Friday, December 20, 2013

A Happy Christmas to all my readers. And smartphone wallpaper takes a giant leap forward (or the wonder of it all as we think of ever more fabulous ways to fritter away our money without doing anything remotely useful)

A Happy Christmas from your favourite blogger! 

Like every other impressionable fuck who is not quite as bright as he fondly imagines himself to be, I am drawn like a bear to a honeypot to soak up every single detail whenever I come across a story about, for example, the biggest, best, most complex, most sophisticated and most expensive lavatory cleaner yet.

Reading on I discover that not only was the research into developing this revolutionary new bog cleaner undertaken by three Nobel Prize laureates! But it even has the blessing of the Pope! Furthermore, when the cleaner comes into full commercial production, the purpose-built factory making the bloody stuff will be the size of 12 football pitches! Or put another way: if the amount of paper wasted reporting such bollocks were cut into inch-wide strips and laid end to end, they would stretch from here to the Moon and back 20 times!

Perhaps even that bargain-price analogy isn’t helping you imagine the sheer scale and magnificence of the project, so try this: if all the paper wasted reporting such bollocks were repeatedly folded in two, getting smaller all the time, not only would you reach a stage where you could no longer see it, but you would create a small folded piece of paper so dense, you would create your own black hole! Well!

I’m not feeling especially grumpy today (i.e. just as grumpy as usual when I wake up in the morning and reflect that I haven’t had sex for 15 years and not had a good shag for least 17), but I got just a little grumpier when this morning - barely ten minutes ago, in fact - I began my daily round of the newspaper websites and BBC News and came across the remarkable story that ‘Europe has launched the Gaia satellite - one of the most ambitious space missions in history.’ And ‘Gaia is going to map the precise positions and distances to more than a billion stars. This should give us the first realistic picture of how our Milky Way galaxy is constructed. Gaia’s remarkable sensitivity will lead also to the detection of many thousands of previously unseen objects, including new planets and asteroids.’(You can find the BBC’s account here, the Daily Telegraph’s here, the Guardian’s here and the Daily Mail’s here. And if you take a little time to find your way around the Mail science pages, you’ll also come across the startling news that we can soon give our dogs a headset for Christmas which will allow us to read it’s mind and a smartphone app which will help make your conversation a little more interesting and make you less of a boring fuck.


Impressed or what? It might look like the Top Hat from Monopoly to you and me, but this baby cost £620 million and will clean your lavatory in under 13 seconds!

So there we have it: I can soon spend several seconds of my life gazing in rapt wonder of a colour pic of the Milky Way. Not only that, but within five years ‘boffins’ will have a complete map of all billion billion square lightyears of it and if, say, they ever find themselves in a part of it they don’t know - that it if they very get lost - they can simply consult their bloody map and find their way home again. Well! But dear reader - dear, dear reader - my immediate reaction to this utterly fantastic and sensational news was: why? Especially as it is all costing £620 million.

Don’t get me wrong: I yield to no man in my enthusiasm for gazing in wonder at colour pics of distant galaxies (I’m told) made up of a billion stars (I’m told) which do look suspiciously like the wallpaper on my smartphone and which, anyway, I forget about within two seconds of moving on. But give me a break: this whole Gaia exercise is costing a cool £620 million. And each time my one thought is: haven’t we got something more worthwhile on which to spend our shekel? Because, dear reader, make no mistake: it is your money which is being blown on a variety of Polaroids of clouds of pink, blue, yellow and red smoke. (And if you are thinking ‘what the hell, they look beautiful, just look at all that galactic dusk, doesn’t it look like smoke rising from a bonfire’, my advice to you is to go and find yourself a bonfire and gaze at the smoke rising from it: it’s just as beautiful and a lot, lot cheaper.)

I know the argument and I can hear you all now: don’t be such a Luddite, Patrick! What would have happened if Christopher Columbus had settled for a trip to Gibraltor rather taken himself off to discover the New World (well, actually a shorter route to India, but let’s not complicate matters). There would be no Disney, no hamburgers, no Fred Astaire, New York would still be a flat piece of swamp near coast, there would be no Cajun music, no grits, no Beverly Hills High, several thousand Iraqis would still be alive today. Come on, keep up, Patrick: you can’t halt progress!

This is science, man! Think of penicillin, the Pill, we’ve eradicated tuberculosis, we’ve conquered malaria, we can now know what our dogs are thinking! And why? Because of science, man, science! Ah, but dear reader wishy-washy liberal that I am despite suspicions that I am actually just a smidgin right-of-centre in my political and economic views, I can’t help but think of the cost and how that money might well be far better spent elsewhere.

We’re told, for example, that one of the biggest killers of young children in parts of the world is diarrhoea which can easily be cured by a simply mixture of sugar and salt, yet these children are not getting it. And we’re told that in parts of the world folk have to drink the same water they shit in. And we’re told that in parts of the world - mainly Africa and Asia - a great many women die giving birth purely because of unhygenic conditions.

Now wouldn’t it make just a little more sense to spend money on programmes help our young and sick and old rather than setting up cameras in space which can give us ever better, ever clearer and ever more colourful piccies of the Milky Way for our smartphone wallpaper? Or am I just another misanthropic old cunt? Answers, please, on the usual postcard which you can then tear up into samll pieces and stick up your arse.

Friday, December 13, 2013

So now we know: the universe is just a figment of some bloody Fleet Street sub’s imagination. I’ve long suspected as much. And give me a cook who cooks, not one who insists on bearing his soul and expressing himself

There are a couple of cutting edge science stories I suspect you might have missed while you’ve been giving your all to Strictly Come Prancing and Masterchef: The Professionals. They come to a grateful world courtesy of a certain paper in Britain which might well, given it’s fears for house prices and the multitude of causes of cancer, be known as the Daily Whail.

First off we have this, a dire warning that it is pretty pointless getting out of bed tomorrow (or even getting into bed tonight if you are reading this during the day) because - you guessed it: the universe is collapsing. Well! And I thought I was doomed to die of a second heart attack. Further details are here. Just in case you feel that this is just another load of the cack our free press regularly produces, you can opt for this cosmic disaster scenario instead. It is marginally more interesting, though equally as much total bollocks.

Here ‘scientists’ (it’s a wonder they don’t call them ‘boffins’ because that’s what Fleet Street’s finest usually do) postulate that - if I understand it correctly - the universe is just a hologram and just a figment of our imagination. No, I haven’t understood it correctly, but then given some of the goobledegook the Mail Online bods insists on printing (e.g. ‘In a black hole, for instance, all the objects that ever fall into it would be entirely contained in surface fluctuations. This means that the objects would be stored almost as ‘memory’ or fragment of data rather than a physical object in existence. In a larger sense, the theory suggests that the entire universe can be seen as a ‘two-dimensional structure projected onto a cosmological horizon’ - or in simpler terms [love that], the universe we believe we inhabit is a 3D projection of a 2D alternate universe.’

As I say gobbledegook and incomprehensible garbage, but that won’t stop various men - it will invariably and exclusively be men, I’m afraid - in pubs, clubs and golf club bars up and down the country boring for Britain as they insist, several rounds into the conversation, on explaining at


length a fascinating new theory they read about ‘in the paper’. Their account will most certainly be concluded with a platitude or other along the lines of ‘makes you think, doesn’t it’. No, it doesn’t. Just makes you wonder why 19/20 of the population of this green and pleasant land are allowed within 100 feet of a ballot box.

If you’re interested (and shame, shame, shame on you if you are) you can read the Mail’s story here.

All we now need is some explanation as to why it is bothering printing two such stories, both of which mean the other one must be complete bollocks.

. . .

I don’t know whether it is just my age, also my age or mainly my age, but not only is everyone, not just policemen and bank managers, starting to look decidedly younger, but much of what is on television is beginning to get decidedly more pretentious. Now I can understand it to a certain extent when we have a small gang of arty types sitting around discussing literature, drama, film and ballet, but when bloody cooks - sorry, chefs - start giving those arty types a run for their money, I do start to wish the universe really were a hologram.

The other night I was on my way home from work in Kensington to my brother’s flat in Earl’s Court when I decided I was still quite hungry. It wasn’t greed because I hadn’t eaten much at all since lunchtime and even then it was just a mug of soup and two small rolls. So passing the Dragon Palace, a Chinese restaurant of the parish (and where a few weeks ago I bumped into a certain Paul D. and promised not to talk to him when I also dropped in for a plate of something or other), I decided that to have a latish supper (and no, I didn’t bump into Mr D. this time).

On such occasions - I often have a plate of pasta nearby on a Sunday night - I tend to haul out my excellent Huawei smartphone and seek out a wifi signal to watch a bit of TV. As it happened there was none at the Dragon Palace, so I gave 3G a whirl. Oddly, althought 3G is good for radio, I’ve never before had much luck with TV, but last Tuesday night it worked a treat. Must be something to do with the universe collapsing or other, though don’t hold me to that, I’m not much good on science and rely on our free press to keep me informed on advances in science. (Apparently scientists now know why dogs scratch themselves, which must come as a relief to all those who were a tad disturbed by that particular gap in our scientific understanding of the world.)

Having got a signal wasn’t really the main problem, however. What now stumped me was what to watch on my smartphone (courtesy of BBC’s iPlayer, by the way, if you’re wondering). You see, I don’t really watch a great deal of TV these days because a great deal of TV these days is so fucking dull on the whole I prefer to sit in the bathroom for hours on end and pick my nose. But rather than sit and talk to myself - people often think you’re nuts when you do that - I decided to give something a go while I worked my way through a plate of something spicy with noodles and settled on Masterchef: The Professionals.

