now almost as fluid as league.

The second change which made watching rugby (and, by the way, cricket) more of a pleasure was the gradual introduction of new technology which meant numerous replays, often in slow motion, and several angles were available, which helped one understand the game far better. Admittedly, many already did, but I wasn’t one of them.

These days I support Italy in the Six Nations. They have almost always been coming last, but they are getting better and better, for one thing they seem to have more in common with the Australian, South Africans, New Zealanders and French than those awful rugger buggers.

Monday, September 26, 2011

More blogs out there than sand grains on the beach - what is a boy to do to make his mark? And will the colonels return to Greece? That's what the CIA thinks (according to the rumour)

Surprisingly enough, I am not the only bod conceited enough to record his thoughts in a blog, and furthermore there is any number of blogs out there in what in the early pioneering days was called ‘cyberspace’ passing on their thoughts on the euro crisis. I discovered exactly how many when I came across a suggestion on the BBC News website outlining different possible outcomes to the euro crisis http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14977728 that the CIA has warned of a military coup in Greece. This rather intrigued me, because BBC, despite apparently being staffed wholesale by lefties (©Daily Mail), is, as a rule, rather circumspect in its pronouncements and is not given to making foolish claims lightly. For one thing the level of editorial control is such that anything published on its website will be seen and checked by at least three people. So, I reckoned, there must be at least a little credence in the suggestion that the CIA is actually worried that there might be a military coup.
I’ve previously thought that such a coup was not utterly impossible – as I have previously written that both Portugal and Greece, of the Med nations, have only been democracy for less than 35 years and were ruled by dictators before that. But the crucial difference between me and the CIA is that I am just some obscure blogger with more opinions than sense but the CIA has access to quite a bit of information, not least from the U.S. ambassador in Athens as well as from its ‘station’ if these days it bothers having a station in Athens. (Might sound odd to write that but I recently read a book by a Robert Baer, a retired CIA operative, who was dismayed that the new generation of the CIA upper echelon is far more in favour of intelligence gathered by eavesdropping than for running agents on the ground. Baer also suggested that current thinking means stations around the world were being closed down. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know – how could I? – but that is what he claimed. So it is reasonable to ask whether a CIA station was once existed is still operating in Athens or whether it has been downgraded to a chap with a mobile phone and a laptop sipping ouzo in a taverna.)
Whatever is the case, the chances are that the CIA is in a better position to know what is going on that good old me. So after reading that the BBC was repeating the CIA’s fears I googled ‘military coup 2011 greece cia’ and there they were – thousands upon thousands of blogs all saying the same thing. Trouble is
they might all be repeating the same silly rumour, but given the nature of the web a rumour can, almost within minutes, become established fact. And then it even occurred to me that perhaps the BBC, despite it levels of editorial control, had fallen for what is, perhaps, nothing but a rumour.
So listen up: there are claims out there that the CIA has warned of a possible military coup in Greece. Whether or not they have any substance I don’t know. And nor do you. The only people who would know are the good folk in Langley, Virginia, and I can’t see them emailing me once they have read this either confirming or denying the claim. And even if they did email me and tell me something either way, there would be no way of knowing they were telling the truth. Would there?

. . .

If, hypothetically, there were a military coup in Greece, I wonder what the reaction of the EU commissariat in Brussels would be? Going by previous reactions to crises, I think they would restrict themselves to ‘condemning in absolute terms and unequivocally the events in Greece’ and promising a definitive response ‘by Christmas’. That’s what they are good at. If issuing statements of intent, condemnation and reassurance – loads and loads of those these past few months to ‘calm the money markets’ – were a marketable commodity, the EU leadership would be rich beyond its wildest dreams. It firmly believes that frantic activity is the same as consequential action which is why very little seems to get done, althoughgetting everyone in ‘the club’ to agree to the latest proposal can never be easy. Trouble is, activity never was the same as action and it never will be.
So what would happen if the colonels again took over Greece (promising elections in a few months’ time, of course – they all do that)? Well, bugger all, really. There would be a lot of hand-wringing, especially on the left, but there is not much that could be done. Would Greece be suspended from the EU? They did something along those lines - though I can’t remember what - a while back when some unsavoury far right type in Austria looked like getting quite a bit of support. Actually, rather then Greece being suspended, I should imagine the first thing this hypothetical group of colonels would do would be to dump the euro and go back to the drachma. That (according to my reading - I would hate you to think I know what I am talking about) would benefit the country in the short term but would stoke up inflation in the long term. And I should also think it would tell the EU to go and take a running jump. Undoubtedly, there would be a lot of trouble from the country’s left, but if, initially at least, my hypothetical colonels ensured that the economy stabilised and that civil servants were paid again, they might find they had rather more support than the left.
Naturally, ‘the markets’, as we are now obliged to call them, wouldn’t know what to do. They would like it if my hypothetical colonels brought stability, but they would also know that these colonels, unless they were wise, might be unwilling to honour Greece’s debts. In fact, they might believe the best thing to do would be to seal of Greece from much of Europe, and only allow tourism - they would need the income - and the export of what Greece is good at exporting. Most worrying for the EU would be that other countries might be encouraged by the action of my hypothetical colonels - and then the Europoean dream would be well and truly over. The EU would probably shrink back into a rump of of the 12 states which once formed the then European Community before Delors and his ilk decided to go for broke and try for a ‘United States of Europe’. What Britain would do, I really don’t know. Probably just lose the Ashes to Australia again. That’s the kind of thing we do in a crisis. Oh, and get roaring drunk.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Essert-Roman. Day 334 - I waffle on a bit more about the euro, the Palestinians, the Third World and then call it a day to prepare for la retour a casa (or something, you get the drift).

Essert-Romand, Haute-Savoie, France.
Last day of this holiday here in sunny Essert-Romand and, as usual, rather wishing it wasn’t. I think I might once try a three-week holiday. What with packing, hunting down tea-towels, chocolate with the town logo on it and other tourist tat, cleaning up the apartment - I’m buggered if I’m going to leave it looking like a tip - and other boring stuff, I rather think the last day was yesterday. Then there’s all the strategic eating - i.e. finishing off as much as the food as possible as fresh produce will have to be thrown away, and I hate wasting food (Catholic upbringing, see). Then, as it’s Friday, got to get the puzzles pages printed at work, alert Nicky, make any amends she spots, blah-blah, so it really would seem that yesterday was the last day. Tomorrow will be a bit of a rush as we have to get from here to Geneva airport by 9am at the latest, and what with all the bloody windy roads to start with, I have no idea how long the trip will last, and we don’t want to miss our plane. I suppose all this fraught whingeing is a sure sign the holiday is over. Heads down for Christmas now and most probably months of utter chaos as Britain yet again grinds to a halt by the unexpected arrival of some cold white stuff falling from the sky.

. . .

And the euro crap grinds on. Everyone knows what’s going to happen - ten years of Japan style stagflation at best, wall-to-wall repeats on TV at worst - so why, why, why, don’t they just bite the bloody bullet and we can all get on with swapping our austerity war stories. When the crash comes, the social fashionista will be at the insufferable worse, trying to outdo each other with how much money they have lost, how much harder life is for them now, even looks like they won’t be able to take a second foreign holiday this year, even thought of renting out the weekend place in Dorset, you know, it’s times such as these which make you realise quite how desperate life must be in the Third World. (Ironically, of course, the Third World is no longer the Third World and even using the term the Third World indicates that one is an out-of-touch, condescending dickhead. What was once the Third World is largely doing rather better than the First World, and as for the Second World, well they really must try a lot harder.)
I have no idea how this might affect me. I just keep my fingers crossed that my Mail shifts will carry on as usual until November 2014 because the alternative would be hitting the casual trail again in London or stacking shelves in Asda, and I have the stomach for neither. Bloody Greeks, bloody EU, bloody van Rompey or whatever the idiot’s name is, bloody EU cheerleaders. These past few years have been a blueprint for how to fuck up the lives of several million people while piously claiming their lives are being improved. At least if and when the EU evolves into something less smug and all-embracing we can start making stupid nationalistic jokes again, such as: Where’s the safest place to hide your money in France? Underneath the soap. Trouble is that that kind of Johnny Foreigner sentiment is hugely out of date. Still a good joke, mind. Made another yesterday when Mark and I spotted an obvious hire care with Swiss plates and an unmistakably German couple inside. Lost their way while looking for Poland, I remarked. OK, so not that good, but look, times is ’ard, squire, spare a few coppers for a cup of tea?

