Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Something of a ramble, I’m afraid, and perhaps of little interest to anyone. I might even scrub it at some point, so read it while you can. And this odd ‘let’s biff the Ruskies’ – do our politicians actually think? Er, no, I really don’t believe they do

The problem, for me at least, running a blog such as this which, increasingly but oddly, is attracting comparatively more readers, is that it becomes less and less personal. I don’t put the increase in readers down to any particular brilliant insights I might have – and, to be candid, I have none – but merely because, over time, I have touched upon quite a bit: Egypt, my cars, Francois Holland’s affairs, my breaks abroad, music – classical, jazz, rock and more or less everything else – food, and I don’t know what else. But as it started out as more of an online diary/commonplace book of the kind I kept for about 15 years – and which crucially no one is ever liable to read – it has crept away from that original intention. And for some odd reason that annoys me. But let me be candid again: I am also, for the usual reasons of vanity and ego, encouraged that I get comparatively more readers.

On the other hand I am no Jeremy Kyle candidate, I feel no desire whatsever to let it all hand out, to pass on to anyone who might happen this way my every thought, sentiment and feeling. Every so often I come across other blogs, often because they are recommended by a friend, sometimes because I look at up at random what I come across. And I am not encouraged. None so far, or very few, but make that ‘none’ because there is none which I am enticed to return to for further delectation, has sparked my interest. It is, for example, quite instructive to look at how long a blog is sustained. Most, it seems, are started in a fit of enthusiasm, then slowly fade away as the writer loses interest.

Tonight after work I followed on of my usual patterns. I stopped off at a pub, in the case the ever so expensie Scarsdale in Kensington, for a drink and a cigar. And, as usual, as the alcohol hit my stomach, I got this thought and that and thought to myself ‘now that might be something to record’. There’s more of that on the short walk to my brother’s flat in Earls Court where I stay when I am up working in London. But invariably and inevitably each topic, each thought is forgotten – most usually – or discarded as of no interest to anyone. But there is one which might bear recording, although it will need a certain amount of discipline to record. It is no paritularly original observation that we are all king or queen of our own world.

We are at the centre of everything. It is fashionable to claim that we are all ‘unique’, although in sense we are not. Yet in another sense we are: you, who is reading this, will have a unique take on the world. No one will ever see it throught your eyes. Unfortunately, no one particularly wants to: they are far more fascinated with themselves and seeing the world through their eyes. Yet I wager none of us realises as much. I do every so often, as I suppose you do, but it is not a particular kind thought. After all, as the cliché is, we all die alone.

When I first came to work in London, at the beginning of June 1990, I was not, as the horrible phrase is, ‘in a good place’. I was in the midst of yet another of the bouts of depression which have plagued me for most of my life, I was in debt, I had turned 40, I was going nowhere and I was – quite apart from the depression – fed up. And I came to London and the sheer size of the place made me feel utterly insignificant. But let me point out that feeling ‘insignificant’ was and is not the same was feeling ‘worthless’. It was just that I became very, very aware of what I have pointed out above: that we are all the king or queen of our own world, but that given the huge number of folk who lived in London, there was what seemed like an infinitesimal number of different worlds, each with its own king or queen, each of whom not only took not the slightest interst in me but, crucially, was not in the slightest obliged to do so.

Another cliché is that the more people that surround you, the lonelier you can feel. But I was also quite aware that I wasn’t the only one feeling like that, and, oddly, that comforted me, though admittedly not a great deal. But it was a curious kind of comfort. These days I can walk through more or less the same streets I walked through then (by coincidence the first B&B in for several weeks when I worked my first shifts on the nationals is just around the corner) but I feel nothing of that insignificance.

Certainly, much has changed in my life. I am now married and have to children, and for that, however scratchy my married life might be on occasion (as, I should imagine, the married lives of others are) I am very grateful. But I can still feel an aspect of the insignificance: it is quite easy to call up a sensation that I – and you and he/she/it walking beside me, or laughing in the corner, or jumping on the bus over there, are as numerous as ants in one of the several million anthills around the world. It doesn’t bother me and it is more of an intellectual sensation than an emotional one.

To put it bluntly I am not in the slightest bit unhappy whereas in those years in the early 1990s I was just that. But I can’t ignore that fact that there are a great many people who are unhappy, and I feel both powerless to help them and irritated with myself that I take so much for granted. So far, so much of a ramble. Yet it is something I have wanted to write for a while (thought whether or not it is of any interest to you is another matter). One of the thoughts which occurred to me earlier on was when I was musing on idealism. Is it really such a waste of time? Most certainly as the world over children are born and grow up there will be an never-ending supply of idealists, and for that I thank God.

We need idealists, but just how many idealists are there in, say, Gaza, Syria, Northern Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, the sink estates of Britain and ‘affluent’ Europe, in New Orleans, in the favela of Brazil, in rural India and Pakistan, in Burma, in the Tamil parts of Sri Lanka, in Alaska, in the Aboriginal parts of Australia? Can we really blame the folk there for getting more cynical by the hour? Yet even in those parts and many others there will be young folk hoping – I daren’t same ‘dreaming’ for I eschew cliches, but I should like to – that life might, just might get better.

I have no idea where this entry came from and where it is heading. But what I shall say, and how I shall conclude it, is that the greatest treasure of all is our young. You who is reading this might be 18, 28, 48 or 78. Depending upon your age your reaction might be different. But if you are young, let me end by saying this: keep on dreaming. Aint’ nothing wrong with that. But also be practical. Don’t just dream, think how you might achieve those dreams. God bless. End of sermon.

. . .

Barack Obama is now in his second term as U.S. president and can’t stand again, but as sure as eggs is eggs he will want whoever stands for the Democrats to beat whoever stands for the Republicans in the coming elections. So he’s talking tough (and no one can’t talk quite as well as Barack). Thus we have his sanctions against Russia over its alleged – thought most certainly very likely – support for the Ukrainian separatists. And the EU, still struggling to be taken seriously as a ‘world player’, has today topped those sanctions with ‘hard-hitting sanctions of its own. But all I can do is wonder: who the hell is doing any thinking?

Do the U.S. and the EU really think that boxing Russia into a corner will ‘bring them to heel’? From where I sit and pontificate that’s about as likely as me winning Miss America 2015. I’ve just heard a former British ambassador to Moscow speaking on BBC 2’s Newsnight he thinks the latest action is a disaster. Sir Tony Brenton pointed out that Vladimir Putin has almost unprecedented support in Russia and is seen as a hero for defending his country agains the nasty West, and is thus politically stymied were he ever to appear ‘weak’ by caving into the sanctions.