I don’t doubt that the television concept of Masterchef has travelled around the world several times over these past few years but for those still unacquainted with the programme and its ilk all I can say is: don’t worry, you’re not missing much. (There is a variant of it here in Old Blighty called Celebrity Masterchef which is equally as dull.) Don’t get me wrong: I happen to enjoy cooking very much and was very happy watching cookery programmes many years ago when they were still about cooking and learning new techniques and dishes. But they aren’t any more. They are all about ‘competition’ and ‘being passionate about wheat/mushrooms/carrots/lard’ and ‘boiling a kettle of water doesn’t get harder than this!’, cue dramatic music.

In the particular episode I saw last Tuesday (or of which is saw part, because mercifully I had finished my plate of something spicy with noodles long before the programme was due to end), the emphasis was on ‘putting your emotions and feelings into a dish’.

OK, it wouldn’t be at all difficult to make me out to be some sort of cantankerous old sod for complaining that that is 24-carat, grade A bullshit, but if that is the direction you’re thinking is now taking you - that I’m just another old fart for not being intrigued by the mystery of cooking - then you are banned from ever reading this blog again. But don’t take my word for it - after all, I am the Luddite fuck who refuses to believe the universe is about to collapse - so here are a few snippets: (t/c)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why the ‘historic’ agreement with Iran is mainly just good for business. Which is what it was all about, really

If you follow the news at all, you can’t have missed all the hoo-ha about the recent ‘historic’ agreement between Iran and the West, but it was – to me, at least – quite noticeable that details of what exactly had been historically agreed were quite sparse.

There was a certain amount of spurious drama about it all, what with the talks apparently coming to naught a few weeks ago, to everyone’s disappointment and the finger being pointed at the French for being pernickety, then out of the blue came the breakthrough, and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and our very own Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as their counterparts from Germany, Russia, China and someone described as ‘Baroness Catherine Ashton’ dropped everything, grabbed their toothbrushes and took the first flight out to Geneva for an historic photo opportunity, sorry, make that ‘agreement’.

When news of the ‘breakthrough’ came through, I was rather baffled as to what had actually been achieved, because apart from being told the ‘agreement was historic’ and that ‘sanctions would be partially lifted’, no on actually said what had been historically agreed. To make it all the more confusing, on the one hand Iran’s foreign minister Abbas Araqchi immediately announced that agreement was a great deal for Iran in that the West had agreed to loosen sanctions and that it could carry on enriching uranium, although to a lesser degree than it had done so far; on the other hand John Kerry announced that it was a great deal for the West because as it had agreed to loosen sancstions, Iran had agreed to give up enriching uranium completely.

Well, they couldn’t both be right, I thought, and why haven’t news reports highlighted the discrepancy (which they hadn’t – they were spending far too much time trying to persuade us how ‘historic’ it all was and that now, surely to goodness, there was certainly no reason why everyone shouldn’t start sending each other Christmas cards and start going to each other’s drinks parties again (which is what diplomats do, apparently). But I was still puzzled.

The question remained stubbornly unanswered: what had, in fact, been agreed after all those high-level, late-night talks in Geneva? I was doubly intrigued when yesterday I came across an interesting news report on Der Spiegel’s online site, the first sentence of which ran: ‘Der Durchbruch im Atomstreit mit Iran lässt die Deutsche Industrie jubeln: Maschinenbauer, Chemiebetriebe und Zulieferer der Auto- und Flugzeugindustrie hoffen auf gute Geschäfte. Doch sie bekommen Konkurrenz von unerwarteter Stelle: Auch US-Firmen wollen profitieren.’ Loosely translated: The breakthrough in the row with Iran about uranium enrichment has got German industrie cheering: machine manufacturers, chemical works and car and aircraft industry suppliers are hoping to do good business. But they face competition from an unexpected source: US companies want some of the action’. You can read the report for yourself here.

Put aside the Spiegel’s apparent surprise that competition from US companies was ‘unexpected’ (was it really ‘unexpected’ and why is the Spiegel surprised?), here you have in black and white why after several years of sanctions the West and Iran suddenly found themselves able to reach a ‘historic’ agreement with which everyone is happy.

We have been getting news reports since the sanctions were imposed how they were biting, prices were rising ever higher and inflation was growing sharply, and even that if the shortage of goods caused by the sanctions worsened, there might even be civil unrest. But when I read that Spiegel story it all became very clear to me indeed: it wasn’t just Iranians and Iranian companies who were suffering. So were a great many firms in the West (and probably China). Bugger whether the Iranians were or were not building nuclear weapons, the sanctions were increasingly bad for business. And I don’t doubt that they all informed their respective governments as much in no uncertain terms.

Is that too cynical an interpretation? Not at all: as George Bernard Shaw put it very succinctly: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. Or here’s Ambrose Bierce’s take on such cynicism: a cynic, he says is ‘a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be’.

It was then that I decided to try to track down what was in the agreement. It didn’t take too long, although the so-called ‘serious’ journalists on the BBC website, The Telegraph and the Guardian didn’t bother recording it. Finally, I find it – or rather a link to a pdf of its text – on the Financial Times website. You can read the ‘historic’ agreement for yourselves here. It didn’t knock my socks off, but there again, at least its back to business as usual for those who care about such things.

PS Sunday, Dec 01: At least we can be reassured that our governments aren’t in danger of doing something wildly out-of-character and risking the status quo.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK: saint or sinner? Well, neither, really, but don’t let that influence your particular prejudice. How’s about just another rich, jobbing politico? Or to put it another way, save me all the Camelot crap

Unremarkably, everyone and his favourite pony is commenting on The Death Of JFK. If they are over 50, they invariably inform anyone who cares to listen that he was a saint and changed their lives, and if they are under 50 they inform everyone who cares to listen that he was a saint and would most certainly have changed their lives had they not had the grave misfortune to have been born after 1960.

Then there is the minority who are loath to let pass an opportunity to describe John Boy in the most lurid terms: he was a devil, a drug-taking, adulterous philanderer who, if not actually a mafioso was so in cahoots with The Mob that he liked nothing better when not taking drugs and philandering adulterously than rustling up a mean spag bol while hanging out with others in the family.

According to these apostates, JFK would have been impeached and hounded out of office had he lived and worked several decades later (i.e. now) when our Press and TV weren’t such sycophantic pussycats as in the Sixties. Well, given that everyone and his favourite pony is commenting, whether to sanctify or damn the man, it really would be amiss of me not to join in.

Let me first answer that hoary old question: where were you when you heard that Kennedy had been assassinated? I was in my first year at my boarding school (note I am egalitarian and enlightened enough not to call it ‘my public school’, although naturally not sufficiently egalitarian and enlightened not to slip in the fact obliquely and let you know anyway. Subtle or what?) and we first year boys all lived in a house about a mile away called Junior House.

We had just finished supper and were in the junior changing room underneath the gym at about 7.45pm gathering our gear to make our way to Junior House when a prefect turned up and called us to order. Once we were all quiet, he told us (and I can’t remember him crying uncontrollably or his voice breaking, the insensitive bastard) that Kennedy had been killed. That was it. I can’t remember talking about it with anyone or anyone else discussing it, although we might well have done. It’s just that I can’t remember it.

Of course it was a shock, but not quite for the reason bandied about today. It was a shock because it seemed so unlikely, for, like the Pope and The Beatles, the President of the United States was unique. At any one time there is only one of him (yes, ‘him’ - I doubt we shall be saying ‘her’ for many a year yet). It was a similar shock to hear almost 20 years later that John Lennon had been killed (and, as you ask, I was on my way to work at the Birmingham Evening Mail, just driving away from West Bromwich hospital nurses home after spending the night with my girlfriend. I heard the news on either the 7.30 or 9.30 morning news - shifts started at 8am or 10am). Again, there was nothing special about Lennon, who is now inexplicably regarded as a saint who ‘worked for peace’. The shock was merely because it was so unexpected. But by then we were getting used to prominent figures being bumped off, so used to it, in fact, that when John Paul II got his, we all wondered why it had taken so long.

When someone tried to shoot Ronald Reagan 15 months later, we were already getting used to the idea that if you were in the public eye, having some nutter try to kill you came with the territory. When two months later someone tried to kill Pope John II, it hardly raised an eyebrow. ‘He probably had it coming’ was more or less then general attitude.

As for JFK, I think the sanest and most reasonable view to take is that he was neither particularly bad, nor particularly good. JFK fans conveniently forget that he was the presidend, not Lyndon Johnson, who got the US involved in the Vietnam War to begin with, although at first the poor saps being shipped over there were still euphemistically called ‘military advisors’ (or ‘advisers’ if you work for the Daily Mail, though why I don’t know).

When LBJ was sworn in, he already had the mess to deal with. JFK most certainly kept his nerve during the ‘Cuban missile crisis’, though here again I’ve heard that it wasn’t quite as straightforward as all history would have us believe (though I’m a tad hazy on the details). It seems there were elements of Kennedy helping the Soviet’s Nikita Krushchev in a power struggle with elements in the Kremlin who were a damn sight more hawkish than he was. (And the Soviets were later desperate to convince the US that they had bugger all to do with JFK’s assassination in Dallas.)

It was also LBJ, not Kennedy who brought in, against huge opposition, the civil rights reforms which set America’s blacks a little freer. I can’t, at this point, resist pointing out that the number of American blacks who are in jail, on death row, unemployed, homeless and drug addicts is still in 2013 vastly disproportionate compared to whites, and I should imagine it is scant consolation that Hispanics run them a close second. What Kennedy had in his favour was relative youth, good looks, a glamorous wife and the fact that he was voted in when the first post-war generation came of age. He was, to use that cliche, in the right place at the right time. Oh, and unlike Nixon he didn’t sweat in the sweltering heat given out by TV studio spotlights.