. . .

Don’t know how the whole ‘we want UN recognition’ thing will work out for the Palestinians, but I must say I am broadly in favour. And it’s not that I am anti Israel. In fact, so far quite the opposite. I have always admired how they stand up for themselves and refuse to take any shit and I have got into any number of arguments taking the side of Israel when, as usual, many trot out their somewhat hackneyed anti-Israel rhetoric (and I am still not convinced that lying just beneath the surface of much of there is not essentially a nasty and naked anti-semitism). And it doesn’t help that supporting the Palestinians has become the fashionable cause.
For example, looking for a neutral cartoon with which to illustrate this entry, I came across any number of rather vicious anti-Israel images and a great deal of ‘pity the poor oppressed Palestinians’, but the problem is just a damn sight more complex than that and it is thoroughly dishonest to pretend otherwise. But that doesn’t stop the fashionistas, many of whom give the impression they don’t have two brain cells to rub together, mindlessly following the latest trend, rather as to this day that image of Che Guevara, with the chap looking all peaceful and
gooey-eyed, ‘makes a statement’ about one’s politics and humanity. The only ‘statement’ it makes for me is that the wearer is ineffably naive.
The problem is that, like most countries, they are split into a left of centre and a right of centre, and the right of centre rather takes the piss what with building settlements where they have no right to build settlement. It is not easy to exist in that neck of the woods with fascists like Armadinejad behaving like some latter-day Hitler (although I suspect his days are rather numbered ruling a country where a vast majority of Iran’s people are under 30 and would rather be free than not. Now there’s a surprise). So Israel must realise that the time has come to give a little, that ‘negotiations’ must mean something, that they must come to some kind of workable solution, and the stragegy by the West Bank Palestinians at least might get things moving a little. The real problem, of course, is that the Palestinians themselves are split, and that there are many in the Middle East who simply want to see Israel wiped off the map, which I why broadly I’m more inclined to take Israel’s side. But I wish the Palestinians luck and perhaps in time sanity will prevail on both sides.

. . .

Unfortunately, it looks like the usual suspects for the knockout round of the rugby world cup, which might mean a consistently ,high standard of play, but coming late to the game (I used to dislike it intensely after having a miserable two years at school and identified that misery with the game. I still can’t English rugby - the pseudo-macho attitudes, the bonhomie and the a ‘real man’ crap, but I have warmed to the game. And for these past few years I have been supporting Italy in the six Nations and all the underdogs in the world cup. Yes, I know they didn’t have a hope in hell of going through to the next round, but . . . The United States held their own against Australia this morning and although the got a drubbing, they have nothing to be ashamed of and even scored a rather tasty try. But, as I say, it looks like the usual suspects going through.

. . .

If perhaps my comments about the Third World, Israel and Palestine and the two nationalistic jibes above has somehow pissed any of you off, let me re-assure you all that there is nothing I want more dearly than Peace On Earth and Tranquillity For All. Now fuck off and enjoy the rest of your day, and if I hear from any of you in the next few days there’ll be real trouble.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How not to solve a crisis, any crisis really. And a gentle bit of tourist activity

In one way, the euro crisis gets more bizarre by the hour. We are told that in order to qualify for the next handout of euro moolah to keep the state from going bankrupt, Greece is being urged to impose every harsher austerity measures. And on the face of it, that makes sense you might say. But it makes absolutely no sense
Pissed off or what. Surprised?

at all to impose even harsher taxes and cuts on folk who have very little money in the first place: state pensions down, a property tax is imposed, state salaries are cut when all of Greece knows that if the wealthy paid, and had paid, their taxes in the first place, this crisis might never have happened. Recently, someone point out that the only problem in Greece is tax evasion. And the only people who can afford clever accountants and lawyers to make that evasion possible are the very people whose taxes would help alleviate the disaster Greece is now in and it is not wonder they have launched yet another public service strike. The low-paid should not be the ones to carry the can, both for moral and economic reasons. But this kind of wacky thinking has dogged the whole euro project from the outset.

. . .

In tourist mode yesterday, Mark and I drove up north to visit Thonon on Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman as I have learned the French call it). After a leisurely pastis by the lakeside, it was off to Evian nearby for another leisurely pastis. I’m not one for marching round museums and art galleries, although as far as I know there aren’t that many around here anyway. Mark who spend many years at French schools is a good source French history and told me the the treaty to end the Algerian war was negotiated and then signed in Evian. The town also has, he says, Europe’s largest casino and is a playground for the rich. Well, I never.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Join me on an exciting journey of discovery to sort out the bullshit from the bollocks (part 1)

An occasional series (part 1) of those weasel words and phrases which insinuate their way into all our lives, but tend to mean rather less than they claim to. It has been sparked by an email I’ve just received from Adobe Systems urging me to sign up for a seminar where they will be trotting out their newest products and, I should imagine, hope that I shall part with some of my hard-earned shekels to become the proud owner of  one of them. So pride of place and top of my list comes the phrase Adobe used:

1 Get the inside track - No, not really. When you join a gaggle of several tens of thousands worldwide who also received an invitation to ‘get the inside track’, you aren’t getting the
‘inside track’ on anything. You’re just becoming one of a very large and very amorphous herd. If I were being charitable, I might concede that ‘to get the inside track’ could be taken to mean ‘get more details on’, but I’m not feeling charitable and, anyway, I’m 99pc certain Adobe and others use the phrase to make you think you’re one of a select and exclusive few.
A related phrase is ‘sneak preview’. A preview it most certainly is, but when it is a ‘sneak preview’ of, say, the latest EastEnders plotline (US, Brazilian, German and readers from other countries, please fill in you own soap), you are doing nothing more sneaky than joining several million other morons who have nothing better to do with their time.

2 Exciting - Yes, that one, when what is described at ‘exciting’ is usually less ‘exciting’ than a bad wank. One of the silliest uses I have come across was in the Daily Mail, several times in fact, which billed an ‘exciting dry cleaning offer’.  I think you paid for the dry-cleaning of your clothes, but buttons were dry-cleaned gratis. This one is very popular with ‘financial institutions’ PR operatives and civil servants: banks will simply re-package existing rip-off savings products, call them ‘exciting’ and hope you won’t notice it’s the same old cack. Civil servants are addicted to announcing, for example, and ‘exciting new health service initiative’ and an ‘exciting development in sewage disposal’. Often the ‘exciting development’ is also ‘a departure’. A real departure would be if for once the didn’t resort to bullshit.

3 Going on a journey of discovery - This one is much loved by ‘life coaches’, any number of lifestyle gurus, self-help charlatans, psycho drama instructors and a great many of their aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. The only thing you discover once you have completed the journey - and not always immediately, as these folk are adept at tapping into our infinite capacity for self-delusion - is that your wallet is now considerably lighter.

4 Find your inner [whatever] - This one is rather like being invited to go on a journey, in this case self-discovery. This is another favourite of self-help gurus and other cynics who prey on your unhappiness with any number of imaginative ways to turn it into hard cash, which, naturally ends up in their bank accounts. By far the most pernicious I know of are those crooks from The Church of Scientology. I you walk in off the street and fill in one of their personality profiles (as I once did out of interest - I wasn’t at all unhappy at the time), you will always be told that you are a complete psychological mess and that - for a price, of course - they can help you ‘find yourself’ and become happier. The very sad thing is there are many, many people out there who are unhappy - in fact, all of us at some point in our lives have been deeply unhappy - and what they need is true understanding, help, good advice, sometimes medication and some way to resurrect their feelings of self-worth. What they don’t need is for some Scientology fuck to reinforce their low-esteem in order to turn a fast buck or ten.