Sir Tony counsels dialogue, and all I can say is amen to that. But I suspect that is not how Obama and the idiots running the EU see it. I also suspect that their actions are being clouded by agenda of their own, the successful re-elction of a Democrat as president in the U.S. and establishing the EU as a ‘world player’ in Brussels. Sir Tony believes that Putin must be given the opportunity to save face in Russia and be able to present whatever the outcome of this crisis is as a success. Boxing him into a corner will not do that. We here in the West also want to be seen as ‘coming out on top’, hence all this macho willy waving. Is there no end to the stupidity of our politicians? Do you know, I don’t think there is.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why are so many Ukrainians and Russians interested in Francois Hollande’s shagging? And is La Gayet about to make an honest man of him? Then there’s John O’Hara, who can write the pants of many a modern novelist and (for what seems like the umpteenth time) I plug MY novel. Go on, bloody buy it, I’ve got a cigar habit to keep up

The statistics on for this blog provided by Google (for free, which makes me rather ashamed of my perpetual griping about Google’s highhandedness and the sheer impossibility of ever getting in touch with someone at Google. Still, I’ll carry on whingeing) make interesting, if somewhat baffling reading.

Among other things - what platform they are on when viewing this blog, which browser they are using, whether they are toking up while viewing, that kind of thing - it tells me which posts have most been visited today, this week, this month etc, and where the ‘audience is’.

The odd thing is that consistently the most popular entry since I posted it has been the one in which I managed to establish beyond all doubt - you never lose that old reporter’s instinct, ever - that Francios Hollande, usually described as ‘France’s current president’, does after have a working male member and had been two-timing his then current squeeze Valerie Rottweiler with an actress Fifi la Chance (professional name Julie Gayet).

That was in January, and that post has been visited 184 times over the past 30 days, 96 more than the next most popular entry in the past month in which I extolled the guitar-playing, singing and song-writing of one Jeff Lang, usually described as ‘an Australian’.

The second interesting statistic is that my blog has been attracting a great deal more interest from folk in the Ukraine and Russia. Certainly, they will have been seeking out the platitudes I have been publishing about the comings and goings in the Ukraine and Crimea, but as my musings are, I must be honest, in no way original and now out of date, I do wonder what exactly is attracting their - it has to be said - continuing interest. Are they, too, fascinated - as I am most certainly not - by Hollande’s sex life? Sadly there is no way of knowing what they are looking at. So if anyone in the Ukraine and Russia would care to email me outlining just what it is that attracts them to reading this blog, I would be pleased.

For those who are still taking an interest in the Hollande/Gayet affair, the rumour going the rounds is that he is about to pop the question, apparently, according to the French scandal sheet Closer which first revealed the affair, on August 12 Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have both seen fit to report it (though they make no connections at all with that day also been the official start of this year’s wholesale slaughter of grouse in Scotland).

The Happy Couple.

Or as Francois Hollande undoubtedly seems them:


. . .

While on my break in France, which took in five concerts and three glorious meals (quite apart from the very tasty food my aunt prepares) I also finished reading a novel I bought over a year ago and which I can recommend wholeheartedly. It is Appointment In Samara by John O’Hara. On the strength of it I have since ordered Butterfield 8, of which later a heavily sanitised film was made starring Elizabeth Taylor (which has not yet arrived) and a collection of his ‘New York stories’ which arrived a few days ago. O’Hara also wrote a novel called Pal Joey on which the musical of the same name was based.

He was by all accounts a complex man. He started life as a reporter, then as a magazine writer, but almost from the start he had set his mind on becoming a full-time writer and unlike some (i.e. me) put his money, as well as his time and undoubted talent, where his mouth was. It’s odd that although I’m sure many American visitors to this blog have heard of him, we here in Europe are far more familiar with the names of two of his contemporaries, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald than with the name John O’Hara. Yet his output was prodigious. Hemingway rated him as does (did? Didn’t he recently die?) John Updike. Other critics are more sniffy, and, oddly, that rather encourages me.

So far I have only read the one novel, but as far as I am concerned he can write the pants of many other more modern writers. It seems part of the sniffiness was that he was said to be ‘impossible’ to deal with and was a lifelong alcoholic forever picking fights in bars. Well, who cares?

So far I have merely read the introduction to the short story collections by E.L. Doctorow (of whose work I have read several novels) and by the man who edited them. And it’s now time for an admission: it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that I am essentially a flaneur, and, as the joke goes, ‘not in a good way’.

What is usually commented on is O’Hara’s ear for naturalistic dialogue - that is, he characters speak to each other as we all speak to each other. It always pisses me off when I pick up a modern novel (or more likely hear one read on Radio 4’s Book At Bedtime) and hear characters addressing each other as though they were characters in a novel.

‘Aldous sighed. “But don’t you think, Cressida, that our lives together have now reached a sort of kind of, kind of sort of arctic impasse, that the thread which once bound us together in a sort of kind of, kind of sort of self-conscious nexus of conflicting obligations is fraying by the day?” ’

 To which Cressida replies:

“Oh, Aldy, my darling Aldy, I’m so very bored with your eternal compulsive analysis of our marriage and your insistent demand that I should sort of kind of, kind of sort live my life as though I were, in a sense, the very embodiment of a modern woman, a template for your stale and ancient masculine rigour!”

 What Cressida should, in fact, have said is: 

“Fuck off, Aldous, you pretentious git!”. But, of course, she won’t, well not in a British novel, anyway.

At the moment the Book At Bedtime is The Miniaturist by one Jessie Burton and what I have so far heard is just terrible. Set in 17th-century merchant class Holland a young, feisty - and apparently feminist - 18-year-old is gets married to a rich man several years older who - this is a moden novel, of course, is gay, an orientation which doesn’t go down in 17th-century merchant class Holland, so he is well in the closet. That very brief outline, of course, might well describe a novel which in the event is very good. But Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist most certainly isn’t it.

I read that the manuscript was hawked around by an agent and caused a ‘bidding war’ between various publishers. Well, perhaps, but what is most certainly true is when news of that ‘bidding war’ ‘leaked out’ - oh, those damn leaks! - it will have done future sales no end of good. Give me Mr O’Hara any day of the week.

. . .

I have before used this blog to plug my novel, with so far zilch effect. So I hope it might attract some of you to visit Amazon and buy a copy (or download it to your Kindle if you are a skinflint) if I tell you that it is something of a gentle satire of all that overwrought packed-with-emotion bollocks. Go on, try it and make my fortune (though I’m really not holding my breath). I can, at least, assure you that all the commas are in the right place as well as quite a few artistically relevant semi-colons. Oh, and there are several jokes, but I like to think they are not at all obvious.

It’s called Love: A Fiction. Go on, spoil yourselves.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lay off Israel (and beware those who think in primary colours)

I might come out of my comfort zone here and upset a lot of people, but listening once again to a report on the trouble in Gaza, I’ve decided to add my two ha’porth worth. The popular sentiment is on the side of the Palestinians in Gaza and so, by a rather cynical default, with Hamas. Thus Israel is inevitably cast in the role of ‘bad guy’. If only it were all so reassuringly simple.