Finally, of course, JFK has the distinct advantage over the rest of them because: like Lennon, Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Rupert Brooke, Wilfried Owen, and several more he died young. We never got to see JFK in his dotage. I don’t think a single legend has yet survived the sight of a drooling, half-witted, skeletal and bald old codger in a wheelchair. JFK had the wit to die young, though it has to be said he didn’t have any say in the matter. But let’s, please, forget all this crap of either St John F Kennedy or Kennedy, Evil Personified. PS I was just hunting down a cartoon piccy of JFK to illustrate this entry. Of all those I found none was in the least bit disrespectful, showing him in some rather ridiculous light or other. That more or less sums the - in my view rather disturbing - sanctification process which has surrounded the man. So far there are no reports that he once walked on water. I suppose we’ll have to wait a few hundred years for that one. It does rather underline the principle which has made Press barons rich these past few hundred years: give the public the truth or a myth and they’ll opt for the myth always. I mean do we really want to be reminded that the Queen is obliged to poo at least once a day like the rest of us?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hello again, I've been away - well sort of. And here’s why

This entry is written as the result of getting an email from a friend who reads this blog regularly. Why, he asked, had there not been any recent entries? Was something wrong? Well, nothing is particularly wrong, I told him. What follows is more or less the email I sent him in reply.

There’s actually a very straightforward reason for not having written anything for a while, quite apart from trying to avoid, and usually failing to avoid, being some kind cut-price, Asda bargain pseudo-commentator dispersing commonplace observations and platitudes on what’s happening in the world. It is this: all my life (I inherited it from my dad) I have suffered from depressive periods, once or twice very badly, usually not too badly, though on each occasion I could have done without it. And this is one of them.

Why it has slowly started again I really don’t know. And the first thing to say is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with feeling ‘fed up’ or ‘unhappy’ or anything like that. It seems to be a physical thing. Looking back over my life and having gone through it many times, I can now spot the symptoms and know that I am in for another bout. It has gone on since I was young. Certainly, it can be brought on by upsets, problems and difficulties in one’s life – we are, after all, an amalgam of the physical and the spiritual, and I don’t use the word ‘spiritual’ in any religious or metaphysical sense – but to this day we are very unclear about how the one relates to and influences the other, and I’m not about to start here.

For example, various ‘talking’ and psycho therapies, if undertaken over several months, seem to help some people. But the question is: did the talking actually help or was the affliction they were intended to treat self-correcting? That is, would they have cleared up anyway? Similarly, many of us – and the ‘us’ means that obviously includes me – have been prescribed various medications, of which the most up-to-date (as far as I know) are SSRis, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g. Prozac and Zoloft). They seem to work, although they can have unwanted side-effects, yet some researchers claim it is all stuff and nonsense. And many are, anyway, uncomfortable with reducing it all to a physical level, a debate which can lead into the old, and never-ever ending, debate about free-will and determinism (after turning a few more corners, of course, and a debate I make a point of avoiding always as one being perfectly futile and a waste of time.)

I remember from my childhood having periods of being oddly very listless and reluctant to ‘do’ anything. It might have seemed like laziness, but it was nothing of the kind: it was, quite literally, an overarching reluctance to do anything whatsover and then some. I put off everything. I have also suffered extreme bouts of homesickness which is thought to be related to depression. When we moved to Berlin from Britain in June 1959, we first lived in a very large flat in the Olympische Straβe in Berlin-Charlottenburg, then moved to a house in the Heerstraβe few months later. About seven months later, I suddenly, and it was sudden, got very, very homesick. It was odd. I was also very homesick in my first year at the OS and spent the whole time in abject misery.

As I say it has plagued me all my life, but I should stress again that any ‘fed-upness’ has to do with irritating physical symptoms. In my case I have a very persistent and perpetual headache, which is rather like a mild hangover. I also don’t particularly like being with other people or wanting to be in company and would far prefer to be alone (‘I vant to be alone‘). I can’t say anything, of course, and I doubt anyone notices, but on these occasions I would far, far, far prefer to be alone. I also get to be very impatient with what I happen to be doing and want to move on to the next thing as soon as possible, irrespective of what that next thing might be. And, of course, once I have moved on, I immediately want to move on again. I cannot settle.

I find it almost impossible to concentrate on anything, especially reading, which is why I find it quite useful to do a lot of swimming or go to the gym, because it keeps me occupied. And this difficulty in concentration and rush to move on to something else has, unfortunately, in the past and to this day been the reason for certain slapdashness in my work. Now you know. When I am going through such a period, I also want nothing more than to go to bed and then to sleep, and I look forward to the moment I can put the light out and put my head on the pillow. I have to be careful that I don’t go to sleep to early, as I then wake up during the night and am awake for hours. Thankfully, I dream a great deal and apart for the very occasional anxiety dream – I had one last night which included trying to ring work to tell them I would be late, but failing every time to key in the right number on my mobile phone, which anyway began to crumble away like a biscuit. Oh, and once I had found the train I wanted and jumped on, I discovered I was travelling in the wrong direction.

However, I very rarely have bad dreams and enjoy dreaming. The trouble is that eventually I always wake up and while waking up I am conscious that I am waking up and am supremely pissed off. I try to turn over to go back to sleep again, but I never can. In the past when I have been going through a severe bout having a drink has temporarily helped, but I am loathe to do that these days and just grin, i.e. grimace, and bear it.

These days we insist on all kinds of enlightened attitudes to everything (though it has to be said that our enlightenment rarely progresses beyond the ‘insisting’ stage), but ‘depression’ – a horribly uselss catch-all word if you think about it - is still regarded with suspicion, despite innumerable Radio 4 programmes and newspaper features suggesting otherwise, as though the sufferer is in some way ‘less’. It is pertinent, for example, that despite what I have just written, I still feel a little shamefaced telling you about it as though I were admitting to stealing from a church poor box.

Perhaps you who are reading this have in the past been afflicted or are now being afflicted and know what I am talking about. Perhaps not (and thank your lucky stars if you haven’t). Perhaps you are one of those who feel that the only true solution is to ‘pull yourself together’. Well, if that’s your view, you know bugger all about it. You wouldn’t, for example, tell someone suffering from sinusitis or from cystitis to ‘pull themselves together’. At the end of the day all you can do is grin, grimace and bear it.

Incidentally, if you know of someone nearby who is living alone, consider giving up and hour or so to visit them. The chances are that they are rather lonely, and loneliness can also lead to depression.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Here’s a case for making out why we’re in the Golden Age Of Bullshit. Or how it is all-too-easy for us to kid ourselves.

There was a void in my life. Damages had finished, and I needed to fill the void. Ray Donovan did so for a week or two, but that has only been through on series, and as I had the week off with very little to do except nothing at my own slow pace, I watched an episode, and sometimes two, a day. When it finished (and the finale was good, but gets an A- rather than an A+), the void beckoned again.

Then I recalled a series which I had read about several times while proof-reading the TV pages. The paper trails several programmes from all channels as ‘highlights’, though given that all-too-often a programme might be something as scintillating and attractive as a ‘a month in the life of a council dog warden’ dragged out over five or six episodes, you might guess why I rarely, if ever, bother with terrestrial TV these days and prefer to watch series on the net. (If you think my, admittedly fictional, example is a tad exaggerated, I can assure you it isn’t: quite recently one channel had a six-part series on the working life of a town planner, its tribulations and difficulties. There are wall-to-wall fucking cookery programmes – ‘making a jus can get no tougher. This is cooking for the big boys’, that kind of crap.)

The series was an HBO production called The Newsroom. Well, I thought, I’ll give it a whirl. But, dear reader, a whirl is all I gave it, and all I shall be giving it. It is from the stable of Aaron ‘The West Wing’ Sorkin, and it shows. The dialogue is superficially smart, but in fact pretty damn awful. Folk don’t talk like folk, but as folk would talk in an Aaron Sorkin TV series. I gave up on The West Wing pretty damn quickly as I got fed up with all the smart one-liners everyone had, the hip speak, the innumerable two-second conversations the characters had with each other while walking past each other quickly in corridors. Oh, and the oh-so-liberal attitidues. I thought it was bollocks.

The Newsroom got and will continue to get equally short shrift from me. I saw about 20 minutes before I turned off and went looking for some drying paint to observe as likely to be rather more entertaining. The first episode begins with a TV anchorman ‘losing it’ and coming out with a long rant about how the good ole’ US of A just isn’t the marvellous, superb country it once was. Here is that speech.

 

I didn’t actually retch, but it was a damn close thing. The world’s greatest artists? Cared about neighbours? Would that be Cuba? And take good note of the piano tinkling away in the background.And although I went on to watch another ten minutes of that episode, I knew The Newsroom and I were not a match made in Heaven.

This speech should have warned me. But then came the theme music and that, dear reader, was all the proof I needed that The Newsroom would be thoroughly and slickly dishonest cack. Here it is.






There are only two points to be made here:

1 Nothing good can come of a series with them music as seriously schmaltzy as this.

2 Strings are always - always - a no-no. I can never take strings seriously, and nor should anyone else.

After sitting through that theme music, I sat through another ten minutes, but that was my lot. No more The Newsroom for me now or ever. And please forgive the rather abrupt ‘fade out’.

. . .