Incidentally, I shall not, as some might expect, launch into a wholesale and ineffably silly condemnation of counselling, whether it is provided by a medically trained counsellor (trained in psychology and psychotherapy) or someone properly and responsibly trained. Certainly, there are charlatans out there, but, I suspect, rather fewer than your average Daily Mail reader would appreciate. There are many who do excellent work, and are worth their weight in gold. I know from personal experience. It is always difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff and, as a rule of thumb, it would be most sensible first to contact your GP or doctor and get a recommendation. But if you are low, don’t just grin and bear it. Remember that statistically (I think I have this figure right) one in three or four of us suffers from depression or a related condition at some point in our lives. Don’t ignore it. You can always be helped in some way. But please don’t mix it with the fucking Church of Scientology.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Essert-Romand. Day nine - still raining, but we were compenstated by a short trip to Morzine where I managed to buy a cheap umbrella for three times what it was worth. Then a rather tasty supper: chicken breast with tarragon in white wine and cream sauce with braised chicory

Essert-Romand, Haute-Savoie, France.
Great day yesterday - for the second day in a row it rained, though to be fair it was not pelting down but only that soft, elegant, chic rain which makes visiting France so utterly delightful. So the brother and I decided the time had come to mooch around Morzine for a while to see just what delights that ski resort town might afford us in the depths of off-season. Well, not a lot, as it turned out. We drove in at around 1.30 in the afternoon, and as we arrived the rain began to fall again. (We had set of from Essert-Romand during what was, in fact, just a lull in the rain. We thought it was the end of the rain for that day. Obviously, it wasn’t.)

Parking in the marketplace (a delightful spot and highly recommended for those looking for somewhere to park in the off-season - loads and loads of space and hardly another motorist to contend with). My brother Mark was fully prepared for the rain as his very, very expensive North Face jacket (he has about ten of them) came with a hood. My rather cheaper Yves Saint Laurent wind-cheater (don’t worry, I bought it in a sale for just £20 about seven years ago) on the other hand did not. All the shops - and I mean all of them - were shut, but finally I came across one of those resort tat shops which was just opening again after lunch. (When I say ‘resort tat’ you must understand that any and all the tat available her in bling-bling Haut-Savoie is, of course, ineffably chic, elegant and French and knocks our good, honest British tat into a cocked hat.) So I barged in (the lights weren’t even on) and bought for bloody 6.50 euros exactly the same umbrella I have bought in Bayswater for as little as £2.99. Shouldn’t grumble, I suppose, because it was undoubtedly a far more chic and elegant crap umbrella than whatever I bought in Bayswater. And that, dear friends, was it.

We walked further into town and although one or two restaurants were empty, no shops were and by far the liveliest thing we saw was a flashing blue neon cross which informed all and sundry that if you had a headache, diarrhea or any other ailment which didn’t require hospitalisation it, the pharamacy it belonged to, would be only to glad to sell you whatever medication you need. Unlike our good, honest British supermarkets which will sell you enough paracetamol to kill a regiment, you have to buy all that kind of thing at la pharmacie. That supermarkets can now sell you shampoo and toothpaste apparently came about by presidential decree in 1985 after the French parliament had initially overruled an EU directive ensuring that both shampoo and toothpaste could be sold over the counter in all member states. (He took the view that if France were to have any kind of meaningful confrontation with the EU, it would be better to do so over some matter of greater importance than the general availability of shampoo and toothpaste. Good man!)

By a quarter past two, we had decided that enough was enough and made our way back to the car, but not until Mark spotted a noticeboard advertising coming attrations at the local cinema and various bars and was outraged that all - all - were horribly out of date and referred to attractions which took place in August, many over seven weeks earlier. But I managed to calm him down and we drove back to the local Carrefour where he had is picture taken in the photo booth in readiness for our trip to Lyon tomorrow to collect his emergency travel documents. Oh, and I bought créme fraîche and a baguette for tonight’s supper - chicken breast with tarragon. Mustn’t forget the really important details. Below is a picture of me enjoying myself.


. . .

I cooked supper tonight and it was superb. We had chicken breast with tarragon and, at my brother's suggestion, braised chicory, which I had never eaten before - I've only had chicory salad - and which was also worthwhile. But it is the chicken breast I am proud of because it was a dish I created on the hoof.

I've cooked roast chicken with tarragon before but rather than cook a complete chicken, I decided to use chicken breasts and after that I was on my own. All I did was to use a sharp knife to make a pocket in each breast and then I liberally sprinkled the inside with dried tarragon. I would have use fresh tarragon, but the local Carrefour doesn't stock it. I heated olive oil and butter - slowly, so as not to burn the butter - and when a small piece of chicken sizzled nicely, indicating that the oil and butter were hot enough, seared boths sides of each breast till they were brown. I then stuck a lid on the pan and left it on a low heat for a few minutes before, on impulse, I added a little vin bourru, which is a local white wine (in a region not known for its white wines. I'm sure any white wine, which is not too acidic would work. The chicken was then left to steam in the wine while I braised the chicory, again in olive oil and butter.

Once both sides of the chicory halves were slightly browned, I again put on the saucepan lid and the whole lot onto a low heat. I had put two plates to warm in the oven, and after about another 15 minutes, once the white wine had reduced a little, I took out the chicken, left it on the plates in the oven and added creme fraiche to the white wine with a little, very little, French mustard. All I then did was to heat up the creme fraiche until it was bubbling. I then served the chicken and chicory with the sauce. And even though I say so myself (for want of anyone else to sing my praises) it was gorgeous.

We ate it with a fresh baguette. Try it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Censorship among the Great and Good: there ain’t nothing quite like a hypocrite, and the saintly Guardian leads the way. There is, it seems, one rule for them and quite another for us. And no one quite does ‘sandwich short of a picnic’ quite like our Lib Dem friends

Today I was subjected to an appalling and quite breathtaking piece of hypocrisy perpetuated by the saintly Guardian, the self-appointed defender of free speech and all things right and just. But let me simply provide the facts and a couple of screenshots, and you can make up your own mind.

This morning, while still in bed, I had been surfing the papers and came across the story of Alexander Lebedev, the media entrepreneur, owner of The Independent and London Evening Standard. Several readers had already left comments, one of which read: Oh yes, silly me, it’s the neo-Con love of money over everything else.

I responded to it. I wrote, although I am in no position to quote myself verbatim as my comment was subsequently removed by a moderator, that the comment was rather simplistic and par for the course of too many comments left on the Guardian website, but that, to be fair, ‘comments left on the Telegraph website were equally simplistic’. I added that such comments reflected the low standard of political discourse in Britain.

And that, dear reader, was that. No obscenity, no libel, nothing. But minutes later a Guardian moderator decided to remove my comment on the grounds that it did not ‘abide by ‘community standards’.

I responded to the deletion, which had thoroughly surprised me because the only element at all possibly objectionable might - just might - have been the suggestion that some contributions to the Guardian comment facility were ‘simplistic’. Being very bemused by the deletion, I added four more comments over the next few minutes. And that, I thought, was that.

Yet, returning to the website about 45 minutes later - and on a different laptop (on a works laptop as I had been working), I discovered that not only were my subsequent comments missing, but that my entries had been removed wholesale so that there was no trace whatsoever of my four comments. In other words although the first comment was deleted, my entry remained with the explanation that the comment itself had been deleted. But the story was very different with my subsequent comments: every trace had been removed so that a reader would not even know that comments had been made which had subsequently been deleted. Furthermore, I was also informed that any further comments I made would be pre-moderated - which is rather a neat way of informing me that they would be censored.

The very odd thing was that all I had done in those subsequent comments was to point out the irony that the Guardian, which prides itself on upholding principles like the freedom of speech, repressed any comments which suggested it itself might be guilty of unwarranted censorship.

So that you can judge for yourself, here are snapshots of the original posts and below each snapshot is the text as I am sure you will not be able to make out very clearly what I had written. I was able to take these snapshots, because the particular page on my personal laptop had not been refreshed, my comments were still to be seen i.e. this was the state of the page before my comments and any hint that they had once existed were removed. Here are the screenshots and below each is the text as you might not be able to make out what is written. My transcript includes literals as it was copied and pasted from the original Guardian web page.