I think the first mistake is to imagine there are only two protagonists here. The way I see it, there are three and possibly even four: the Palestinians living in Gaza, Hamas, Israel and Egypt. Specifically, I believe we should query whether Hamas is operating in the best interests of everyone else living in Gaza or, as I have come to believe, is pursuing its own agenda at whatever the human cost knowing full well that once again it is Israel which looks bad.

I don’t here want to go into the ‘rights and wrongs’ of the original establishment of Israel, primarily because I don’t believe there are any ‘rights and wrongs’. As much for political reasons as for anything else the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is now a political fact. And undeniably the Israeli approach to building a country and a strong economy proved to be a lot more effective than that of any other people who had occupied that part of the world. Incidentally, and contentiously - especially in view of what I have already written and shall be writing later on - I don’t buy into this notion that ‘Israel’ was and is the birthright of Jews throughout the world.

Few peoples have been as abysmally treated for the past 2,000 years as the Jews and they have been dispersed throughout the world. But I simply don’t agree that the land that is now Israel should always have been ‘theirs’. It most certainly is now, and I back them up to the hilt in their right and duty to defend themselves and their country. If anyone is to blame for the current chronic crisis in what was once known as Palestine and the surrounding land it is the British who, still operating in imperial mode, simply decreed the state of Israel and to hell with the rights of the folk who were already living there, the Palestinians. And that decree was essentially political.

But even writing that I, too, am straying rather dangerously into primary colours territory. In fact the campaign to have a state of Israel established had begun decades earlier and finally establishing the state was part of complex nexus of obligations and alliances. It wasn’t as though the British decided to do Israel a favour - it might well have been just to get the Stern Gang off their backs.

There is a great deal the Israelis should arguably not be doing: they, too, are at times behaving in imperial mode when they found ever more settlements on ‘occupied land’. I stick that in inverted commas because it, too, is a contentious issue. Israel gained that land after it was invaded - let me stress, it did not start the fight - and quite apart from seeing off the invaders, managed to grab some of their land.

It’s been happening throughout history: California and Texas were acquired on the same basis, but no one in their right mind is demanding that the U.S. returns the states to Mexico who had it before them. But, of course, it wouldn’t stop there: Mexico also took over the land from Native Americans - should it be handed back to them? But the state of Israel is a political fact and - this is crucial - unlike any of the countries that surround it, it is a fully functioning democracy with the rule of law.

What to make of Hamas? Well, I can only go by news reports - as is true of you reading this - and I am struck by just how cynically it is fighting this war: no one seems to be castigating Hamas for using hospitals and schools from which to launch its missiles and as human shields. In fact the boot is very much on the other foot with the bien pensant of the Western world falling over themselves to justify the group’s actions. Let me finish this with a question to all those criticising Israel for the means it has chosen to defend itself: what would you do if you came under attack?

Finally, and very reluctantly, I must admit that I feel I detect more than a trace of latent anti-semitism in the criticism of Israel. You can only believe me when I tell you that I find anti-semitism incomprehensible (rather like I find Chinese, Japanese and Urdu incomprehensible), but there is most certainly plenty of it around and most certainly, whether consciously or not, a great many folk are using the crisis in Gaza to indulge in yet a little more.

Then there is Egypt: I didn’t hear any of the voices now castigating Israel over how it is reacting in Gaze protesting when President Morsi was removed in an army coup. And I don’t hear any of those voices also protesting that the new regime in Egypt is yet another military dictatorship. Egypt, in fact, is no friend of Hamas, whose sympathies are with the Muslim Brotherhood. So Egypt will be rather pleased that Israel has had to take on the dirty work of neutralising Hamas.

As I say, these things are really not at all as simply as Hamas in White Hats and Israel in the Black Hat. Not that most prejudiced folk will care, of course.

NB Reading over the above, I do feel I could well have tried to express myself more subtly. But there you have it: however crude and rough-edged my reasoning, what I have written above represents what I believe. But I’ll repeat: there really are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in this one and beware anyone who tries to persuade you otherwise (usually by shouting you down, and that is never a good sign).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Several concerts, several good meals and two deaths (RIP Marjorie Deschaux née Hirst and Paul Rogers)

Not yet scribbled anything about my break - ongoing, I don’t fly off until the day after tomorrow - break in South-West France to accompany my aunt to a few concerts.

To recap, this part of the world holds three classical music festivals every year, all (I think) with a slightly different theme. I arrived last Wednesday, and that night it was off to the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte for a concert by Maxim Vengerov, except that the great man himself didn’t show. He was ill and couldn’t attend/wasn’t ill but couldn’t attend depending upon who you asked. His place Zorin (whose father Zachary helps to organise this particular festival) who played a Beethoven sonata for violin and piano (rather raggedly in my, admittedly, utterly untutored opinion, i.e. ignore what I have just said), then far more recent pieces by, I think - announcements were in French, of which I know less than I know Chinese - Ravel and a few of his contemporaries.

It was obvious, to me at least, that Zorin was far more at home in the jazzier style of early 20th-century French music than in classical early 19th-century German music. Trouble is, of course, that I know less than nothing about it and could well be talking balls. (Yanks: balls)

Then there were no more concerts until Monday night when we went to the smaller Chateau Gravas (which produces Sauternes) for a concert given by a double-bass player called Remy Yulzari and a guitarist called Nadav Lev. Maxim Zorin was also due to play with them, but he failed to show up until more or less towards the end and then played only two pieces as a trio before the concert closed. I have to say I preferred the music the two others played together before Zorin turned up.

Last night it was back to Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte for another concert of pieces for violin and piano, with a buxom Swiss redhead called Rachel Kolly d’Alba (pictured) on the fiddle and Marc Laforet on the joanna playing sonatas by
Debussy, Ravel and Franck and Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantaisie, which I’m told is a popular concert favourite and very well known, which might explain why I’d never heard of it.

I liked the Ravel best, and thinking of all the other Ravel pieces I’ve heard, many of which I have on my iPod, I yet again laugh when you mention Ravel, everyone and his dog thinks of his Bolero (‘I’m not really one for serious music, but I do love what’s-his-name’s Bolero, you know, tum-ta-ta-ta-ta tum ta-ta-ta-ta, tum-ta-ta-ta-ta tum ta-ta-ta-ta, doooooooooo, do-do do-do do-do due do-do doooooooo, that’s probably not quite the tune, but you know the one I mean, they play it on Radio 2 quite a lot . . . I mean, who could think serious music could be so catchy?’).

Ironically, Ravel himself didn’t take it very seriously and is quoted as saying ‘I have written a masterpiece. Unfortunately, there is no music in it.’ (Incidentally, if I have just described you, the kind of chap or chappess who likes his or her serious music lite, there is a list of Ten Things You Never Knew About Ravel’s Bolero, inevitably in the Daily Mail. If all that makes me sound snobbish, tough titties. I suggest you listen to other pieces of Ravel, and it might well - with a bit of luck - stop you claiming Ravel is your ‘favourite classical composer’.)