That speech was the killer. It is one so grossly dishonest, so utterly misleading about the US that the Sorkin should be prosecuted. Certainly, the Yanks aren’t the only ones to hark back sentimentally to a spurious golden age. Many Brits are still firmly convinced that the British Empire was wholly a force for good whose one purpose was to bring civilisation to those parts of the world which were still going through a dark age. But whereas Britain has finally and firmly got all that shite out of its system, the US still has a long, long way to go. I don’t doubt that when assorted liberals in the US tuned into the first episode of The Newsroom and heard the anchorman’s speech, they thought to themselves - with a manly sigh if they were men, with concealed tear if they were women - ‘he’s right, you know, what has happened to our dear, dear old country. The only problem is that there never as a US golden age when the New World’s prime and almost sole objective was to bring peace, stability, order and humanity to the world.

I shall restrict myself to a few examples, but there are many. Far from the Civil War being about ‘emancipating the black man’ as if still fondly claimed, it was about the Northern States consolidating their hold on power. And a great many bastards in the North made great fortunes out of the Civil War. For many of the North’s businessmen, the ‘unfairness’ of slavery had absolutely nothing to do with inhumanity to blacks, and everything to do with the fact that landowners in the southern states who worked slaves were getting labour from free, gratis, buckshee, while they were obliged to pay their workers a wage, however small and pitiful.

After the Civil War, far from being freed, as innumerable young US kids are proudly informed, the fortunes of the blacks got worse if that could be possible. None got their land and their mule. Certainly, they were no longer slaves in name, but they were still slaves in fact. Just listen to Billie Holiday’s rendering of the song Strange Fruit to remind yourselves just how liberated blacks were in the 100 years following the end of the Civil War. Then there’s the odd matter of the American/Spanish war.

Ostensibly this was to help colonies rid themselves of the Spanish yoke. In practice it was just a takeover from one old colonial power by a newer colonial power, with a sharp eye on creating markets for its goods. Or how about the little matter of the extermination of the Native Americans by the good, freedom-loving white folk? For scale, if not in execution, it rivals the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis.

All three are examples of why the TV anchorman’s liberal cri de coeur for a return to the good, ole’ honest US was 24-carat bullshit. Incidentally, the above is in no way intended to make out that the US’s enemies are any better. To keep things simple, just regard it as a warning to be very wary of anything wit such schmaltzy, syrupy them music.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Woodstock? Just more proof, if proof were needed, of mankind's infallible tendency to delude itself (and then some)

The not-so-astounding news I have just read on the BBC News website is that tickets for Glastonbury 2014 have already sold out and have done so in record time. This item caught my eye because a night or two ago I watched Taking Woodstock (here, one of several such sites in which you can watch films completely illegally but, crucially, without spending a penny (U.S ‘cent’), but this is the one I almost always use (and remember to install some kind of ad-block to stop all those malware infected ads popping up).

Taking Woodstock was directed by by Ang Lee and distinctly underwhelmed the critics, and I can see why. I should imagine that most of those critics are under 50, immune to all that hippy-dippy love-and-peace man bollocks and none of them are the hippy bores whose interminable reminiscences and memoirs of the ‘peace era’ made reading the Sunday papers in the Seventies and Eighties such a dull and dispiriting experience.

Thankfully, quite a few of that generation of ageing hippies are now dead, although every so often one will pop up on TV and drone on about ‘how we all started it, man’ until someone has the good sense to shut him up. And it was always a ‘him’ - the much-vaunted free love at the time wasn’t so much the liberation of women but the liberation of men from any kind of responsibility and respect for the female gender. Of course women have sexual urges just as strong as men - and I wished to God I had realised that rather earlier in my life - but with ‘the pill’ still not widely available at the time, they were always the ones left to carry the can when they found themselves up the duff, and the prospect and fear of that will have meant they couldn’t act on those urges quite as often a they might have liked. The trouble was the ‘free love’ doctrine was simply an extra strategy to persuade ‘a chick’ to get her knickers off and spread her legs. As for the peace, well up to a point Lord Copper.

The ‘Sixties generation’ was remarkably, often violently, uncharitable to their parents’ generation, and I don’t think it occurred to any of them for a second that their mums and dads (US ‘moms’ and ‘pops’) were just like them though, except that they were two decades older, and as young lads and lasses wanted just what they wanted. The trouble was that after World War II - especially here in Europe - in which many family and friends had died, they wanted nothing but a quiet life, the quieter the better and, if at all possible, without unplanned death of any kind. Of course, when you are 18 and bursting with hormones a quiet life is that last thing you want, but then nor did their parents then they were that age 20 to 30 years earlier.

Unfortunately at that age, just when I was desperately growing my hair as long as possible and making sure I always had a lump of dope in my matchbox, the boys were being marched off to war and possible death. Ironically, the war perhaps brought greater freedoms for women, who had to man (Lord, I can’t believe I just used that word, but I shall leave it in for the sake of the irony) the factories and offices vacated by all the cannon fodder being shipped to Europe and tasted greater independence. But this is all a long way from Woodstock and the supposedly great cultural event it was.

. . .

I have never been to Glastonbury and, in theory, never will. I say ‘in theory’ because I am now 63 and I can’t imagine the young folk rolling around in the rain and mud and paying extortionate prices for goddam-awful burgers while listening to music of which the major constituent is a booming bass would want a cynical, dyspeptic old


A rare picture of me at 14. Note especially the joint I’m smoking and the V sign on my chest


fart like me hanging around. Which is fine by me because even if they did, I really wouldn’t want to go. And if Ang Lee’s portrayal of Woodstock is anything like the real thing, I’m bloody glad I didn’t get to go there, either.

When it comes to listening to music or, as once I did, going clubbing, give me a small, intimate club. I dislike gangs and crowds at the best of times, and the idea of spending more than a minute in the company of ten thousand other people, many of whom can’t wait to wallow in mud, strikes me as simply bizarre.

Then there’s a music. Many bands are great live, but many are not. Many need the resources of studio technology to sound even halfway decent and die a pitiful death when asked to perform in public, often reduced to a boring two-chord riff to a mid-tempo 4-4 beat. And even if they are half-decent playing live, the conditions of a festival, the distance you might be from the stage, the fact that bass notes carry, but treble notes do not, a badly balanced sound scheme, the vagaries of the weather, and - believe it or not - out-of-tune instruments can all add up to a pretty piss-poor performance.

How does he know all this, I hear you ask, if he has never been to a festival? Quite simply because I’ve quite often caught festival performances on TV. Well, isn’t it a fact that television rarely does justice to live music? Perhaps, but I’m not going to risk goddam-awful burgers, portaloos overflowing with shit and crap, and the combined body odour of a hundred thousand people just to find out.

. . .

As for new direction the Love Generation apparently took and which, in that vacuous phrase often employed by TV and the press, ‘changed the course of history’, again up to a point, Lord Copper. Sadly, the new direction was just the old direction in longer hair. The relevant cliche here is plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

As the love generation itself found out here in Britain at the end of the Seventies when the punks stuck two fingers up at their hippy-dippy older brothers and sisters, and gobbed at them to boot in case they had missed the point, there’s nothing a new generation loves better than to put as much distance as possible between itself and the older generation. You like white? Well, we’ll like black. You want love ’n peace? Well, we’ll like violence and abrasion. You like slow, dreamy, meandering ballads? Well, here’s a two-minute piece of cacophonous noise you can stick up your arse and then fuck off!

Ironically, as an excellent BBC Four series chronicled a few months ago, the principle of plus ça change, c’est plus la même chose still held true and, it seemed, within a matter of months the lure of big bucks got many a gobbing, spitting, pogoing punk band to see the light, sign on the dotted line and ensure that the gobbing, spitting and pogoing became safe enough for public consumption and ensure you were still home before midnight for a mug of cocoa and a good night’s sleep.

Further, not even within a matter of months but, it seemed, within a matter of hours, the safe punk music had metamorphasised into something entirely different. And how the hippies hated it. Now in their early thirties, desperate to persuade themselves that the mortgage, house, pension plan and station wagon (UK ‘shooting brake’) are just a passing phase, man, I’m still a rebel at heart, they could not believe and could not accept that they were nothing more than history, taken seriously be no one but themselves and their peers.

Good Lord, life is cruel.

. . .

Why this rant, you must be asking yourselves (and I am most certainly asking myself)? Well, the answers are both highly personal and very straightforward. I shall save the highly personal answer, perhaps, for another time, but the straightforward answer is this: when I turned 18 and was released from my public school with nothing but a posh accent and a set of illusions as long as your arm, it was 1968. The Vietnam War was well underway, as were ‘student politics’ (and whatever happened to them?), and the Sixties, with barely two more years to go, was getting into its stride. All I wanted to do was grow my hair, lose my cherry, and smoke dope (and to tell the truth, I hadn’t even thought about that last half as much as mentioning it here might make it seem).

For some reason, I found all the hippy-dippy stuff, all the peace-and-love routine and the we’re-going-to-change-the-world fantasy wholly and utterly unconvincing. All that interested me was the dope (cannabis, hash, not heroin) and acid. That was it. And to complicate it just a little further, I didn’t hang out with the ‘druggies’ because the druggies were dull, dull, dull. All they wanted to talk about was drugs. I remember walking into the students union one afternoon to find a table of druggies who had all dropped downers, all sitting around motionless and all as boring as fuck. If this is what drugs downers do to you, I remember thinking, well fuck downers. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull!

It wasn’t that I didn’t get it. I did get it, and because I got it, I couldn’t help asking myself ‘who the hell do they think they are kidding?’ and others ‘who the hell do you think you are kidding?’ This wasn’t some great intellectual insight, it was nothing more than a gut feeling. And, dear friends, whether you agree with me or not, it’s a gut feeling I still have: who the hell do we think we are kidding except ourselves?