First there was
11.06am
(The initial comment I regarded as simplistic): Oh yes, silly me, it’s the neo-Con love of money over everything else.
Then
11.26am
My response, which was subsequently deleted because, apparently, in did not ‘abide by community standards’.

A little while later, after I found my comment had been deleted
11.40am
I’ve had a very innocuous - very innocuous - comment removed by a moderator because I criticised a reader’s comment as ‘simplistic’ and pointed out that similar comments on the Telegraph website are all too often equally simplistic. And that was it. So much for the Guardian’s doughty defence of free speech. The explanation was that my comment contravened ‘community standards’ which implies what I said was somehow offensive. It was nothing of the kind.
What are the chances that the Guradian’s defenders of free speech will also remove this contribution?
(which, as it turns out, they did, although the reader would remain oblivious of this).

11.41am
Incidentally, ‘replies may also be deleted’ is the very dubious icing on the cake.

11.43am
It would seem even mild criticism of the Guardian and/or its readers ‘contravenes community standards. Must try much harder, lads and lasses. Defending freedom is just a little more difficult than that.

And finally my rather forlorn request to the moderator to clarify the matter:
11.53am
Moderator: Would it be too much to ask that you re-instate the comment of mine you deleted and let readers themselves judge whether of not it was acceptable. I ask because two readers have already recommended my follow-up comments, which would seem to imply that the censorship of my initial comments was, at best, over-enthusiastic.
I also criticised comments made on the Telegraph website as ‘simplistic’ and said they and comments here marked a pretty low point in ‘political discourse’. How on earth can any of that be offensive and from which sensitive Guardian readers (of which I am one) must be protected.
Can’t they make up their own minds? Isn’t making up your own mind and being given the freedom to do so an essential principle of a democratic attitude to the world? In your case, apparently not always. It would seem, going on your response that we are free to think and speak as you please.

But no such luck, and after posting that comment/plea to the moderator, I discovered that my recent comments had all been deleted as well as any trace that they had been made. And it’s worth bearing in mind that no so long ago the Guardian made a big song and dance about publishing the Wikileaks material in the interests of free speech. And now, what with the Metropolitan Police demanding that two of its journalists reveal their sources in the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the Guardian is one again girding its loins in the defence of ‘free speech’.

I regard the whole incident as quite bizarre and way over the top. Exactly what did the moderator or moderators involved object to? That some of the comments posted on its site were simplistic? That the Guardian might well be guilty of censorship? If the latter was objectionable, it is doubly ironic that the way it was dealt with was to censor it. Would anyone care to point out where I overstepped the line? Because I really do not know. Was I sexist, racist, did I use unacceptable profanity, was I blasphemous, had I perpeutated a libel. Well, no, not as far as I could see. All I had done was suggest that the Guardian was being hypocritical.

But it seems that at the end of the day there is one rule for the Guardian, and one for the rest of us. I do so loathe hypocrites. Bear that in mind the next to the good folk at the Guardian posture and beat the libertarian drum.

PS Incidentally, to add insult to injury I am now informed my comments ‘are being premoderated’. So when is censorship not censorship? Well, it would seem it is not censorship when the Guardian does the censoring. Initially, I was quite prepared to put the initial deletion down to an over-enthusiastic moderator. Now it is beginning to look as though the censorship if systemic and part and parcel of the Guardian’s modus operandi. Oh, I do so hate hypocrites.

. . .

Is it any wonder that the Liberal Democrats – Lib Dems to those of us in the know – are generally regarded, although obviously not by other Lib Dems, as bunny-hugging, allergy-prone figures of fun? And if that sounds like a loaded question, it is because it is a loaded question.

This time last year I came across a quote from a female Lib Dem at the party’s first since it formed the Coalition government with the hated, loathsome and, some say, utterly fascist Tories (who, by the way and I have it on good authority, regularly eat babies for breakfast).

I didn’t,’ this woman announced loudly, ‘vote Liberal Democrat to form the government.’ To be fair, one does know what she is driving at – had she added ‘in coalition with the Tories’ her outburst would have made some sense. (And you’ll already have noted, if you take any sort of interest in politics, that only the Lib Dems refer to themselves as ‘Liberal Democrats’. To the rest of us they are and always will be Lib Dems.)

But that kind of inane comment does seem to typify our liberal friends. And inanity seems to be par for the course. Within any group where power is to be had, so that includes the fascist Tories and looney Labour, there will be more than enough bitching, back-biting, intriguing and outright lying to see most honest and decent men through to Christmas 2015. This year the ‘sensation’ is a book by some chap called Jasper Gerard (who’s name rings a bell, although I can’t quite think why) which claims among other things that party leader Nick Clegg does all the housework at home, Chris Huhne harbours a secret ambition to turn professional Formula 1 driver and that Vince Cable is an MI5 plant keeping tabs on everyone else. Naturally, such claims must always be taken with a large pinch of salt, well, but . . .

Generally speaking, Lib Dems, the ordinary ones you meet in the street come in three flavours:

Those who can’t quite bring themselves to vote Tory (because the Tories are - I don’t know, you know - well, it’s like this, you see, scratch your average Tory and - well, to quite blunt, I’m not like that, you know, I mean at the end of the day one must, simply must, stick by what one believes in and the Tories, you know, well, you know …)

Those who can’t quite bring themselves to vote Labour (I really do agree with a lot of what they say, but, you know - I mean they might now have banned fox-hunting but they haven’t done anything about vivisection and animal rights, and we all know that it’s those dinosaur unions who are really running the show, what with their fat expense accounts, they’re as bad as all those fatcats they pretend to hate …)

Then there are men and woman like Mathew Wheeler (pictured below). I’m only assuming he’s a man (as in he’s a man rather than she’s a man) because generally speaking
Mathew is a man’s name although, again to be fair, you can’t really tell with the Lib Dems, who are much more open-minded on these matters than the rest of us. Now, I’m as liberal as the next chap (‘guy’), and if a man or woman wants to cover themselves in tattoos and look like a complete fucking idiot, well, by all means do so. But in cases like this, I really do think the chap’s local PC Plod should make an unannounced visit to his house and take the place apart for as long as it takes to incriminate him in something nasty. Then – this is the clever bit and I don’t doubt our Authorities will sooner or later adopt my strategy – he will be told: start supporting either Labour or the Tories (we really don’t mind which) or we shall lock you up forever and throw away the key. It might sound drastic, inhumane even, but believe me, it’s the only language such people understand. Coalition indeed! You knew there was something wrong with them as soon as they did well in the election and decided to do something sensible for a change.

Incidentally, Mathew Wheeler’s suit is a nice touch. What do you do if you have your body covered from head to toe in tattoos? Why, wear a suit, of course. Who says Lib Dems don’t have standards.

Let’s dither shall we and fuck up the world for everyone, not just Europe. On yer bike, Geithner!

I can’t claim to to be particularly well-versed in the magic of economics but I do know one thing: much of what seems difficult is just economists using shorthand and jargon to do nothing more sinister than save time. But when City wideboys do the same thing, it is, of course, sinister: they would rather we didn’t understand what is going on. So, for example, a firm might be described as ‘highly geared’ or ‘highly leveraged’, and that can sound rather impressive, can’t it? In ordinary language, though, the kind you and I might use when bumping into each other in the supermarket, that means simply that the firm is deeply in debt (of ‘deeply in debt’, to give it a modicum of dignity).
That is not necessarily a bad thing, but knowing that the company you work for or, perhaps, in which you own shares, is ‘deeply in debt’ rather than ‘highly geared’ would certainly concentrate your mind a little more.

Something similar, a similar wilful obfuscation, is going on with the eurozone crisis (of rather, as it’s a Sunday morning and I’m feeling a little more charitable ‘eurozone crisis’). To many the ‘crisis in the eurozone’ might sound rather complicated and many might feel happier to leave it all to their leaders and politicians to sort out - they understand that kind of things better than I do, such honest citizens tell themselve.