Tonight it’s something or other somewhere or other and tomorrow its’ something else or other in Saint-Emilion (you’ll know the name from the wine department at your local superstore). BTW I just looked it up on Google Maps to see whether it was spelled St or Saint and, not for the first time, noticed the the city of Bordeaux is nowhere to be seen. Here are three screens of the map. Question: where’s Bordeaux?
Good Lord, it's disappeared

If you look really carefully, you'll see it's just left of Merignac

Bordeaux - but why not say so?

. . .

Been a couple of deaths recently.

My aunt was very good friends with a former colleague at Bordeaux University where they had both taught different aspect of English. I met her several times, five I think, as my aunt used to see her every Tuesday at her home in a suburb of Bordeaux after her gym class every Tuesday and they had lunch together somewhere or other, and I went with her whenever I was staying.

She was a very engaging Liverpudlian woman, ten years older than my aunt, who had married a French air force officer after the war and had lived in France ever since. I say Liverpudlian, but she was, in fact Scottish and very proud of it, but had grown up in Liverpool and there were still traces of Merseyside in her accent. Her health had been failing for years and she had very little energy, so the past few times I saw her, we only had a drink at her house. She was very fond of the Daily Mail, and because she could received BBC on her satellite TV, she was a great fan of Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson.

She died a week ago last Monday and was cremated yesterday. My aunt then treated me to a very, very nice lunch at a place called Le Chalet Lyrique, and then we went to her house where we had been invited to take whatever books we wanted. Unfortunately, she almost exclusively read biographies and autobiographies.

In her various bookshelves there were at least 700 of them and I jotted down the titles of a few list here. In addition to what might be thought the ‘obvious’ biographies and autobiographies to have - Bill Clinton’s, his wife Hilary’s, Margaret Thatcher’s and Tony Blair’s - there was also The Billy Butlin Story, Walk-on Part In A Goldfish Bowl (Carol Thatcher), Life In The Farce Lane (Brian Rix), High Hopes (Ronnie Corbett), Don’t Make Me Laugh (Norman Wisdom), My World Is My Bond (Roger Moore), three by Kate Adie, six by Jeremy Clarkson (surely not all autobiographies, though I didn’t check), and autobiographies by Stella Rimmington, Liam Neeson, David Niven, John Simpson and Joanna Lumley.

According to my aunt, her friend wasn’t one for literature despite her job teaching English (in her case linguistics, she utterly defeated me for the few months it was part of my course at Dundee. In fact, had it not been deleted from the course for some reason, I would have failed my degree in English by an even greater margin than I eventually did. I did actually get a degree - I sat for an Honours, but was given an Ordinary - because, I was told, I had done rather well in Philosophy and the department insisted I get at least something however angry the English department were with me for wasting their time completely and utterly.)

I took just five, as far as I was concerned the only worthwhile five of the lot: Last Of The Hotel Metal Men (Derek Jameson), Memoirs (Kingsley Amis), Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This (a biography by Marion Meade), At War With Waugh: The Real Story Of Scoop (Bill Deedes), and Gertrude And Alice (a biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas by Diana Souham. I suspect I am something of a closet lesbian).

RIP Marjorie Deschaux (née Hirst).

. . .

Then there was the surprise death of one Paul Rogers who has previously been mentioned in the blog. Paul was one of the guys I got to know over these past few years when I stopped off at The Brewer’s Arms in South Petherton, Somerset, on my way home from London to Cornwall every Wednesday night, for a pint or three of cider, a cigar and to watch the second half of whatever Champion’s League match was showing.

When we first got chatting, it would seem Paul, then a just retired social worker (I suspect he was a little younger than me, but could retire early because he was a civil servant), seemed to be the tub-thumping leftie and I, given my restrained view on most things (except idiots who think Ravel’s Bolero is the pinnacle of musical achievement), the Tory.

Over the following months and in many conversations about this that and t’other it slowly became obvious that I was something of a leftie and Paul rather further to the right than he might have thought he was. Latterly, he admitted voting UKIP in the EU elections. I didn’t.

I stopped off at the pub a few Wednesday’s ago and while we were chatting, Paul said he would be at his caravan in Cornwall where he also keeps a small dinghy the following week and did I want to meet up for a drink? I did, and we settled upon meeting up on the Saturday at The Rashleigh Arms in Charlestown, just outside St Austell.

It was a pleasant drink and we chatted about all the things we usually chatted about, and then when it was time to leave, I said I would like to have a look at the old harbour (the set for many a film about 17th/18th/19th seagoing) and would he like to go along. He said, yes, but to my surprise added ‘but not to the bottom’. I was surprised because it really wasn’t far at all, but put his reluctance down to a rather long coughing fit he had just concluded.

Off we went when, after about three minutes he stopped and said he felt dizzy and not very well at all. We then stood there for about ten minutes - after a few minutes he sat down - before he felt well enough to return to his car.

On the way back, we had to stop again because he still felt awful. Back at his car he took out an angina spray, to my surprise, because I had no idea he suffered from angina. Then he took out another inhaler which he told me was for ‘pulmonary congestion’. That he suffered congestion was also news to me. I offered to drive him back to his caravan and pick up my car later, but he would have none of it, and finally drove off. About an hour later I received a text thanking me for standing him lunch and saying he had returned safely.

He was due to return to Somerset the following Thursday, but on that day, the manageress of the caravan site he was using was surprised to see his car still there by lunchtime as he had told her he would be leaving early in the morning. She got no reply from banging on his caravan door, called the police, they broke in and found him dead.

When I heard the news (the publican in South Petherton who knew we were friends got in touch to tell me), I assumed he had suffered a fatal heart attack, but I have since heard from his daughter that, thankfully, he ‘died in his sleep’ because he couldn’t get enough oxygen. Whether it was the painless death that phrase implies is another matter, of course. I, who dreams a great deal (and loves dreaming) can well imagine that you dream you are choking and unable to breath simply because you are unable to breath. And then you die. But I hope it was painless. Oh, and he also introduced me to the rather good music of Jack Lang which I mentioned here.

RIP Paul Rogers.

. . .

Just for the craic ... I posted this photo on Facebook with absolutely no response whatsover, so I’ll try my luck here. The caption is the same. It relates to the Great Liberation of Hibernia (also known as the Scottish independence referendum) due on September 18 - just 58 days away. Oooooh!

 I’m voting Yes! Why don’t you?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

RIP John Dawson Winter III. The heroin finally got to you, but then you were 70, so I suppose you win on points

NB These soundfiles won’t play in Opera, but Firefox, Safari and Chrome are fine and maybe other browsers. But not in Opera, I’m afraid.