So when I see film’s such as Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, and when I read, as I did today, that tickets for Glastonbury 2014 are already ‘sold out’ - Glastonbury 2014 being, of course, the successor to Glastonbury 2013 and Glastonbury 2009 and Glastonbury 1998 and the rest where it is now necessary to hire security firms to patrol the ‘perimeter fence’, where corporations can now block-book the prime sites, where keen young cunts appear on TV, the radio and in the press to laud the ‘business opportunities’ Glastonbury has brought and can still bring, where Glastonbury is now as much a part of the Establishment social calendar as Wimbledon, Ascot, the Mojos and the birth of a new royal baby - I am again reminded that individually some are quite bright, but as a gang, a crowd, an electorate, an audience, a congregation, a market we are all as thick as shit.

Friday, October 4, 2013

How do you overcome an addiction? Simple: develop another. (But read right to the end to understand just what the fuck I’m talking about)

First there was The Sopranos. Others might care to cite Six Foot Under (or whatever it’s called) and they might well be right. But as this is about my addiction to a recent spate of excellent telly series – with the emphasis on my (and, I must point out, this is my blog you are reading - start your own if you have a problem with that) and as I never saw Six Foot Under (or whatever it’s called) or any of the others, and as The Sopranos was the first of the new breed I saw, you can cite as many ‘others’ for all you like, but for me The Sopranos was the daddy of them all. Capice?

This is not, and never will be, the place where description is reduced to such vacuous terms as ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’, and it would be ironic if such intelligent and excellent series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood, The Wire, Damages and Ray Donovan were reduced to being lauded in such playground language (and whenever anything is described to me by anyone as ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’ I immediately know full well that it isn’t at all anything of the kind). But anyone who has been watching television in the past 43 and has taken in such standards as Kojak, Hawaii Five O, Columbo, Dynasty (which I never saw), Dallas (which I also didn’t see) and the rest and then progressed to The Sopranos and the rest will realise (of I hope has realised) that much of TV has undergone a seachange in terms of quality writing, acting, story and direction.

Ironically, it was the development of cable TV and other forms of subscription TV which allowed the change to happen. Without the need, because of the all-powerful advertiser’s demands, to play it safe, to follow a formula and write to schedule with a mini cliffhanger every five minutes just before the ad break (of which there were and are only four and hour here in Britain on commercial TV, but of which there are far, far more in the good ole’ US of A and elsewhere) quality could at last take over. The cable and subscriber channels made their money from subscribers, and although they, too, were and are ultimately subject to viewing figures, they and the various creators of the series they produced had much more freedom simply to try to be excellent. They could reflect life far more truthfully by allowing their characters to cuss and swear and say fuck and call others a cunt. They could show people who were having sex as actually doing so in the altogether. But that was and is trivial in comparison to the real artistic freedoms working for an ad-less cable and subscriber channel gave them.

They were no longer constrained to the 60-minute format, which because of the ad breaks meant, in fact, just 40 minutes of drama. But there was more. Granted that their audiences were smaller, counted in their one and one and half millions as compared to the tens of millions a mainstream network attracted, that audience was by and large – ahem – a little more intelligent and artistically receptive. That new audience didn’t necessarily want everything to be spelled out, to follow a formula and to be neatly wrapped up in 60 – i.e. 40 – minutes of predictable drama. They were prepared to take on trust – when initially presented with quality writing, acting and direction – that what came next would be up to scratch and thus did not mind there not being a formula.

This new freedom attracted the talent. And the talent which made its way to such series attracted even more talent – actors, directors and writers certainly, but also the backroom folk without whom actors, directors and writers could not function. A ‘story’ could be expounded, at the very least, over 13 hours of broadcast time (that is 13 one-hour episodes per series. The Sopranos ran to six/seven series, The Wire to five, of which the last was not a patch on the first four, Deadwood to three – and then inexplicably cancelled – and Damages to five).

This allowed the writers far, far greater freedom to develop character, to allow plot to evolve from character, to do the kind of thing they must surely always have wanted to do but which the constraints of the 60/40-minute format simply didn’t allow them to do. There are many such series, quite apart from Six Foot Under, I didn’t see. Everyone raved about The West Wing, but I found it a tad irritating. For one thing all the characters were so bloody hip and cool I often, in the few episodes I did see, didn’t have a bloody clue as to what they were talking about. And I also got rather pissed off with a kind of mannered direction where characters would talk to each other briefly while walking past each other in a corridor.

. . .

I started with The Sopranos, although, ironically, I didn’t get it until series two, and only saw series one in retrospect. Here in Britain it had been initially trailed, rather unfortunately, as a ‘comedy drama’. Well, it was at times very, very funny (in one episode, directed my Steve Buscemi, who also had a part later on as a cousin of Tony Soprano, a Russian gangster who proves to be very difficult to kill is described as a having been a former member of Russia’s Interior Ministry (i.e. I should imagine a member of Russia domestic secret service). This eventually becomes convoluted in a phone call to a character who is none too bright as having been an ‘interior decorator’ which strikes his oppo as odd as ‘his apartment was shit’), but it wasn’t by a long chalk primarily a comedy. I got round the problem of occasionally not understanding both the argot and the New Jersey accents by videoing – this was, after all the end of the 20th century – each episode and simply re-running a part I didn’t catch.

Notwithstanding the series I didn’t see, to which I must now add NYPD Blues, which I also understand was very good and predated The Sopranos (and one of whose writers, David Milch, went on to create Deadwood) I generally accept until someone emails to inform me otherwise that The Sopranos set the standard and set the bar very high.

. . .

The most recent complete series I have watched was Damages, and I have to say I was blown away. I must at this point come clean and admit that as I, a little earlier, castigated Seventies and Eighties television series as being formulaic, it is only fair to admit that the essential schtick of Damages and the device which allowed the tension and expectations to be ratcheted up ever higher becomes pretty damn obvious pretty damn soon.


The flashback and flash forward technique is pretty much a con, yet the whole thing is done with such astounding aplomb that you really don’t care. It’s rather like how on the one hand we find it very easy to forgive without a second thought those irritating habits of family and friends we like and are fond of, yet on the other hand ruthlessly and without mercy (which is what ‘ruthlessly’ actually means, but never mind) condemn the slightest flaw in those we dislike and whom we wish evil.

Damages ran to five series (and was taken over by a second cable/subscription channel for series four and five). Central to its success and sheer enjoyment are surely Glenn Close as Patty Hewes and Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, but having said that Glenn Close is astounding. I would particularly single out as evidence of her talent the scene in series five where she confronts her father, who is on his deathbed, and resolutely refuses to do what the rest of us wimps might regard as the right thing, which would be to forgive him. All I can do here is to urge you to try to catch that scene. I cannot describe just how good Close is. The scene lasted for around five minutes and was done in one take and was not (as far as I can tell, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t) edited. Watch it. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

The Kessler brothers and Daniel Zelman first managed to get Damages accepted for a first series, but at that point they really cannot have known for how many series it might run. In the event it ran for five. Each series is distinct in as far as there is a distinct ‘story’ (i.e. legal case) in each. And each series could well be seen in isolation and not just thoroughly entertain, but also succeed. So it is really quite remarkable how, over the five series, they have managed to make a whole of the thing.

You don’t really need to know the back story to appreciate any of them, although it would help. What is so satisfying about the whole five series in toto is who it rounds of the story of two woman, Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons, who are very alike, yet individual, and which portrays and conveys their relationship as well as their peculiar personal character traits in extraordinary fashion. I stress that the talent and vision of the Kesslers and Zelman is such that they could not have know how many series Damages would run to. Yet when series five concludes, it rounds of the story in an extraordinarily honest way. There is no pat conclusion, no happy ending. Each – by which I should say both characters, Hewes and Parsons – are true to themselves. Hewes, a complex, ruthless, yet vulnerable woman carries on as only she could and would carry one. Parsons, also complex, does something similar, but she is not Hewes and does, we assume, find happiness.

A measure of how good the series is – and how it is so adept at manipulating the views (and it is my dying contention that in all its forms ‘art’ is nothing, and I mean nothing, more than successful manipulation of the viewer, reader and listener. The more successful the manipulation, the better the art. Basta. An unfashionable description, perhaps, but true) was one of the – or possibly the - final scenes in the last episode of the last series. We are first given the acceptable, accessible, wished-for conclusion, a happy ending in which Hewes and Parsons are reconciled after all their difficulties. Ahhhh. But this is then shown to have been nothing more than Hewes’s wish fulfilment, showing just how deep into herself she has sunk.

We then get the real, the true ending, the kind of thing which happens in real life (or, I am bound to say, usually happens in real life. Perhaps the Tooth Fairy does exist, who am I to say it doesn’t). No reconciliation. None. That would not have been Patty Hewes. Patty Hewes will die alone, unmourned and in obscurity.

. . .

I have spent the past few weeks watching one episode a night. Then it ended, and, dear reader, I felt an emptiness. I needed something to fill the gap. And that’s when, almost by chance I came across Ray Donovan. I first heard of it when proof-reading the TV pages of the paper I work for. So, looking for something else to watch, I looked it up. And it is good. Different to Damages, and different to The Sopranos, although it has be called a Sopranos lookalike. Bollocks. It is its own series and very good it is, too. I look forward to watching the rest of series one and series two, which, I’m assured has been commissioned.

. . .

Finally, doesn’t young Bridget Donovan (Kerris Dorsey) look uncannily, and unfortunately, like that arch fraud Quentin Taratino?