Actually, there’s nothing whatsoever complicated about the eurozone crisis. And leaving it to our leaders and politicians to sort out is simply making matters worse. There is an even more banal aspect to the whole matter: the crisis is not even essentially economic. The crisis is rooted in the fact that the leaders of the eurozone countries, who would have us believe they are desperately working day and night, seven days a week, to solve the crisis, know full well that there the crisis could be brought to an end rather smartly, that there are two solutions, two very obvious solutions. The real crisis is that they simply haven’t got the guts to resort to either solution. The real crisis is political.

It would be unkind, and dishonest, of me to play down the difficulty facing our leaders and politicans, those esteemed and intelligent lads and lassess who most recently met Wroclaw, Poland, to procrastinate a little but more, and where they told one Timothy Geithner more or less to fuck off when he urged them to stop dithering and get on with it. Geithner, the head of the US Treasury Secretary, had gatecrashed the party because although the US is in the economic shit, a eurozone crash would - well, let’s be honest, will - drop it in even further in the shit. But European politicos, especially French politicos, don’t like being told home truths by what they still regard as Yank upstarts. Hence the advice to Timmy: fuck off, Geithner. I’m absolutely certain no one used those to very useful words, but that’s what they said. And that rather coarse response takes me right back to the essence of the crisis.


The essence of the crisis is exactly what Geithner was complaining about: our leaders are dithering as few leaders have dithered before recent history. They know exactly what they could do: either form a fiscal union of the ten EU members in the eurozone; or kick Greece out of the eurozone. What they should not be doing, because it only makes an extremely serious situation even worse, is prolong the agony. But that is exactly what they are doing. They simply haven’t got the gumption.


I really should repeat that both solutions are difficult and nasty, and the first - to form a fiscal union - is more or less impossible to adopt politically, let alone economically. So they know, and we know, and they know that we know, and we know they know we know, and crucially a very, very worried Timmy Geithner knows that the only way to draw a line under the ‘crisis’ is what is tactfully referred to in the press as a ‘disorderly default’. In the language we use in supermarket chit-chat that is to tell Greece the time is up, get out of the euro, re-adopt the drachma and stop ruining it all for the rest of us. (Naturally, the time has long gone to repeat the wise observation that ‘Greece should never have been let into the eurozone in the first place’, but that hasn’t stopped a great many ‘commentators’ every so wisely repeating that very observation. In it’s futility, it’s rather along the lines as Abraham Lincoln wisely observing: ‘I really shouldn’t have gone to the theatre that night, I really should have had an early night.’)


Once again, I really must be fair: adopting that solution and doing the only sensible thing under the circumstances is also dangerous. A lot of banks would lose a lot of money, and it might spark the kind of paralysis we had in 2008 after the Lehman collapse when the banks had idea whatsoever which of them was solvent and which wasn’t worth a bent ha’penny and simply shut up shop to save their own skins (ironically those not worth a bent ha’penny doing so, as well, so that we never really found out which was which). On the other hand, it might not be as bad as we fear. But crucially, however bad it is, it would most certainly not be half as bad as what is going to happen when events become impatient with the eurozone leaders’ dithering and impose their own solution. The unkonw element in all this is, of course, the voters and citizens of each eurozone state, two of which have been dictatorships 22 years, three within the past 45 years, and two of which were dictatorships within the past 70 years. That is not to say that the voters are all looking for a strong man, but then dictators don’t always consult the voter when they grab power, usually ‘in the interest of the country’.

Actually, I really don’t think anything like that is going to happen. But really rather nasty civil unrest is already taking place in Greece, and there have been demonstrations in Spain. If things get worse, if we do, as some gleeful alarmists warn, get a ‘Thirties-style depression’, I rather think all bets are off as far as the brotherhood of man and universal goodwill saving the day. I rather think it will once again be every man for himself.

. . .

Anyone remember the celebrations and fireworks in January 1999 when existing currencies were dropped and the euro finally became the currency of eurozone members? Great fireworks. Lovely speeches. Marvellous sentiment. Oh, and the music! Lovely, lovely music, though not lovely enough, I’m afraid, to soften the heart of a grizzled old cynic like me. And it was those ceremonies around Europe which, in a way, highlight the corrupt core of the EU. Its leaders and bureaucrats are like an army in peacetime: sparkling bright uniforms, impressive weaponry, such a sense of occasion when they parade up and down the street in glorious sunshine. Oh, those parades! Makes you feel so safe! And don’t our officers look so smart in their heroic uniforms! Bliss was it in that day to be alive, but to be European was very heaven! It made one almost look forward to the next war.
To put it another way, the test of leadership is what leaders do in a crisis. And in this crisis each one has shown him or herself to be as useful as a chocolate teapot. Given what we already know about the EU - the corruption at the heart of the system which turns a blind eye to millions of euros going missing, the fact that I don’t think ever its accounts have been signed off because of irregularities - can anyone really take the notion of ‘a United States of Europe’ seriously any more? I rather think not.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Essert-Romand. Day seven - raining which, as true Brits, has rather cheered us up

Essert-Romand, Haute-Savoie, France.
Raining today, but I guess we’ll do what we’ve been doing every day: getting up late (Mark gets up late, I get up later, though at the time of writing we are now both up - Lord, this blog is interesting.) Then knocking about doing nothing till, probably, we’ll drive down to the local Carrefour to buy whatever. It won’t be booze, because we seem to have booze coming out of your ears. Before we came over and liking my tea, I went out and bought 80 PG Tips teabags, more than enough, I reckoned for at least two mugs of tea a day for both of us. However, this apartment, it seems, is almost exclusively rented by Brits. And what have all those Brits been doing before coming out? That’s right, buying bloody teabags, so at a rough reckoning there must be at least 400 teabags knocking about the place, everything ranging from bog standard builders’ tea, to Earl Grey, peppermint tea and even green tea. What I find a little difficult to understand is that one group of former tenants brought with them a huge bag of salt. Where on earth did they think they were going?
Started by holiday book yesterday, Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which is rather a good read. I’m still reading about
his early life when as a lad he witnessed his drunken father beating up his mother and was himself beaten. He was, apparently, a sensitive lad (pictured on the right, a private joke that) and deeply affected by it, and notwithstanding the murderous monster he later became, your heart has to go out to any unhappy child. Sorry to be soppy, but that really is the way I feel. If you want a better world, take care of the children, love them, respect them, care for them and then have a sporting chance of building a happier future for us all. Though I have to say, some hope.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The left, the right and right and wrong: that’s my opinion and to hell with your opinion. Basta! Oh, and three pics from South-East France

It would seem axiomatic that if you hold an opinion, or have a conviction, you assume you are completely right and that those who disagree with you are completely wrong. Leaving apart those of us - many, many people - who adopt an opinion after less than a second’s thought or come across an opinion in their newspaper of choice which they feel like adopting, I suggest that to have an opinion, or even to be convinced of something, should mean that you are always prepared to amend or even discard that view if facts, an argument or evidence is presented to you which shows you are, after all, wrong. That is, you have an open mind. Now, I could, ironically, be quite wrong, of course, and I am - surprise, surprise - by sticking to that view obliged to accept that subsequently facts, and argument of evidence will show conclusively that my view is complete bloody nonsense. It is crucial here to distinguish between a fact and an opinion. Unfortunately, too many people are unwilling to accept that disctinction. And equally unfortunately, too many people are unwilling to take part in a any discourse the outcome of which might be that what they have held to be true is simply not the case. So far, so boring and, probably, so far so first year philosophy tutorial.

Because so few people are prepared to take part in any discourse the upshot of which might be that they are talking complete cobblers means that when they do engage in a ‘political
conversation, what occurs is never a conversation. If they hold opposing views, what they think is ‘a conversation’ is nothing more, and nothing more interesting, than both sides parading their prejudices. One does occasionally come across someone who is, or does seem, prepared, to discuss matters in a way that they listen to your views and you listen to theirs, and both parties are prepared to amend their opinion in the light of what is said. Very occasionally. And usually when it become obvious, and it usually very soon becomes obvious, that the other side merely wants to tell you what they think and everything else be damned, I bow out as soon as possible. It’s not the kind of ‘conversation’ I am interested in being a part of. (It try exit stage left, as it where, diplomatically, but sometimes my refusal to engage in a transaction of prejudice is noticed and I am accused of arrogance. Oh well.)