There was only one item of news which could knock the Ukrainian air crash, the Hamas/Israel squabbling and Kim Kardashian’s latest shopping trip on the head and that is surely the death of John Dawson Winter III. (Incidendtally, someone recently pointed out that most wars can almost always be settled by treaty in which a bit of give and take is involved, but you could never bring harmony to a family feud, and that is more what the trouble in Gaza is – ever heard one sibling rail against another? Bitter doesn’t begin to describe it and rhyme, reason, rational thought don’t ever get a look in and its always the other’s fault. Always.) To be honest there are 101 different guitar players and singers of the ilk of Johnny Winter and many are just as good. But he’s the only good one I know and whose LPs (NB to younger readers: an ancient, much revered form of CD, much missed. Have you ever tried spliffing up and a CD case? Once perhaps, then never again.) I can still remember the first time I heard him. I was in my last year at Dundee University just waking up to the sounds of Radio 1 (it was probably a Saturday) and the DJ played Funky Music (from the LP/CD Johnny Winter And) and I was hooked. Here it is:

(To come, upload server error or some such bollocks i.e. it's Saturday and we really can't be arsed to sort it out. Try on Monday. Better still, don't try again. Unless you would like to subscribe to our Premium service which is just $100 a day and guarantees the NSA will only get to see the more boring bits of your blog. Oh, that's more or less everything, is it? Well, that's your fault.)

That was in 1972 and I began collecting more and more of his records. OK, compared to guitar players I have since come to appreciate such as Joe Pass, Grant Green, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Billy Bauer, John Scofield and the rest, Johnny Winter was a tad limited. But in his own context, raw rock of his kind, he was tops. Then there is his voice and his singing. And I also liked his sense of humour. He battled heroin addiction for most of his life, and after one particular spell in rehab wrote this, Still Alive And Well (from the album of that name). I particularly like the lines ‘Did you ever take a look to see who’s left around / every one I thought was cool is six feet underground’:


Still Alive And Well

Then there’s Too Much Seconal from the same album, about an addict friend with a great flute blues solo:


Too Much Seconal

This one I like a lot, for no other reason than I just like it a lot. It’s All Tore Down:All Tore Down


I don’t really have ‘favourite tracks’ but this one, Ain’t Nothing To Me. He’s giving advice to another guy in the bar not to chat up a particular woman. Her boyfriend is exceedingly jealous and carrying a gun. I like the lines: ‘Ah well, that’s life / or at least it was’:


Ain't Nothing To Me

Johnny Winter also covered songs, especially by the Stones and Dylan, and to my mind his versions of the Stones songs are better than those by the Stones which sound oddly anaemic once you have heard Winter’s. As for his versions of Dylan songs, he almost makes them his own. Here’s Like A Rolling Stone which, in my view, is as good as the original Dylan version:


Like A Rolling Stone

According to the Guardian Rolling Stone magazine named him ‘the 63rd best guitarist ever’. I’m really not too sure how great a compliment that is. He was obviously rated higher than whoever came 64th, but had it been me and I wasn’t in the top five, I would have told them where to stick their list of Best Guitarists Ever, then set light to it. And here’s the Telegraph’s take on his death. Here’s a clip of him playing live:

  .

And his version of the Rolling Stones’ Stray Cat Blues (in view of recent stories about child abuse - the girl involved seems to be about 15) now a rather uncomfortable song. Ignore the title shown at the top of the video.

Friday, July 11, 2014

In which I come clean: you want a mobile phone? I’ll give you a mobile phone (any colour, any make, any century). And as for laptops . . . Meanwhile, our government copies up with a novel way of making a fat fool of itself and solving the obesity crisis

Well, the inevitable just had to happen and, of course, it has happened, though I am glad to report (as, undoubtedly, you are glad to hear) that there are no serious consequences. (NB Jul 14: That first sentence is never explained and makes no sense at all. A friend got in touch asking for clarification, but I could give him none because I really can’t think what the hell I was talking about. So if you are baffled, don’t worry, so are we.) But first a little background. For some reason – I have resisted writing ‘for some very odd reason – I have a habit of having many of several items. Duplicates, spares, call it what you like. It is character trait I have had since I can remember.

For example, when I was at Das Cansius Kolleg, a Jesuit day school in Berlin, at the start of the year some firm or other dealing in school texts books would turn up for a day, possibly even two or three, and have for sale all the relevant textbooks we would need. It also, by way of PR I should imagine, gave away a kind of diary to anyone who wanted one. But I started collecting them, not one or two or three, but seven, eight, nine, I don’t know how many. I don’t know why and I cannot explain it except to say that at the time – Easter 1960 – I was ten years old and it was, perhaps, the kind of thing ten-year-old lads did.

That, at least, is my explanation, and and, to be honest, it holds, just. I am, now however – on July 11, 2014 – no longer ten years old, but closer to 65 than 10, but I still have that same trait. It’s a standing joke at work that I have loads of mobile phones. And the thing is I do. If I were – and I am not, because the reader of most blogs has, I assume, limited patience and (whisper it quietly) quite possibly a limited attention span, about to give chapter and verse as to when, why and how I acquired each. And, in isolation, there is nothing particularly whacky about each acquisition.

For example, a few years ago while in France I thought I had lost my mobile phone (Yanks: cellphone, Krauts: handy) and so bought another. It wasn’t expensive. But that meant when the other turned up (though I only got my hands on it a year later) I had, to put it gently, two. Except that by then, for one reason or another, I had a lot more than two. In fact, a rough count off the top of my head would total the number I have at, give or take a few, 14.

Funny farm material or what?

I’ll repeat that I can give a rational account for the acquisition of most of them: one is a phone I bought my daughter when she was younger but which, for some reason, she didn’t take to. A second was the phone which replaced it, but which she swapped for another I had which she thought was ‘cooler’. A third was a bargain (just £4.95 at Superdrug but that was about 12 years ago. And so one. But, and I am the first to

A small selection of my phones

admit as much, I would not blame anyone – in fact, I have no choice in the matter – to thinking that as far as mobile phones are concerned I am a sandwich short of a picnic. But that is just the phones. Let me now tell you about the computers, tablets and laptops of which I am the proud owner.

Once again, were I to explain (I suppose rather nervously) why, when and how I became the proud owner of so many, it all makes perfect sense, for I would be very put out were anyone reading this to include my in the community of the terminally irrational not to so downright whacky. But overall? Here goes: I am the proud owner two desktop computers (a Mac and a PC – well, make that three, because the PC replaced another which my son and I thought was on the blink but we discovered, once I had bought the replacement, wasn’t); five laptops (seven if you include the notebook my son uses and the laptop I bought for my daughter) and two tablets (and in mitigation might I plead that one is an Apple and the second an Google. Not convinced? No, I didn’t think so).

Here again I am, for the sake of my pride, obliged to try to extricate myself from the obvious suggestion that I am, to all intents and purposes, rather mad: one laptop, a Macbook, was bought because I thought a similar Macbook was on its way out. Except that once I had bought the second Macbook I discovered . . . Yes, of course, you can only use one mobile phone (cellphone, handy) at a time, and, yes, you can only use one computer – whether tablet, laptop or desktop at a time. But in a convoluted way it does make perfect sense.