Sorry Kerris, but that's life. I'm not picture book either (any more).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reunited after all these years, though sadly not with the girl, but the song which consoled me

It was 1983 or 1984 (almost 30 years ago I realise to my horror as I write this), and I had just moved into my own house, a small two-bedroom house in a small close of 33 houses in Kings Heath, Birmingham, and was coming to terms with splitting up with my girlfriend (Sian, Pete, though I’m sure you already guessed), the first I should have married. I was living alone in the sparsely furnished house and generally feeling down in the dumps, smoking quite a bit of dope (though I now realise that as I wasn’t officially ‘a smoker’, I was regularly lighting up joints as much if not more for the nicotine rush as anything else) and drinking quite a bit of cider.

Every Sunday I used to tune in to Robbie Vincent’s soul show on Radio 1 as he was the only DJ on Radio 1 playing the kind of music I liked, and that’s where I heard for the first time a lot of the singers and bands I came to like: The S.O.S band, Cameo, Freddie Jackson and a lot of others. One night, I heard a song which was just great, which hooked me immediately. I didn’t hear the title but just caught that it was by someone (or as I first thought some band) called J Blackfoot. And I heard if only once. But once was enough. Years later when we got the internet and you could look up such things, I tried to track it down by googling one or two of the lines I remembered from the song but got nowhere.

Once, a few years ago going through a bin of old cassettes in Trago Mills, near Liskeard, I came across City Slickers by J Blackfoot, bought it and found out it wasn’t a band but he was a guy, though not a singer who also played guitar, but just a singer. One of the songs on it was his hit Taxi, but that elusive song wasn’t on it. Damn. Two days ago, I found it, and as I had got through the best part of a bottle of port (horribly moreish, is port), I can’t even remember how. But we were reunited after all those years. And here it is, a great, great song.

 

Then there’s Taxi, J Blackfoot’s hit. See if you like it.



Around about the same time I got to hear Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and bought several of his albums. He did a lot of touring in Europe, but I don’t think he was well-known in Britain. But he should have been. He is one of the best unknown guitar players I know. He also has a wicked sense of humour and a great voice and died in some style: suffered a heart attack on stage in Japan (so up yours, John Lennon).

I might well have heard him for the first time on Robbie Vincent show, but I really can’t remember (too much dope and cider?) But like him I did. I had about four or five of his albums but they got lost over the years and I have no idea where they are. You can still get one or two of them on CD, but not all. See if you like this track. And listen to the guitar at the end of the song: it’s not for nothing that this guy’s reckoned to be one of the great guitarists. Blues or straight pop guitar it ain’t.

Telephone Bill


 First Timothy Six

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who wants to buy a new motor? Not me, though I might well have done by now when I tot up the dough my cars have cost me in just under a month

It is a standing joke in my family that I have a fatal attraction for duff motors (as in cars). There is a some truth in that, but I would like to plead mitigation. Admittedly I don’t have much of a track record with cars, and, as I shall soon reveal, the little escapade of a several weeks ago when the starter motor on my ‘good’ car failed while I was in Germany and I was trapped for several days in a Bierkeller (or something like that) is not, in fact the end of the story.

Perhaps it would soften the rather critical view you might have of my facility with cars if I tell you that the world is firmly divided into two camps: those who will mortgage themselves up to the hilt, then borrow some more just to be able to buy the latest flash motor and cut a dash in town; and those who regard a car as merely a means to get from A to B in reasonable comfort, who always buy secondhand (which usually means fourth hand, of course) and who regard those in the first camp as living proof that fools and their money are always parted at the first opportunity.

Yes, I know the rationale that a brand-new motor, or one that is only a year of two old is less likely to break down, but I am certain that if one were to analyse the breakdown figures (assuming, of course, that you are bored shitless and really have nothing better to do), you’ll find that just as many new or nearly new cars break down as do the kind of jalopies I prefer to buy. OK, my kind of motor is perhaps more likely to suffer from the effects of old age, but how many times has a friend bought at top dollar, then been hit with some ongoing niggle or other which sees his car ‘in the garage being sorted out’ for longer than he or she has had the joy of driving it. But what I am about to relate does rather undermine my argument.

At present I have three cars. My own, a V –reg (1999/2000) Rover 45 bought for £800 from Rob Gibbons of Davidstow (and at the time a bargain – he could have got a lot more for it); the car my wife drives, a 2005 Chevrolet Matiz which cost £1,600 and was paid for with ‘Ken’s money’ (and the tale of ‘Ken’s money’ can be told another time); and my ‘good car’, Ken’s old car, an automatic Vauxhall Astra Club, which might be a 1998 model, but which only had 38,000 on the clock when I took it over – and still only has 47,000 on the clock – but, more to the point, was ‘tidy’ as the good folk of South Wales say. It is in remarkably good condition, that duff starter motor notwithstanding. Ken had left it to my brother when he died and as my brother lives in deepest London and decided he had no use for it, he gave it to me. Nice brother.

The ‘good’ car is my back-up and will be my ‘first car’ when the Rover – already more than 150,000 miles on the clock – finally gives up the ghost. But that moment is, as you will agree in a minute or two, I hope still a while off. About six weeks ago it was obvious she needed attention (cars, like ships, are always she. Why, I don’t know). Starting was becoming difficult and for the first four or five miles of any journey one cylinder was not firing.

It was off to the garage with her (though not Rob Gibbons, I have to say, because the last time he did something to her, he or one of his men, didn’t tighten the nuts on the nearside rear wheel enough so that when I was driving at 60mph down the M3 the wheel came off. It was partly my fault in that it had been making a hell of a racket but I assumed it was simply a



duff bearing and postponed having it seen to. It wasn’t a duff bearing.) Time was once when replacing spark plugs and possibly the coil was a simple matter which could be undertaken by most idiots in an afternoon, usually a Saturday. But no longer. Now cars are so fucking ‘sophisticated’ that such simple tasks are impossible.

So it was off to the garage, Atlantic Motors in Camelford, who did the job while I waited, which rather impressed me, but which set me back £172. While I was there, Alan, the proprietor and the guy who did the job – replacing all four spark plugs and installing the new-fangled coils the Rover 45 uses – told me that it was high time the cambelt was replaced. It should really be replaced every 50,000: mine hadn’t been replaced for 100,000 and was showing signs of fraying. And if it did break, it was curtains for the car. So I had it replaced. It cost the best part of almost £300.

When a few days later I again broke down, checked the cooling system and found I was out of water, I knew, though I dared not admit it to myself at the time, that I had blown my head gasket. An expensive job, getting a head gasket done. But after spending more or less £450 in a matter of days and for one other reason I shan’t go into here, I decided to go ahead and have the work done. In for a penny, in for a pound. All I’ll say is that the car is back on the road, but getting it there has cost me more than I paid for the car in the first place.

So you might now understand what the phrase ‘fools and their money are soon parted’ doesn’t necessarily just apply to folk who get into goddam awful deep debt to cut a dash in the latest model. It might also apply to dicks like me. Only time will tell whether or not it does.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An unexpected but very, very pleasant sentimental journey. I won’t say ‘to my roots’ because that would be bollocks, but there was something of that about it. And a rather odd tale as to why my father was nicknamed The Spy (Der Spion) by my many relatives in that part of the woods.

I don’t think I’ve yet really done justice to my trip to Germany in what I’ve written. OK, so my stay there was extended from just three days to eight days through a piece of expensive bad luck (and what cost me a total of €573 to have put right would have cost me here in Cornwall around £180, according to my friendly Vauxhall dealer. I told him I like to think - I prefer to think that costs are just higher in Germany, which is why I paid more. Don’t you believe it, he said, they knew you were a visitor and upped their prices accordingly. Surely not, I said. Well, he replied, I could give you the names of ten garages here in Cornwall who do just that whenever a holidaymaker breaks down and needs emergency work done.)

As it turned out the trip became more than just attending my niece’s wedding and reception and meeting up again with my sister’s family and some of their friends. When I was told that the car (the starter motor needed to be replaced) would not be ready until the following Monday afternoon, I was invited to stay with a distant relative and her family. Her grandfather and my grandmother were cousins. Then, after I had rung the garage and was told - in German, of course - ‘problems, I’m afraid, sir (a sentence with which folk the world over will be familiar), I had to ask whether I could stay another night, and there was no problem at all with that.

The plan was originally that I would pick up my car and drive north to the Emsland, the area my grandmother and grandfather came from. My sister and her husband have bought themselves a renovated farmhouse for his retirement of which my sister is very proud, and she was keen for me to see it. I was hoping to stay for three nights and two days, but what with ‘problems, I’m afraid, sir’, it became just two nights and one day.

There was a second problem when I was taken my my cousin (as I like to think of her although if truth be told be are cousins several times removed) and two of her sons to pick up the car. I handed over my credit card to pay. ‘Is it an EC card?’ they asked. ‘We only take EC cards. It wasn’t as were my other three debit cards. But my cousin kindly offered to pay and get the money back from me. (‘EC cards’ are almost wholly unknown outside Germany and only available in Germany. And a few hours ago I was looking them up on the net - ‘researching’ as they say when they want ‘looking up’ to sound a tad more important - and it seems you can only get one once you have opened a current or savings account with a German bank and then only after showing you are a straight-up sort of guy by making regular deposits for nine months. Daft or what?) Then it was off to the Emsland.

. . .