Unsurprisingly, the kind of closed mind I dislike engaging with is found on both the right and the left, and were they only self-aware enough to realise it, both are as bad as each other. You only have to scroll their the ‘comments’ of those who leave ‘comments’ on the Guardian, Mail and Telegraph websites to gather quite how distressingly widespread closed minds are. I have not lived in Germany for some years, but I get the impression that the Germans are a little more nuanced in their political discourse, and it will be no suprise that consensus and its cousin compromise, of which we Brits make such a song and dance, is far more part of the fabric of German society. (It wasn’t always the case - just look at the street fighting which went on in the run-up to the Third Reich. Ironically, if the German right at the time wasn’t so closely allied to the more powerful sections of society, it might well have been a communist Germany with which the Brits and Americans would eventually find themselves at war.) But in Britain (I can’t at this point write ‘here in Britain, because I am writing this on a balcony overlooking sunny Essert-Romand) we simply resort to the Tweedledum-Tweedledee school of political discourse which gets none of us bloody anywhere.

It must be said, however, that the left has, apparently, made more progress than the right. Partly, that is the fault of the right, and especially the far right, who are less inclined to address and adopt change. A further disadvantage of the right in Britain is that it has successfully been identified with The Haves, The Rich and The Uncaring, whereas the left is now almost universally identified with The Have Nots, The Poor and The Caring. It doesn’t matter that both identification are rubbish, that is the current mood, and one continually and successfully exploited by the left. Any suspicion of ‘imposing authority’, as the right’s insistence that those guilty of theft and arson during the recent riots, is portrayed as being more or less akin to the reaction of various fascist dictatorships in the past who were all to ready to lock people up and throw away the key. The left, on the other hand, insists that we should examine the causes of the riots and try to understand what brought so many to steal without compunction. But for many who regard themselves on the left it is but a sigh away from virtually forgiving the theft and arson because ‘it is their backgrounds, they are disadvantaged, they are unemployed without the prospect of a job’.

To that I always retort: And what about the very many more from the same background who are equally disadvantaged and also unemployed with no prospect of a job who didn’t resort to theft and arson? The reaction to what I say is always the same: that I am just another bastard from the right, one of The Haves, one of The Rich and one of The Uncaring. There is no attempt to consider my opinion. In fact, even considering my opinion would be viewed as weakness. (For the record, it has now become apparent that as many as a quarter of those hauled before the courts for theft and arson and at least ten previous convictions for similar offences. My view is that most certainly we should try to understand why an awful lot of people felt it acceptable to loot their communities, but we should make very clear that theft and arson are not acceptable.)

The advance of ‘progressive’ thought - I have put it in quotes not because I want to be snide, but because I believe the thinking is anything but progressive - has led to an almost terminal corruption of the notion of responsibility. And I suggest that just how corrupted our thinking has become is demonstrated by the fact that any emphasis on the citizen’s responsibilities and duties to others is regarded as a sign of some kind of crypto-fascism. That, too, is as a result of the almost infantile obssession that my views are right, so yours must be wrong.
It has taken Britain a very long time to reach this state of affairs and it will take Britain a very long time to heal itself. It is not a result of immigration or an over-generous welfare state, and it is not the result of agents of the left permeating society. It is simply that we have had a cushy life for a long time now and and we are now taking far too much for granted. Including our freedoms. Not a good thing. We must value more again.

This last thought might seem a leap to far but I don’t believe it is: in my experience those who have little are far more generous than those who have a lot. Why? Because those who have little at least value the little they have and helping another out is closer to their souls.

. . .


The lake at Montriond


The Mairie at Morzine


The lake at Montriond again

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Young Johan guilty: now's the time to forgive and forget. And the euro farce - part 656

Forget the euro, forget the trader at the Swiss bank UBS who seems to have decided he can go one better than Baring's Nick Leeson, and forget even that Manchester United scored a crucial away goal last night in their Champions League tie with Benfica. The really big news is that Johan Hari, up until now a darling of the intelligent left-liberal British elite who had all the right attitudes and was gay to boot - always a good sign in a chap for many - has finally been held bang to right. I have mentioned him before. His 'crime' was to embellish his interviews with other great and good folk around the world with quotes from their work. He is also said to have been guilty of plagiarism, but as I have no further details on that score, I shall leave that on the table.

He has published an apology on his website, and his employers have suspended him while he undergoes - it is stressed 'at his own expense' though that really is a weasel detail - four months of 'journalistic retraining'. Sorry, but that is all cobblers. And in an odd sort of way my heart rather goes out to young Johan, as we must still call him, because although he is now 32, he first made his mark as an eight-year-old, calling in print for the public execution of the then Margaret Thatcher and still carries with him the aura of a Wunderkind.

Johan - young Johan - did only one thing wrong: he broke the Eleventh Commandment which states quite unequivocally Thou
Should Not Be Found Out. I am certain that there is a legion of hacks out there, good honest and true men and women, who have never done what young Johan did and either would never consider doing it or, if tempted, stalwartly refused and refuse to give into the temptation. I am equally certain that there is an equal number of hacks out there who, but for the grace of God, are just as guilty of gilding the lily. And I am one.

In all my time as a reporter (not long, actually, six years, after that I tool refuge is the more tranquil waters of sub-editing) and an age ago I never, but never, quoted anyone verbatim. For one thing most people are inarticulate and never, but never, speak in the way we hacks would like them to speak. For another, and more seriously, all too often they would simply not say what we wanted them to say, however often we tried to wheedle it out of them. Young Johan's crime is simple: he didn't cover his arse. He didn't muddy the waters. For one thing, he filched his quotes from the published works of his interviewees, which was simply stupid. What he should have done, what we all did and do, is 'clean up' what we are told. Unless a tape or digital recording is made of an interview, no one ever remembers what they said exactly. The trick, when 'cleaning up', is to keep it truthful. For example, anyone apparently quoting Arthur Scargill as saying 'the Queen, eh, you've just got to love her, isn't she marvellous' would be riding for a fall. But if you quote someone as saying what they are more than likely to have said, and make them sound twice as intelligent and articulate into the bargain, well, everyone is happy and trebles all round. But young Johan didn't do that.

The Schadenfreude on the right will be based on the fact the young Johan has shown himself up to be something of a hypocrite, a man - boy? someone put me straight - who thought nothing of damning to hell all sorts of people for their hypocrisy and attacking all out those whose thought deviated just a centimetre from his own pure ideology. Serves you right, you little cunt, they are all now saying, and young Johan's website apology commits the unforgivable error of trying to reclaim so of his erstwhile purity. He should have said: Look, chaps, I fucked up, I was wrong and I'll never do it again.

This four-month period of 'journalistic re-training' is just so much hooey. Johan should be marched into the editor's office, given a comprehensive bollocking, then sent back to his desk to carry on with his job with the admonition never to do it again and now put the matter behind you. A reconciliation over lunch would not be amiss as the Independent needs him.

What will, of course, be unbearable for the poor chap - and I am not being snide when I write that - is the Schadenfreude of the left, for they will never let him forget what he has done. Ever. Every time he is embraced when arriving at a Camden dinner party of North London's thinkers and carers, that embrace will be more barbed than any nastiness the right might aim at him. For among the left young Hari is now a marked man. He might, in time, regain his credibility generally, but among his peers, among those who respect and admiration he craves, among his friends - for which read deadly rivals - his card is marked from now until kingdom come.

I wish Johan Hari well, for we need a variety of voices, outspoken voices, from both right and the left. Just as we need Peter Hitchens, we need Johan. Just as we need that awful harridan Polly Toynbee, we need Johan. Just as we need such dinosaurs as Simon Heffer, we need Johan. And because we need him, my advice to Johan is: watch your back. But stop being so pious.

. . .