So, for example, when I am at my stepmother’s (who I visit every day she doesn’t get out much since she had a stroke) where I keep two of my laptops, I don’t have to take one there with me. (Often when she is engrossed in Bargain Basement or any other the other terminally dull daytime TV programmes she seems to love, I shall sit with her surfing the net, as my tolerance level for daytime TV is in minus figures.)

So there you have it: not quite as mad as it might seem, eh? Eh? Not convinced. Well, tell me about your quirks then. And should I hear of any whispers in deepest Arkansas, Turkey, China, France, Germany or, of course, Old Blighty that despite my sincerest protests I am most definitely on the way out sanity wise, expect to hear from my lawyer. Or one of the several I keep on a retainer. (Can’t have too many lawyers, can we?)

. . .

The news tonight here in La-La Land (the new name for Great Britain) is that the government has decided to make weight reduction surgery available, free, gratis, on the National Health. No, I’m not joking. It is the latest ploy to ‘tackle our growing obesity/type 2 diabetes problem’. First the obvious joke: having so many fatties around is something of a boon. We now no longer have the good money on a holiday to the coast of Norway or New Zealand on a ‘whale-watching expedition’, but a short bus trip to any of our town centres is just as effective. Right, that’s the joke out of the way.

In fact, I refuse to accept that the good folk of the Western World, and, increasingly, many parts of urban Asia, are simply getting greedier and eating and drinking more. As far as I am concerned it is the nutritional quality of the food they buy to eat which is to blame. OK, so they don’t have to eat quite as much processed crap and


This one has to fart to give you a clue


‘ready meals’, granted, but essentially it is not their fault. Take a look at the ingredients of most of the ‘food’ sold in our supermarkets and you will see it is jam-packed with sugar, salt, trans-fats, but, worst of all corn starch/corn syrup.

The way I heard it was that as farming became big business (inevitably first in the U.S., but European greed is never far behind) and agri-scientists came up with ever more wheezes to grow more and more wheat on the land available, they found they slowly had too much of the stuff. And there was no good reason to grow it all if they couldn’t bloody sell it, making every great sums of money sadly being the name of the game.

That’s when they came up with 1,001 different uses for corn syrup and corn starch. And now you’ll find it in everything, from puddings to soups to cakes to sweets (candy) to I don’t know bloody what. But as today’s ‘time-poor’ generation (i.e. those who are so dumb they can think of nothing better than to watch as much TV as possible and just ‘don’t have the time to cook’) likes to eat, their ingestion of crap containing corn syrup and corn starch has increased dramatically over these past 30 years. The upshot is that we now have a generation of supersized fatties and diabetics.

The obvious solution, of course, would be for our government, and governments throughout the ‘civilised West’, to insist that processed food producers cut back drastically on the crap they put in the ‘product’. Obvious, certainly, but also a surefire way of drawing upon themselves the ire of these producers and, most pertinently, a withdrawal of party donations as well as the goodwill of the voters.

That is how we get to the situation where our government today feels it is more rational to pay for the population to go into hospital to have chunks of fat cut from their sorry bodies than to tackle the root cause of the problem. Someone once observed that what distinguishes humankind from all other animals is its capacity to ‘be rational’. Someone else then retorted that that was most certainly not the case: what distinguishes humankind from all other animals is the the capacity to be irrational. I think he or she made a very good point.

. . .

I am not fat, but I am, according to ‘the guidelines’ not my ideal weight. I go to the gym (mainly because I enjoy it, but also because I like to keep reasonably fit and healthy, especially after suffering a heart attack – which started in the gym by the way) three times a week, and it helps that at work we have a very good gym in the basement. Two weeks ago I was just over 86kg. On Tuesday I was down to just over 83kg.

In January 2013 I gave up eating bread, biscuts, pasta and everything else with wheat. I immediately felt the benefits. I carried on otherwise eating and drinking as normal. Over the next two years I slid back a little because, let’s be honest, a hunk of crusty bread or a pasta arrabiata is bloody tasty. But when I realised that I was once again getting that roll of flab in front of my tummy, two weeks ago, I decided to be a little stricter again and so again fave up bread.

According to ‘the guidelines’ I should, ideally, be about 70/72kg, but I’ll repeat, in conventional everyday language I am by no means fat. However, when I was about 11/12 and entered puberty my growth was initially sideways rather than upwards, so when I started at my boarding school I was nicknamed ‘Preggers’. It didn’t take more than a few years for my height and breadth to even itself out, but in my heart I am still what I then thought I was, a little fat boy.

It didn’t help that I was found to be rather short-sighted and was obliged to start wearing glasses. Oh, dear, the cruelty handed out by Life to a young teen. In a curious way – although at my age it really doesn’t matter anymore – I also felt unattractive and to this day find it very hard to believe that any woman can think of me as ‘attractive’. But what the hell.

Yet I do like eating and I do like food. It’s just that I don’t like eating crap and I also like eating tasty food. So, for example, I like making something like the following: a small can of beans – borlotti or whatever – with a thinly sliced onion, a few cloves of garlic, olive oil and freshly ground pepper. That is enough for three helpings. Today I had one helping with some boiled new potatoes and butter, and – I don’t know what it is called, but Lidl do a great version – soused herrings with gherkin and apple in a cream sauce. Potatoes, cream? And the whole lot will not have cost, proportionately more than £1. (I had about eight small new potatoes, a portion of the salad and about a third of the tub of herring salad).

Mind, not everyone has a taste for North German food, but to my mind it is a damn sight tastier, not to say a lot, lot healthier, than some kind of processed turkey twizzler, baked beans and bread. And don’t get me started on just how tastier Bratkartofflen are, with onion and, inevitably, more garlic.

Now back to the TV screen all of you, while I sit here and finish off my can of Scrumpy Jack cider (alc 6%) and a cigar. (Cigars, by the way are about a fifth of the price if you don’t buy them here in Old Blighty but by them on the internet from Holland and Germany. Full details on application.) Off to France next week for my twice-yearly dose of culcha. I’ll keep you posted, not least on the rather tasty meals my step-aunt prepares (and she doesn’t even think she is a good cook).

PS For another very palatable salad try very thinly slice raw leak, chopped up slices of apple and olive oil. Fuck corn starch. Oh, and I’m not a veggie by any means and do like meat – not least smoked Schinken, but I don’t eat much meat at all, though I am very partial to the occasional roast lamb, roast belly pork and roast beef.

PPS I was going to desribe how I have fucked up one of my ‘spare’ smartphones but rooting it, then dicking around. It now has what in Android circles is known as the ‘purple screen of death’. (Good Lord, 2,264 words. Another 30 of these entries and I’ll have one of the novels I keep meaning to write. And now make that 2,286 words.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

To be as brief as possible: huge official investigation into paedophilia among Britain’s Great and Good. Don’t hold your breath

The big news here in Britain is that the government is launching several investigations into child abuse by folk ‘at the highest level’, including looking into allegations that a paedophile ring operated out of Westminster (by which is meant Parliament and our Civil Service) which was powerful enough to protect abusers from prosecution.