The farmhouse my sister and brother-in-law have bought was a bargain. It is in a remote area right in the district of Bunde on the west of the Emsland and less than a quarter of a mile from the Dutch frontier. And when I say remote, I do mean remote. There is a small village a mile or two away - it’s called Ditzumerverlaat, and a German village with a Dutch name shows you quite how remote it is - which has a mini supermarket where you can buy most of what you might need in the way of food - particularly fresh Brötchen for breakfast - but otherwise the only surrounding houses are other farms. I don’t know the history of the farmhouse, but I gather it was renovated by an architect and then bought by a Dutchman, a painter and decorator, who eventually sold it to my sister and brother-in-law.

It is big, and I mean big. There are three separate apartments and the downstairs apartment where my sister will live could easily be split into two separate apartments and none of them would be cramped. Then there’s a huge barn at the far end of the building. And bizarrely it also has a sauna. What was astounding about it is that the asking price for somewhere that large was comparatively low, probably because it is remote. I shan’t give figures (I know them, but these things are private and I don’t suppose my sister would be too chuffed it I did), but my brother-in-law offered around 10 per cent less, but this was turned down. A few days later it was accepted.

It is typical of the area. The rooms are large, but have Kachelöfen in them which can keep a room toasty warm. It is surrounded by garden and lawns (though not in the pristine and to my mind rather soulless British sense) and what is especially nice about the whole set-up is that it will be a paradise for young children - as in grandchildren - to visit. And as my sister had just seen her oldest daughter now married and has two sons and another daughter who are likely to have children, she is rather pleased.

The one full day I had there was spent visiting, separately two aunts (and I say ‘aunt’ but they are again several times removed, though that doesn’t bother them and most certainly doesn’t bother me. Their father was the chap I mentioned above who was a first cousin to my grandmother). They are sisters, although one is now 88 and the other 78. However, the 88-year-old could give many a 55-year-old a run for their money. She’s a real livewire.

I spent a few hours with her, then took off from her village to a town a few miles to the north to have Kaffee und Kuchen (although it was, in fact tea as this is the one area of Germany where they drink tea rather than coffee) with my sister’s mother-in-law. And the second aunt, who I had earlier contacted met me there. It was good - Lord, that sounds lame - it was great to see them both again and I am very fond of both, especially the second aunt. After homemade apple Torte and Sahne, I went back to her house where we sat on her balcony and chatted. And then, coincidentally, a cousin - her nephew - also turned up.

Both aunts are now widowed and lonely, but you wouldn’t know it. I know it, because we spent a long time chatting and both, in the least dramatic way rather let their hair down. The first aunt keeps herself busy, but really there is not a great deal for her to do. The second aunt is also busy but she, too, finds living alone a pain. As, I should imagine, do many widows and widowers. I don’t feel I am especially romantic and rather loathe a rather overblown way many, both here in Britain and in Germany, but most certainly everywhere else as well, and get rather sentimental and fanciful.

Yet driving up to my sister’s farmhouse, for several miles along dead straight roads surrounded by huge wheat fields, now harvested, I had the oddest feeling of coming home. I have only mentioned it to my sister and mention it here because no one else reading this, with two exceptions, actually knows me. But I did, and I wasn’t pretending or indulging in some silly fanciful fantasy. And I don’t really know why.

The feeling was, and this is the oddest bit, that this is where I belonged and where I should end my days. I almost certainly will not. But I should very much like to. It has as much to do with the kind of people who live up there as the countryside (a word which seems wrong, in fact, and Landschaft would be better, although by using it I might well come across as not a little pretentious and I really don’t want or mean to do so).

In a sense the people are almost as much Dutch as German and most certainly not German in the way many imagine Germans to be. (The cousin in Langenfeld I stayed with told me that when, as a young girl, she went to stay with a family in America, they were very surprised that she didn’t arrive wearing a Dirndl. To explain that, for the folk up there to wear a Dirndl would be as odd, not to say outlandish as for an Italian to wear tartan trews as a matter of course.)

I like, and very much relate to, their more relaxed, laid-back manner, their hospitality, the way they socialise, their sense of family. I look forward to making many more visits to my sister there, hopefully sooner or later surrounded by her grandchildren and their cousins, before I pop my clogs. I took several pictures of the farm but don’t have them with me at present, so here is a picture I dug up on the internet which might give you a flavour of the area. It’s not actually the Emsland (named after the river Ems of telegram notoriety) but of Ostfriesland, but it will do.


Oh, and it is all about three or four metres below sea level: the land was reclaimed several hundred years ago and is surrounded by dykes.

. . .

One very odd story I came across several years ago was that my father was known among my mother’s many relatives in Papenburg and Lathen as Der Spion (the spy). I do happen to know that he did occasionally help out with MI6, although what his relationship was with the good folk in real-life 007 country I have no idea and now no way of finding out. I’ve always thought he was a BBC man first and foremost but that he - well, as I say helped out. There have been suggestions that it was pretty much the other way round, but who knows? I most certainly don’t.

He started his World War II service, after spending two years at Cambridge, in the infantry, but very soon his rather special gift for languages, especially French and German, saw him transferred to Intelligence. (One of the aunts mentioned above assured me that he spoke German completely without an accent. I can’t vouch for that, but merely pass on what she said.)

Once the war ended part of his duties were to seek out Germans untainted by Nazism to build the framework for a potential resistance movement who could be relied upon by the Allies if and when the anticipated Soviet Russian push westwards began. This, most probably through my mother, who he married in 1947, brought him into contact with August Löning, my mother’s mother’s cousin.

August Löning was quite special: he would have nothing to do with the Nazis when having nothing to do with the Nazis was not at all easy and even insisted that his daughters, two of whom were the aunts I mention above, were not allowed to join the Bund Deutsche Mädel (BdM), the girl’s equivalent of the Hitlerjugend (HJ). One aunt, the 88-year-old, born in 1925 was rather upset by this as the BdM was sold as nothing more than an innocent Sportsverein. All her friends were members and she a young nine-year-old, felt rather left out and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t join. But August wouldn’t, he simply wouldn’t, let her.

I have no idea what he did for my father and the British military authorities, but my aunt tells me that every so often - she would by now havebeen around 22 - a mysterious ‘Mr Warner’ (here, left, is the only picture I have been able to find of the man) would turn up for meetings with her father and everyone was told to make themselves scarce while they discussed whatever they discussed. And that, dear reader, is it. I really can’t tell you any more, except to repeat that as no one can keep secrets for long my father was jocularly known as Der Spion. The most curious part is that at my niece’s wedding reception was one very nice (and attractive) woman, a student friend of hers from Peru who spoke impeccable German. And when she was introduced and told who I was, said: Also du bist der Sohn von dem Spion (you’re the son of The Spy). This, from a total stranger, took me aback, to put it mildly.

My how time passes (or from baby poo to first driving lesson)

Altogether now: aahhh, isn’t it sweet. Well, it is for me. Not many months ago, it seems, I was wiping my baby daughter’s arse, then putting on a new nappy. And not many weeks ago, I would pick her up from primary school as she struggled, all twiglet legs and pink gingham summer uniform, to carry a cello twice her size from the playground to my car.

She is utterly without a musical ear and only asked for cello lessons because her best friend at time had also started cello lessons. She never once touched it at home, except when on one occasion I mentioned this and said lessons were a waste of money if she wasn’t interested, that I didn’t give tuppence either way whether she had them or not and that she should at least be honest with herself on the matter. A few minutes later, as though, incidentally, she went up to her room and scratched about on it for a minute or two then came downstairs again.

At the end of term she informed us that she wasn’t particularly bothered about carrying on with lessons, so she didn’t, and as the cello had only been hired from school, there was no great loss. Then, just a few days ago, it seems, I drove her off to some disco in some village hall where they supped Coke and came home again at ten. And this morning I gave her her first driving lesson.

She turned 17 on August 7 and immediately applied for her provisional driving licence (which has to be replaced because there is a spelling error in the address). A friend gave her a Cars keyring and my wife gave her a front door key and the spare set of keys to the small Matiz she drives. I can’t afford the £1,000 odd it would cost to insure her to drive either that car or my car. It’s that expensive because of her age.

For myself, my wife, my brother and my cousin comprehensive insurance on my V-reg Rover 45 (nothing modern or young for me, I’m afraid, is just £198 a year. But I drove her up past Camelford to Davidstow where there are two runways left over from the war and their I initiated her in the intricacies of changing gear while rolling a joint. Actually, that’s a joke, but I’d better point that out for fear of real misunderstandings.

My reasoning is that as she is not driving on the road (‘a public highway’, no doubt, in officialese) she doesn’t have to be insured to drive the Matiz. I suspect that that is complete nonsense and that she most certainly


should be insured whether she drives on a road or into the Tamar at full speed, but that was going to be my story and I was going to stick to it should, for some reason, we have been stopped. There was, of course, no chance or that because we were more or less in the back of beyond. I tried her out in first gear, then second gear and then, tentatively because the runway we are on is anything but smooth and has the occasional hidden pothole, briefly in third.

Then I got her to reverse, which was an interesting experience as she has real trouble understanding ‘doing things backwards’ as she put it. But there you go, a sentimental first. I should like to claim I shed a quiet tear in private at how my little babby (sic) is suddenly on the verge of womanhood blah-blah, but cynics everywhere will be pleased to hear I did nothing of the kind.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The joy of breaking down and needing a new starter motor while abroad, but thank the Lord for relatives, even if most of them are several times removed

In Germany, though as things have turned out, in Germany for rather longer than I had planned. My niece, my sister’s oldest child, was married on Saturday, and I caught the ferry from Dover on Thursday afternoon to get to my hotel in Dusseldorf at about 9pm. I should have got there about and hour and a half earlier, but was caught up in commuter traffic on the Antwerp ring road, which can give London’s M25 a run for its money any day. I came in what I call ‘Ken’s car’, and there’s the rub and the reason why a planned four-day break has become a week-long break.