The euro: part 665 - and on it goes. There are continual dire warnings that if Greece defaults, it is curtains for all of us. There are dire warnings that if Greece defaults, the eurozone will break up and it will be curtains for all of us. There are dire warnings that if the eurozone breaks up, that will spell the beginning of the end of the European Union (which would be manna from heaven for various anti-EU dinosaurs around the continent, including Britain's UKIP who are mainly middle-class BNP supporters), and that would be curtains for all of us. Well, as one comments in such situations, up to a point Lord Copp er.
In fact, no one knows what would happen if Greece defaulted. Yes, things would be tough for a while, but quite how tough and for how long is a complete unknown. Certainly, many have much to lose if the euro goes phutt - a great many bankers, a great many politicians and a great many eurocrats. But it seems to me that the time has long come to bite the bullet. Let Greece default. Let it get back on its feet. All that is achieved by buggering on is that come euro armageddon it will be even worse.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Essert-Romand. Day five: in which, at great length, I have absoutely nothing to say

Essert-Romand, Haute-Savoie, France.
I must come clean and admit that I have an itch to write as alcoholics have an itch to drink and kleptomaniacs have an itch to steal. The problem is, and it’s a very big problem indeed, is that I have absolutely nothing ‘to say’. Nothing whatsoever. And I am really not joking.

All right, then, you might ask, why not simply write to entertain? But that brings another huge problem: I am not a natural storyteller. Certainly I can make things up - can’t we all, especially those suffering from jealousy when they can invent without even trying. But there are those who are referred to as ‘natural storytellers’ and I am most certainly not one of those. And at the grand old age of 61 years, ten months and 24 days I have just one real principle: never, ever, bullshit yourself. Doesn’t really matter who else you bullshit, but leave yourself out. Even you do the most outrageously nasty thing, at least admit to yourself that you are doing something outrageously nasty. You don’t have to tell anyone else - in fact, it’s advisedly best not to, especially if what you have done is very unpleasant - but at least be straight with yourself.

This illusion I have had for the past 44 years, albeit ‘a writer’ who has written virtually fuck all, is ridiculous. I once explained in these pages how it came about. At school I had written a poem, which as I recall was very conventional, although that’s all I can recall. I showed it to Mr Hinds, an English teacher at the Oratory (known as C.T.S. Hinds for his enthusiasm for distributing tracts from the Catholis Truth Society) who diplomatically advised me to carry one. I now know, and have known for many years that he was merely doing what so many good teachers do: he was encouraging me. But in a stupid, though understandably teenaged way, I interpreted his encouragement rather severely. I imagined that he was telling me: you’re good, Powell. And so the illusion was born. It both helps and irritates me supremely that I share my illusion with, quite probably, one million other men and women the world over. It helps because I am not alone it being such a complete fool. But it irritates me because each of us, every last man jack of use, like to think we are unique. The liberals among you will no doubt cry: but you are unique. True, but then in that sense so is fly, worm, traffic bollard and grain of sand. As I said: don’t bullshit yourself.

So what of the plus side? Well, I have no difficulty with words, I feel at ease with them because of my long association with them as a hack, and when I read some of the abortions presented as prose, I thank God that, at least, I have that. But I don’t have a mind. And as I pointed out yesterday, there is far more to ‘writing’ than just getting words down on paper.

My brother Mark claimed earlier today that he had read somewhere that more women read novels than men. Who knows? And does it matter? Then there is the question of what kind of novel do they read. Off the top of my head I can list chick lit, macho lit (Zero Minus One, or something, and all that hard-drinking I’m a man bollocks SAS/memoirs of a SEAL crap), thrillers, sci-fi, ‘literature’ (you know, the kind of stuff which wins prizes), children’s fiction, ‘adult fiction’, pornography and ‘the classics’. The list can go on, but I have run out. Some of its is good, despite the critics, and some of it is crap, again despite the critics. When I first moved to London, suffering from depression, which wasn’t as deep as afflicts some but deep enough for me, I made an effort, conscious that I was pretty badly read for a chap who wanted to be ‘a writer’ to read, read, read. And I did. I read haphazardly, and even if a novel didn’t grab me, with only one exception - which I can’t now remember - I would finish it.

Some of what I read stood out: Lolita, which was better written by a Russian and many a book written by a Brit or a Yank was a special favourite. At the other extreme I read a novel by Jonathan Coe, who was a big noise then, though it wasn’t one of his famous ones. And I thought it was crap. I read Der Untertan by Heinrich Mann in German, which I thought was excellent, and I read, again in German Der Steppenwolf (which made a great deal more sense in its original language). I had previously - that is not as part of my somewhat pathetic period of auto-didactism - attempted Martin Amis and Will Self and thought both bollocks. But who was I to judge? They had a body of work behind them. I hadn’t. I read an utterly bizarre late-Victorian novel called Lilith and I read some Trollope. I read Darkness At Noon, which was OK, and I read A Streetcar Name Desire (which taught me that plays are meant to be performed, not read). I read several other novels whose titles and authors I can’t now recall. Two of those I can’t recall were by two other contemporary big noises, and I was not impressed but either.
I read Oscar Wilde. He could write, and write well, but what stayed with me was how little attention so many ‘good writers’ paid to language. I read, again in German Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll and Ungeduld Des Herzens by Stefan Zweig (whose title in English translation is Beware Of Pity, not a very good title but I must admit I would be hard-pushed to come up with anything better. I enjoyed and admired the latter a great deal.

I was the archetypical Tube commute, novel in hand on my journey to and from wherever I was working a shift. Then, in December 1995, I moved to Cornwall, married two months later and my period of autodidacticism ended. (I have just looked up ‘autodidacticism’ in a dictionary, and apparently it doesn’t exist. Well, it does now.)
Finally - finally - in late 1994 I started writing and eventually completed ‘a novel’. It wasn’t the first, but the third, but it was the first which I felt, while writing it, I knew what I was doing and which I had control over. That is Love: A fiction (which yesterday I urged you to buy). The previous two efforts for which I have no title - well, I can’t judge them, although with the first I was simply happy to complete it and I was quite happy with the second, although, being a little short, it would be classed as a novella.

Not much to crow about, eh?

But still I have this itch to write. And still I have nothing ‘to say’. What is there ‘to say’? That the world can, at turns, be a shitty place and a glorious place? That people can, at turns, be evil and altruistic? What? All of us at 61 know that. Perhaps you don’t at 16 or 26 or 36 - although, unfortunately, far too many do, but by the time your limbs creak in the morning, when getting a hard-on is something of a fond memory, when rudely you end sooner rather than later a conversation you know full well is going to be very dull and chock-a-block with platitude there are rather fewer insights. Or so it would seem. The liberal in me - he does still clamour a little, dear reader, despite my best efforts to get him to shut the fuck up - warns that I might still be surprised, that a chance encounter might bring a fresh insight. The problem is that the insight will not in the slightest be original and that by articulating it as though it were fresh I shall do nothing but make a complete tit of myself. Groucho Marx once remarked that he would never want to belong to a club which would have him as a member. Similarly, I would never crave the respect and admiration of anyone who felt respect and admiration for me.

. . .

My working solution is this: try to write engagingly and try, by writing engagingly, try to entertain and put the reader off the scent: that this joe knows fuck all. And that what he does know is about as original as that revealing that pain hurts. So what am I talking about? Well, nothing. But if I have managed to get you to read as far as this, it can’t be all bad. And by the way, in case you missed it the first time, here’s the link. Buy it and make me happy. Your pleasure is my pleasure.

. . .

For the more prosaic among you who can’t be doing with all this angst, I shall record that it is six minutes past midnight on September 15, I am sitting on the balcony of the apartment Mark and I are staying at drinking - in moderation remarkable - yet more pastis, smoking yet another cigar, which I sholdn’t but what the hell. I spend the evening in Le Petit Auberge in Essert-Romand watching Manchester United hold Benfica to a 1-1 draw in a Champions League fixture in the first round, group, round of the championships.