I know I regularly adopt a pose of weary cynicism in this ’ere blog, but for once I am not doing so when I say that I’m not holding my breath. Most certainly the nation will be presented with ‘results’ of a kind and most certainly names will be named. But anyone who thinks such a powerful ring – if, of course, it exists – will throw in the towel and come out begging for mercy is living in cloud-cuckoo land. I was careful to say ‘if such a ring exists’ because the implication is that there is some kind of organisation involved. It is damn unlikely that that is the case.

I should imagine that wherever they live and work paedophiles will certainly know of each other and meet up, most probably to exchange or sell pictures they have, but given the abhorrence everyone has of their activities and that they could expect a visit from the old bill if word got out, it is also pretty likely that they keep their heads down and their circle of similarly inclined acquaintances small. I should also imagine that any paedophile politicians and civil servants, working cheek by jowl in Westminster would know of each other and be fully prepared to watch out for each other.

That is what seems to have happened in realtion to a 40-page dossier handed over to the then Home Secretary at the beginnng of the Eighties by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens. That dossier was ‘lost’, a copy which Dickens gave to his wife was destroyed by her after his early death, and a second copy which was given to the Department of Public Prosecutions also disappeared.

On the face of it it would seem that some kind of conspiracy to get rid of ‘the evidence’ was afoot. The two investigations announced in the Commons by the present Home Secretary Theresa May will also try to find out what happened to 114-odd documents related to paedophila which also went missing from the Home Office. As I say, I don’t think there is any kind of organised ring in Westminster, but undoubtedly paedophiles have been protected. One notable example is the, now dead, form Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale, Cyril Smith.

Time and again allegations about his behaviour were made about him, notably by Private Eye and a newspaper called the Rochdale Alternative Press, yet he was able to get away with abusing boys until he died. ‘Why’ is the obvious question. We do know that any MP in the shit would, if he had any sense, go to his party’s whips for help and they invariably get him out of trouble. The price he – or, of course, she – paid was that from that point on he or she was their man (or woman), the misdemeanour hanging over him or her until the day they left Parliament. But that could only account for some case.

The real question is: was there a real cover up and is there a network of paedophiles in and about Parliament, with very useful links to the police and the security services (who have shown in the past that they will engage in blackmail if it suits them. That is what they are said to have done to several Irish Republican and Nationalists who had taken to visiting the Kincora boys home in Belfast for underage sex. Of course, like almost everything else we, the public, ‘know’ it is mere hearsay. At the end of the day I haven’t a clue. I’ll repeat: we’ll get the usual triumphal fanfare when one or two Westminster paedophiles are thrown to the wolves by their more powerful friends and backslapping all round. Then it will be back to business as usual.

Why the cynicism? It’s simple: whoever has had the clout to shut down police inquiries (an hour or so ago one former policeman told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight that his investigation into Cyril Smith was abruptly ended when several policemen visited him, demanded all his notes and warned him to do nothing more of any kind at all to do with the case), and whoever has the clout to ensure prosecutions are not made or chargees are reduced (one Tory MP who was caught smuggling paedophile videos into Britain was let off with a caution, as was now dead diplomat Sir Peter Hayman in whose flat a load of such material was found) will still have the clout.

I pray I am wrong, I pray that for once my cynicism will be unfounded ant that for once the Establishment is blown apart, but I’m really not holding my breath. As I say, there will be several sacrificial lambs who will be prosecuted and jailed to give the appearance of success and that, dear friends, will be it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

CAITLIN MORAN SPECIAL! The woman is IRONIC! Longstanding doubts finally laid to rest with the publication of a new, searingly honest, but hilarious, yet thought-provoking must-see set of pictures! And you thought she was just a smug cow you wouldn’t pay in washers! Well! Meanwhile, Lloyds tries to persuade us they aren’t complete crooks, but regular guys after all: they like puppies

Readers of this ’ere blog who return every so often and are aware of my ‘oeuvre’ (French for ‘bollocks’) will be aware of my irritation of one Caitlin Moran and her schtick.

This morning the Guardian has a piece by her headed and sub-headed ‘Caitlin Moran: my sex quest years’ and ‘Caitlin Moran’s parents never told her about the birds and the bees. So at 17 she went on a mission’. There follow several hundred words of the usual drivel which, I don’t doubt, will delight Moran’s fans, but in truth is utterly indistinguishable from many similar several hundred words written by previous incarnations of Moran down the years. It’s the kind of piece the Daily Mail would plug as ‘hilarious’ given that most of its readers are so po-faced they actually do need to be told when they should be laughing or not. (Another Mail favourite is ‘searingly honest’.)

In the past I have been struck — and irritated — by Moran’s one and only expression which says: ‘Look at me, I might be kooky, but I’m also intelligent enough to be bravely self-aware and irony is never lost on me’. I spilled some bile on the matter in a previous entry. Here is the piccy with which the Guardian is illustrating Moran’s latest confession — note the identical ironically quizzical look. I suspect that the only time she doesn’t wear that look is when she’s having sex, or perhaps even then.


Should anyone doubt that this is apparently the only expression Moran has in her kitbag, here are several more piccies.

What, me ironic? You really think so? Bless!

Look at this: I can make irony almost look like smugness. But
then I am quite lucky to be Caitlin Moran if you really want to know

And you think looking this stupid at the drop of a hat is easy? That’s what separates the professionals from you amateurs, darling!


What? The Guardian has agreed to pay me loads of dosh
for writing the same old drivel? Again? Get out of here!

What, some people don’t think I'm the funniest writer on Earth? Are your sure? I mean really, really, really sure? I mean, could there be some kind of mistake?

And then he says: ‘Put on that ironic look, it makes me 
really hard’. The things we women do for love, eh! Will, this do?


. . .

Until very, very recently Lloyds Bank carried the following pic on it’s website: all together now — aaaah!


We’ve all heard of the feelgood factor and how winning over customers in subtle ways will help you do the biz, and smacking the picture above on its website was surely intended to do just that. But ask yourselves this one simple question: would you really decide to entrust one bank rather than another with your money just because they liked puppies? Given that you had a few doubts and were wavering on going for another bank rather than Lloyds, would a pic of cute little puppies in silly hats really persuade you to throw in your lot with Lloyds rather than one of its rivals?

If the answer is ‘yes’, you are, of course, a complete and total idiot and deserve whatever financial misfortunes might come your way and then some. In fact, you don’t even deserve to be allowed to use money. But as far as Lloyds is concerned that would seem to be most of us.