I call it Ken’s car because a chap called Ken, who died a year or two ago at the age of around 80, left it to my brother in his will, and my brother – god bless his soul – gave it to me because he lives in London and said he had no use for it. It is not young – a T reg (i.e. registered in 1999) – but it had only 38,000 odd miles on the clock when my brother gave it to me, and still has only 45,000. So it seemed a better bet than my Rover 45 which is a year young but already has 149,000 on the clock and is due to have its cam belt replaced. Bad move.

On Friday I drove over to see my sister at their base in Langenfeld, and then in the afternoon I set my heart on sitting in a Lokal somewhere in the country, supping Bitburger, smoking a cigar and doing absolutely fuck-all. Unfortunately, the ares around Dusseldorf, Langefeld, Leverkusen and Cologen is as built up as it is around London and finding such a Lokal in a rural setting seemed improbable if not impossible, until my sister suggested a place called Diepental, which is more or less just a few Lokale on a small lake. It was perfect, and I stayed for three hours, eventually, as one does, falling into conversation with four German pensioners.

What was not quite as perfect at eventually getting into my car, turning on the ignition and being greeted by nothing more than a slight click from the engine which is a sure sign that something is amiss. It wasn’t that my battery was flat, but the the starter motor had decided to bugger of to the great car park in the sky and needed to be replaced (although I found all this out only a few hours later).

To cut a long story short (not so say an increasingly tedious narrative which is beginning to more even more, so Lord knows how scintillating you, the reader, are finding it, after a great deal of hassle – I stress a great deal – finding the number for the German equivalent of the RAC who came and read the last rites over the starter motor and arranged to have it towed away. This happened 90 minutes later at a cost, as I was told later of 145 euros (which for the sake of convenience and as everything is always more expensive than the estimate. The garage rang a minute or two ago and informed me – I’m sure regretfully – that there were problems, it was more than the starter motor and would cost around 500 euros.

Fuck. Remember, please, in your prayers.

. . .

 Last night I went out for a meal with relatives (in the neck of the woods where they all originally come from they like to claim more or less everyone as a relative. In fact we are all cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews several times removed, but I like it. And they are all very nice. What’s more relevant is that I hadn’t seen some of them for at least 20 years and some for much longer.

The plan was that I would pick up my car this afternoon and drive north to stay with my sister in the old farmhouse she and her husband have bought. Well, that will now be tomorrow night (and I might even post some pictures – it’s right on the Dutch border and a rather nice, if isolated and very flat neck of the woods.) But one thing I shall do is visit an aunt (see note above about the Emsland attitude to relatives – they’d rather you were one than not) who I haven’t seen since I was about 22, perhaps even before then.

. . .

The Germans don’t usually drink tea, but they do in the Emsland and are a very down-to-earth people who I rather like. They call a spade a spade and have a dry sense of humour. Ironically, for one reason or another, many of them now live down here in this town, Langenfeld, are nearby. It just happened that way. I must say that I far prefer German food and dishes to British food and dishes and also like the way they socialise. Some Germans have a tendency to sentimentality (and the Americans caught that particular disease from their German and other immigrants) but not all, and the folk from the Emsland are among those who don’t.

When I was young, my mother spoke to us in German, so to this day to me German is as much not a foreign language as English is. When I hear Italian, Spanish or French etc spoken, it is foreign. German isn’t. But I didn’t learn German until I went to school in Germany for four years, and eventually I spoke German like a German. I was rather proud of that because it was the one thing I – an Englishman – could do: speak German so that Germans thought I was German. In most other ways I didn’t shine, except, perhaps, talking bullshit. That, I’m sorry to say is no longer the case.

German is still not a ‘foreign language’ and when I hear people speaking it, it is just people speaking rather than ‘people speaking a foreign language’. But my command of the language has slipped rather. I like to think that it is still better than your average Brit, but it is not as fluent as it once was. I know that it would be just a matter of time to regain the command I once had, but I can’t see myself living in Germany at any time in the future. It is also rather frustrating in that I can’t express myself as fully as I should like. It’s not that I don’t have the vocab and phrases, it’s just that some are tucked away somewhere and aren’t readily available.

Oh well, at least I’m not being gassed to death as some poor Syrians are now.

. . .

The situation there is looking dire and doesn’t seem likely to improve at any time soon, especially as the US and Britain seem to have made up there mind that the fuck-ups that were Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam and Suez weren’t enough and a new fuck-up must be added to the list. Granted that Assad’s forces used poison gas – although it is all very strange as to why they did it (and I can’t quite buy the notion that the gas was used by the rebels in order to try to discredit Assad’s government) – but if it was Assad and his side, it was all rather badly timed (thought ‘bad timing’ is the least obejectionable thing about the affair). Granted all that, but the wise old dictum Never Take Sides surely to goodness should count here.

Perhaps the wiseacres in the Foreign Office and State Department have some sophisticated wheeze up their sleeves and bombing Assad’s forces is just a ploy in some greater scheme – though I don’t beliveve it – but backing the once side rather than the other seems to me to choose between cancer of the bowel and cancer of the stomach. Never take sides: I learnt that years ago when I was working in a bar and intervened when a drunken man started knocking six bells out of his equally drunken wife – who immediately turned her husband to turn on me.

Never take sides, the pub manager told me later, and never was a truer word spoken. But Obama and Cameron seemed intent in getting the West more involved. What with the betrayal the Muslim Brotherhood are feeling in Egypt and the standard scepticism many Middle Easterners feel for the West, its interference in the matter there, however much the handwringers proclaim ‘something must be done’ is not going to end well.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Let’s hope the US courts see sense and let off Bradley Manning with nothing more serious than a slap on the wrist and the advice next time to look before he leaps

UPDATE (on Aug 22): I understand that Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years, but could be out within ten, and that he now feels he is really a woman and wants to be called Daisy or Betty or something (I wasn’t paying that much attention to the news broadcast). All of that notwithstanding, I feel what I wrote a night or two ago below still stands, with the poor chap’s gender confusion making some of my comments all the more pertinent.

One of the items on the news tonight was the Bradley Manning’s lawyers have petitioned President Barack Obama to pardon the lad. And I bloody hope he does so. Reports from the trial suggest Manning is looking at a minimum of 60 years in jail. Before he went to trial and admitted some offences, there was even talk that he faced the death penalty. That, it seems, is no longer likely.

One of the details about the case, which to me is - obliquely - pertinent is that Manning passed on 700,000 documents to Wikileaks and run by who I regard as an arch-fraud Julian Assange. Does anyone really suspect that Manning had the slightest idea what he was doing? Does anyone really think that his motives for passing on those documents was somehow to damage the United States. And, crucially, does anyone really think that Manning even knew the importance of what was in some of those documents, let alone read the whole lot. I repeat, he passed on 700,000 (according to the news).

Manning, we now know, was a confused young man who was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that he was gay. That, in itself, is no excuse for ‘treason’, if you want to regard and describe what he did as ‘treason’. I rather think the poor chap did not have the faintest clue what he was up to. I have no way of knowing how bright he is, but I also suspect that he is not, in the sense of being a man of the world, all that bright.

There can be no doubt that he caused the United States, both the present administration and the previous administrations, a great deal of embarrassment. Publication of the content of the documents he leaked have also, I have to admit, entertained us a great deal. But I do feel rather sorry for all those embassy staff around the world whose candid reports from the country in which they were serving were made public. They were asked for their informed opinions of the governments and leading figures in those countries and, assuming that their views were confidential, gave honest accounts.

Admittedly, among the many documents that were leaked were some quite shocking accounts of criminal misbehaviour by, for example, US troops in Iraq. But for those who oppose the US, those accounts - remember the previous and unrelated reports from Abu Ghraib, will not have come as a great surprise. In fact, Manning is on record as saying that one such shocking account, of a helicopter targeting, then murdering innocent Iraqis who just happened to be in the way, was the catalyst which set him on course to do what he did. To but it bluntly, there is a strong smell of fish about it all.

Manning, in my view an innocent abroad, was used by Wikileaks and Assange, and by the Guardian. That paper likes to present itself as some kind of social conscience and there is some truth in that. But it is also just another newspaper in the business of making money, and the documents leaked by Manning to Wikileaks who passed them on for publication to the Guardian will have seemed like all their dreams come true.

Here, dear reader, was another opportunity for the Guardian to demonstrate its oh-so-holy chops. And if by doing so it could damage what it regarded as the opposition to boot, so much the better. Manning was, of course, the prime mover in all this, but there is no suggestion, as there is, perhaps, in the case of Edward Snowden that what he did was a matter of principle and undertaken after he great deal of thought. And even the whole Snowden affair is not quite as straightforward as the Guardian would have us believe.

Manning now faces spending more or less the rest of his life in jail purely because - in my view, I had better repeat - he was a confused young chap who didn’t have much of an idea as to what he was doing and was cynically used by those who should know better. Soon we will know what the courts decided will be Manning’s future.

Ridiculous as it might sound to some reading this, I would simply like to see him let of with a suspended sentence and then allowed to get on with the rest of his life, perhaps a little wiser. Will it happen? Well, writing this tonight, I don’t know. But, sadly, I rather doubt it. To quote Alexander Pope and use a phrase previously used in a Times leader when it commented on a drugs trial involving those arch ‘rebels’ the Rolling Stones, ‘Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ I hope to God it isn’t the US in all its outraged vigour. There are other ways to deal with being made to look rather foolish.