United were playing away from home so a score draw is no bad thing. The bar was almost empty except for a slightly drunk local who had come for a drink and his supper, and a family of Americans - elderly couple, their daughter and son-in-law. The man was 68 and from Texas and had spent his life working ‘in retail’ for, I think he said, J H Pinney. Four months ago, he and his wife had taken a 15-day cruise from the Texas coast to Lisbon and then stayed at a place his son-in-law owns in the Provence. They were spending a week or two down the road here in Essert-Romand at, I gather, another place his son-in-law owns before, in the next few weeks, embarking on their cruise back home. His son-in-law is based in London and works as a consultant in the ‘supply industry’.

Having just finished reading a spy novel and finished watching two spy films, I like to think that he is, in fact, employed by the CIA station in London. But, actually, I’m pretty bloody certain he is a consultant in the ‘supply industry’. I mean someone has to be, although he must be pretty well paid if he and his wife can afford a property in the Provence where, according to his father-in-law, they spend ‘most weekends’. I chatted briefly in my dog French and he in his dog English to the local who bought me a drink and was engaged in taking part in Maitre de Jeu, a lottery in which a draw takes places every five minutes apparently. He did win - which is probably why he bought be a drink - but he spent a great deal more on the tickets he bought than the measly 62 euros he won overall. And there was me, who has nothing ‘to say’, glad that Manchester United scored a crucial away goal and will undoubtedly win in the return match when Benfica visit Old Trafford.

. . .

I am rambling on now because I still have a little pastis left in my glass and started another cigar a while ago which I am loth to waste. I chatted to my daughter Elsie on Skype, a video call, and yet again was struck by had pretty she is. Unfortunately, she takes after me rather than her mother physiologically and puts weight on easily. But as she is only 15 she is by no means fat and I should imagine that she has a good few years ahead of her before she marries, has children and then gets rather broad in the beam.

Wes was there, too, but at 12 he still hasn’t really started puberty and is still, again rather like me - who has not only started but also completed puberty - was more inclined to play the fool. Mark went to bed when I went across to the bar to watch a film on the internet. I would give you the link to the very useful site on which one can watch full-length, recent, films completely free-of-charge, but as I am certain it is completely illegal I shan’. Oh, and one last thing before I end and post this on my blog: one of the very best things I have done in these past few years was to teach myself to touch-type. It is great to think, compose and type almost simultaneously. Good night, and God bless.

Essert-Romand. Day four - surrounded by clouds so I use the opportunity to plug my novel (which ain't half bad, even though I say so myself)

Essert-Romand, Haute-Savoie, France.
Our fourth day here in the Haute-Savoie and the clouds have arrived. That sounds worse than it really is, in that it’s not some kind of cloud-covered gloomy day you get all-too-often in Frinton or Chapel St Leonards, simply that as we are more or less up in the mountains - thought they do get higher - the clouds have simply come lower and as I write are drifting past my bedroom window. But there is also plenty of autumnal sunshine, which make it all very pleasant. But I wouldn’t care if it were raining. I finished John le Carre’s The Russia House on Monday and have now started a biography of Stalin when he was just a young shaver playing practical jokes on local chaps in Tblisi involving Mausers, bombs, and general violence. It reads very well but, I’m glad to say, is not a potboiler.

The le Carre was a good read, too, although I was puzzled by its structure: it is sort of kind of kind of sort of (and in-joke that, which only I share) written in the first person, yet there are very detailed descriptions of situations where the ‘first person’ could not have been present. A solution to this conundrum is given in the final page where the ‘hero’ tells his story to the ‘first-person narrator’ or, rather, fills in details the narrator could not have know, but I have to say it is all rather unconvincing.

Another problem (well, a problem for me as I still have my literary pretensions and think about these matters) is that I feel any first-person narration should have a justification i.e. exactly why is this man or this woman telling his or her story? And his or her justification for doing so should be an intricate element of that story. I realise that many might feel I am not seeing the wood for the trees, but it does bother me. The example I always give is this: Consider a man who decides to go for a Chinese meal at his local Chinese restaurant. He arrives, sits at a table and orders, when suddenly a cook appears from the kitchen carrying one of those very large and sharp knives one finds in Chinese kitchens, attacks the front of staff and manages to decapitate one of the.

Now if our customer were to give a first-person account to a friend later that night, surely he would say: Bloody hell, you won’t believe what I’ve witnessed tonight. A cook in the chinkie I went to went berserk and chopped of the manager’s head, or something like that. What he wouldn’t do, at that first encounter, is begin: Well, it was a peaceful, barlmy night, and after I had looked in the fridge and discovered there was nothing in it which grabbed my fancy, I decided to visit my local Chinese restaurant. I didn’t use a coat because . . . Well, he wouldn’t would he? Yet that is what happens all-too-often in first-person narrations, and usually the narrator has no reason to write down (in novel form) what he is recounting.

Yes, I know I’m getting a little bit anal about it. But at least in my novel (more or less my first and only novel so far, if you ignore one or two earlier and not very good efforts - details of how to get a copy below) at least the first-person narrations (there are two) and the third-person narration are ‘built into’ the structure of the novel and I like to think they make logical sense. I mean that is the problem: I don’t find writing, as in getting words down on paper, at all difficult. But there’s obviously far more to ‘writing’ than simply getting the words down on paper: there is though, internal coherence and cohesion, ensuring that characters speak and behave in character. If a first-person narrator simply tells his story and there is no apparent reason just why he should tell his story, well, I find that rather unconvincing. Precious? Moi?

. . .

Here are details as to where you can get my novel, neatly bound and printed courtesy of Lulu.com. If you visit this address, you might see two novels on offer. Don’t be fooled: they are one and the same except that I changed the title and the blurb on the back to make it more attractive to anyone considering buying it, which, to date, seems to be exactly no one. But I boy can dream. I have also been through it once or twice and added or removed a comma here and there, and the most recent is Love: A fiction.
Dig those gorgeous roses - aren't they just so romantic! Granted that this is an unashamed plug, but my view is that a cook doesn’t cook a meal and then throw it away - if he has no guests, he will invite strangers to eat it. His pleasure comes from the cooking and then the pleasure of feeding other in the hope that they enjoy what they are eating. If you get my drift. If you do consider buying it, do remember the old saw of never judging a book by its cover. All is not what it appears to be, although (and several people have read it) absolutely no one so far has cottoned on to what I attempted and, I like to feel, more or less succeeded in doing. Try here to visit Lulu and buy a copy if you have a few spare shekels.
Now I’m off to read all about young Stalin.

. . .

Incidentally, I know I joke about commas, but they are important. The add to the clarity of a piece by indication where in a sentence we should pause. Often they can even change the meaning of a sentence entirely. For example: these two sentences are not the same and what happens varies in both.
1) The police rounded up the doctors who had been dealing drugs and jailed them.
2) The police rounded up the doctors, who had been dealing drugs, and jailed them.
In example number one, the police round up only those doctors who had been dealing drugs. In example number two, the police round up all doctors, because they had all been dealing drugs. So this talk of adding and removing commas is not at all precious (although I’ll stick with my joke). There an anecdote about Oscar Wilde once being asked what he had done all day. He replied that he had spent all the morning considering whether to add a comma to a certain sentence to make it read better. After lunch he had spent all afternoon considering whether to remove it again, and had finally decided to do so. And talking of Oscar Wilde, I once came across a quote from him which no one else seems to have heard. Many know his dictum (which I believe, in fact, he cribbed from someone else - naughty, Oscar): A cynic know the price of everything and the value of nothing. But he also said about cynics (and this explains one aspect of the Nazis): Sentimentality is a bank holiday from cynicism, which in my view hits the nail on the head.
Talking about Oscar cribbing dictums and saying, there is also the story of the American painter James Whistler who settled in England and made it his home. He had a rather sharp tongue and was very witty, but was annoyed that Oscar Wilde would often steal his witticisms and pass them off as his own. One day when Oscar was still up at Oxford, he was sitting at Whistler’s feet at some soiree or other and Whistler made a witty comment.
Oh, I wish I had said that, said Oscar.
You will, Oscar, you will, Whistler replied.

. . .

For years I had it in my head that the plural of comma was commata. It’s not, it’s commas. Well!