The word obviously went out to PR firms up and down the land from Lloyds Towers in Central London: ‘How do we win back our customers now that most of the country thinks we are complete crooks after they found out we’d diddled most of them out of several hundred pounds by selling them bullshit insurance and rigged the interests rates to boot?’ And answer came back: ‘Stick a photo of cute puppies on your website. They are bound to fall for that! If they were stupid enough to fall for the bullshit insurance scam, they are certainly stupid enough to think you have turned over a new leaf if you like cute puppies.’

So it was, though when I checked a few minutes ago to download the pic from the Lloyds website, it was no longer there (but I was still able to retrieve it via Google images.)

Here’s a picture I have tracked down on the net which I hope will win your over to my side and persuade you to read this blog rather than any other.


Actually, I’m sure it has already occurred to some of the smarter ones among you that by portraying myself as a deadly scorpion I being just as smug and self-regarding as anything la Moran is capable of. Well, gold stars all round.

And I’m sure it has already occurred to the even smarter ones among you that by admitting what I have just admitted to, I am actually just attempting to get myself off the hook and trying to persuade you that I, too, am self-aware. If that’s you, have another gold star, then piss off.

And . . . but, no, we could be here all bloody day.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Say ‘No’ to Glastonbury and reclaim your life! We show you how. And feel a whinge and moan coming on? Don’t like modern life? Think the young are overrated? Well, fuck off.

I am really not one for blowing my own trumpet, which is why I am so pleased when on rare occasions someone else does it for me. But today I shall make an exception to my rule and, now that the weekend’s mud-sliding and diarrhoea-fest that is ‘Glastonbury’ is over for another year, I can proudly reveal that I have not attended the ‘must-go’ shindig for the 44th year in succession! Now beat that!

In certain circles going to ‘Glasto’ (yes, they even have a silly name for it) is pretty much de rigueur every year, despite the fact that it costs the earth, the weather is almost always foul and it’s about as ‘cool’ as having the full set of The Carpenters CDs.

It all kicks off almost 11 months earlier when an announcement is made of who will be appearing at ‘next year’s Glastonbury’. Then Britain settles into winter and the usual wholly expected bad weather which takes us all by surprise (‘Temperatures are expected to plummet to -2C over the next few days, so make sure you are well prepared should you be obliged to leave your home and venture down to the corner shop. The Home Office advises everyone that they should dress up warmly, preferably wearing to pairs of shoes, and, if possible, take a flask of hot tea or coffee, a shovel and a blanket with them. And, of course, make sure you inform your family or neighbours that you will be going out so that they can raise the alarm should you not return within 20 minutes.’)

After that it is full steam ahead for this year’s mudfest with the, by now, Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 4, The One Show and Spotlight’s traditional interviews with Michael Eavis [the Somerset farmer on whose land the festival takes place and who is wholly responsible for inflicting Glastonbury on an innocent world] about ‘why he does it’, ‘how long can he carry on’ and ‘any humorous incidents he can tell us about’. (‘Well, there was one time when some joker or other had managed to substitute flour for the official stash of gak, and there were several hours of panic before we managed to get our hands on enough to keep more or less everyone satisfied.’) Incidentally, Eavis has an Old Testament beard and a charming Somerset lilt in which he could tell the Queen to fuck off and not give offence.)

I again decided not to attend Glastonbury this year for the usual reasons (in no particular order): I loathe crowds and when I go to concert or something along those lines, I like to be among around 50 or fewer, preferably in a small basement club with a sticky floor; the sound quality is awful and you might as well listen to your records underwater in the bath and save yourself a packet on the extortionate ticket prices; I don’t like slumming it, I have never enjoyed wallowing in mud, and



when on those occasions I am obliged to defecate (Brit readers: ‘take a dump’), I far prefer to do so in private and in clean surroundings, not right next to a burger van; I am most certainly not the ‘coolest’ chap about, but ever since Glastonbury ‘got big’ about 30 years ago, it has started attracting some very odd headliners, Dolly Parton this year (78) and annually there’s the threat that the Rolling Stones ‘will eventually deigned to put in an appearance. I really don’t want to pay through the nose to see a gang of wrinkled pensioners who are older than my try to persuade folk a tenth their age that they are younger than me and have to wear pounds of slap to persuade the world they aren’t yet dead, honest. Mick Jagger is the best argument I have yet heard for euthanasia.

I can imagine — just — that the festival was halfway decent when it started in 1970 and was still just a gathering of young folk who wanted to get together and smoke dope and listen to music in the open air. But it went downhill pretty quickly. Just as you know clothes have long since stopped being fashionable once Primark stocks them, Glastonbury lost it comprehensibly when it became a ‘must-go’ event. That was compounded several years later when it took advice from the state of Israel and began to erect huge 14ft wall around the whole site to keep out the riff-raff who couldn’t afford the extortionate ticket prices.

It has been built ever since, and another feature of this ‘security measure’ is to employ an army of Securitas guards ensure anyone who looks even half sane it denied access. (G4S were approached and aske to tender for the work, but as they were decent enough to admit they would, in all probability, fuck it up completely, Securitas got the gig.) The dates for Glastonbury 2015 have already been announced — June 24 to 28 — and provisional headline acts include The Moody Blues, The Wurzels and Vera Lynn, so all you Glasto freaks get your skates on and register for your tickets (a snip at just £749 plus VAT for four days) now. Me, I’m looking forward to breaking my own record and not attending for the 45th year in a row.

. . .

If that sounds to you like a dyspeptic, sour rant, congratulations, you’re obviously now fully awake. Given that life goes in one direction, from birth to death, and like the rest of you I, too, am getting older, I get increasingly conscious of how many of my contemporaries have taken to complaining on an industrial scale. The above few words about Glastonbury not withstanding, please believe me that a run like a mile whenever someone begins a sentence with ‘What really annoys me is . . .’, ‘Why can’t they . . .’, or ‘I really can’t undestand why . . .’ or any of another 1,001 riffs on that theme.

I shan’t say I don’t find some aspects of life irritating, such as the plethora of options you are offered on some phone systems, of which none seems quite to be the one you want, which is simply to talk to someone, but (the irony of what I am about to write is not at all lost on me) I can’t stand the army of whingers and moaners who bang on about how the world has gone to the dogs and you knew where you were when you were able to die of tuberculosis or starvation without some government busybody interfering.

You get it when some great actor, comedian, musician or painter dies: ‘We’ll never see his like again.’ Oh, yes we bloody will, you idiot. As I write there are future great actors, comedians, musicians and painters still being suckled at their mother’s teet impatient to prove you wrong. But I am now at the age (107 in two weeks’ time) when sounding off about everything from the TV schedules to ‘how water doesn’t seem to be as wet as it used to be’ is more or less obligatory.

Well, dear reader, count me out. And if you sense, even slightly, that I am straying in that direction a quick email warning me would be much appreciated.

. . .

PS Re ‘Glasto’: Winston Churchill once observed that ‘dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, and pigs treat us as equals.’ As usual, spot on.



There really ain’t nothing like Glastonbury